The Hundred: A Pilates Staple

The HundredThe Hundred is one of the original exercises from Joseph Pilates. Through the years, it has been modified very little, so it remains true to its original design. That speaks volumes as to the importance of this particular exercise. To have something that was created over a hundred years ago stand the test of time and the advancements of science is a rarity.

Perhaps it is because of this that The Hundred is such a popular Pilates exercise. It is so well known that I’d say that if Joseph Pilates could only be known for inventing one exercise, it would be The Hundred. Students around the globe respect the effectiveness of The Hundred.

How to do The Hundred

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones. Make sure your pelvis and your whole spine are in neutral. Arms reach by your sides with broad collarbones and energy reaching out your finger tips.
  2. Let your abdominals relax toward your spine.
  3. Inhale in to the sides of your ribs, lightly activate your abdominals, and make sure your spine (including your head and pelvis) have stayed in neutral.
  4. Exhale, lift one leg up to table top, followed by the other leg. (Table top is when your knee is above your hip and your ankle is in line with your knee. It makes two ninety degree angles at the knee and hip.) Engage your adductors (inner thighs). *In 75% of people there is a direct correlation between adductor and abdominal work. When the adductors work, it sometimes cues your abdominals to work, too.
  5. Inhale in to the sides of the ribs and, as you exhale, hinge at the bottom rib to lift your upper body as if you are doing an Ab prep.
  6. If you have a neck injury, leave your head and upper body on the floor. If you are unable to keep your pelvis in neutral with your legs lifted to table top, place your feet back on the floor. 
  7. Reach your legs out on a forty-five degree angle without changing the shape of your spine and position of your pelvis. If your spine or pelvis have moved, bring your legs up toward the ceiling. This will remove some of the weight that the legs and gravity add to the exercise. You can have your legs reaching straight toward the ceiling (if hamstrings will allow it) or you can leave your legs in table top. What is most important is the positioning of the spine and pelvis! If you cannot leave these in neutral decrease the challenge added by the legs today.
  8. As you inhale and exhale, you will pump your arms by your sides. The movement comes from the shoulders, not the wrists. The arms should not raise above your rib cage and should not drop so low as to touch the floor.
  9. Inhale through your nose for five counts. Exhale through pursed lips for five counts. Five plus five is ten. So, we do ten sets to make our Hundred.

Modifications of The Hundred

Aside from the variations of not lifting the upper body and changing leg placement, there are many more things you can do to switch up your Hundred. Here are just a few ideas.

The Hundred with towel

  • If you have trouble keeping your pelvis in neutral but you want to start reaching your legs, place a folded hand towel under your low back. The support from the towel could be what you need to find supportive muscles in the low back and along the spine.
  • If your neck gets tight and grippy, look to the right as you inhale. Exhale and look to the left. Sometimes giving the neck a job keeps it from gripping and trying to take over an exercise.
  • As you inhale, use the full five counts to bend your knees to table top. As you exhale, use the full five counts to reach your legs out to your starting position.
  • Place a small, soft ball or a yoga block between your inner thighs. Needing to prevent that item from falling will motivate your adductors to work further.
  • Place one end of a fitness band in each hand.  Loop the band around the balls of your feet (as opposed to the heels) when you’re in table top, then lift in to position for The Hundred. As you pump your arms, you will feel an additional challenge to keep your shoulders in neutral.
  • The Hundred with fitness circleYou can place a fitness circle either in between or around your calves. When the fitness circle is in between your legs (thighs or calves will work here), you will be engaging your adductors (inner thighs) deeper. If the fitness circle is around your calves, you will be working your abductors (outer thighs and hip stabilizers).

Here is a video to illustrate.

Here are links to some of the products I talked about and used in the video.


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Which version of The Hundred is your favorite? Comment below.

Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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