Beginner, Expert, or In-Between–7 Versions of the Pilates Hundred Exercise That Will Strengthen Your Core

The Pilates Hundred exercise is a great choice for strengthening your core. Plus, with these seven variations, you can choose the style that’s best for you!

a pin to a post about how to do 7 different variations of the Pilates Hundred exercise

The Pilates Hundred exercise is a Pilates staple. As one of the exercises created by Joseph Pilates himself, this core-strengthener is common in Pilates classes all over the world.

Although Joe may have only practiced the Hundred in one specific way, Pilates instructors have modified this exercise to ensure it’s appropriate for individuals of all levels.

This is great news for us common folk! No longer do we need to have an athlete or dancer’s physique in order to rehabilitate our bodies.

Instead, we can just embrace our imperfect, imbalanced selves and select the form of the Hundred exercise that suits us best.

Here’s what you need to know to make the most out of your Hundred and how to modify to make your Hundred harder or easier.

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Why You Should Do the Pilates Hundred

Plain and simple, the Pilates Hundred exercise is a core-strengthener with a kick!

Yes, this is an ab exercise. However, you also get to squeeze your adductors (inner thighs) together.

This means you get to target two of your four main core muscles. (Sorry spinal muscles and gluteus maximus, we’ll have to work you out later.)

How to Do the Pilates Hundred Exercise

a picture of the classic version of the Pilates Hundred exercise
  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 fingertips.
  2. Let your abdominals completely relax toward your spine.
  3. Inhale into the sides of your ribs, and lightly activate your abdominals to keep this hollowed-out abdominal position. 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.
  5. Engage your adductors (inner thighs). Fun fact, 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.
  6. Inhale into 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.
  7. 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. 
  8. 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, bend your knees or even set your feet back on the floor. What is most important is the position of the spine and pelvis! If you cannot leave these in neutral, don’t extend your legs.
  9. 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.
  10. Inhale through your nose for five counts. Exhale through pursed lips for five counts. Five plus five is ten. We do ten sets to make our Hundred.

6 Ways to Modify the Hundred

The most wonderful thing about the Pilates Hundred exercise is there are a ton of ways to modify it!

If your spine can’t stay in neutral? Bring your feet toward the ceiling, bend your knees, or set your feet back on the Mat. Any of those will do.

If your shoulders start to get crazy-tense or your neck starts to hurt? Just lower your upper body down to the Mat.

There is no rule that says there’s only one way to do the Hundred. So, here are some other ideas to help spice-up this Pilates staple.

1. Put a folded hand towel under your low back.

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.

2. Turn your head if your neck gets grippy.

Sometimes, the neck muscles seem to tense up and grip. When this happens, you don’t need to abandon the Hundred exercise or reduce your abdominal challenge by lowering your upper body to the floor.

Instead, you can just turn your head from side to side. Look one way as you inhale and the other way when you exhale.

For some reason, when we give our heads a task (even when it’s really not important), the neck muscles will loosen up and work like they’re supposed to.

3. Add some choreography.

One of my favorite ways to change the Hundred is by adding some choreography. Start out with your legs straight. When you inhale take the full 5 counts to bend your knees to Table top. Then, when you exhale, take the full 5 counts to straighten your legs.

If you really want to make your Hundred wild, you can do reciprocal legs. This is when one leg bends to Table top while the other leg is straight. Then, they switch.

This second version offers a double benefit–it doesn’t just strengthen your abdominals and crucial core muscles, it also challenges your brain to control your legs. Adding coordination challenges to your Pilates routine could be just what your body needs!

4. Connect to your inner thighs.

Place a small ball or yoga block between your adductors (inner thighs). By giving yourself something to apply pressure to and hold, you can encourage your inner thighs to work a little harder.

Plus, in 75% of people, there is a direct correlation between adductor and abdominal work. When the adductors work, it can cue your abdominals to work, too.

5. Use a fitness band to challenge scapular stabilizers.

Place one end of a fitness band in each hand.  Loop the band around the balls of your feet (not the heels) when you’re in Table top, then lift into position for the Hundred.

As you pump your arms, you will feel an additional challenge to keep your shoulders in neutral.

6. Use a fitness circle to challenge your inner or outer thighs.

The Hundred with fitness circle

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).

For the Visual Learners…

Here is a video of how to do the Pilates Hundred exercise without any props for all the visual learners out there.

However, if you have some props at home (like a flex band or fitness circle), here’s a video to teach you how to incorporate those props in your Hundred exercise.

Before You Do the Pilates Hundred Exercise, Don’t Forget…

This exercise is all about building strength to hold your spine in neutral. Don’t let your low back collapse toward the floor. Instead, choose a different version of the Hundred where you can keep your spine in neutral.

Also, the Hundred is one of those exercises that can be sort of competitive. You take a look at the instructor in the video or the person next to you in class, and you may want to match what that person is doing.

There is no competitive-level Pilates. You will not be handed an award for performing the Hundred, so remember to keep your ego in check. Do whatever version of the Hundred best suits your body today.

You don’t need to wonder how to relieve your pain. Just click here to receive your free copy of The Secret to Immediate + Lasting Pain Relief.

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.