Partner Pilates

By Liana Mauro – April 1, 2015
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

Looking for something new to do to breathe life back into your fitness routine? As a Pilates instructor, I’m all about finding unique activities and ways to incorporate spontaneity into physical activity. Any fitness experiment that replaces boredom with fun is welcome in my book, so grab your girlfriend or boyfriend, your bestie, or your workout buddy for some exercises that look and feel a lot like play.

Partnering up for your Pilates session not only adds variety to your routine but it’s also a great way to make some of your exercises harder. Since there’s no way to use momentum when your attention and focus is on supporting each other, you have no choice but to engage those deeper stabilization muscles. Friend-ilates, or partner Pilates, can also help strengthen your bond with one another outside of the studio—boosting communication and trust, bringing a sense of play into a relationship, and helping one another lean into the feeling of “letting go”—one of the biggest hurdles since you’re trusting your partner to support you while you work to maintain balance through challenging movements and positions.

The following exercises all use two people—one person acting as the base and the other as the balancer.

Note: Only attempt the exercises below if neither partner is injured or has any physical limitations. As always, listen to your body and if something doesn’t feel right, stop.

Pre-workout tip: If both of you are about the same size, take turns being the base. However, if one of you is significantly larger than the other, play it safe and let the larger person act as the base throughout the poses.


Elephant/Handstand Prep

For this exercise, whoever has more hamstring and back flexibility will serve as the base. 

Starting Position: With the base in a downward dog position, allow the balancer to place their feet on the base’s sacrum and their hands on the floor. This will create an “L” shape between bodies.

Option 1: Hold and breathe.
Option 2: Partners simultaneously lift one leg and pulse it up 20 times for a little booty work.
Option 3: Partners simultaneously lift one leg and perform push-ups. (Pushups can also be performed without leg lifted.)
Option 4: The balancing partner lifts up one leg up at a time, kicking into a full handstand.


Supported Bridge

Starting Position: Base will lie supine (with back lying on the floor) with their feet on the balancer’s sacrum.

Option 1: Top person can hang and enjoy the open feeling of a supported bridge.
Option 2: Bottom person can bend and straighten their legs for legwork while top person continues to hang.
Option 3: Top person can lift and lower legs—great for lower abdominal work. This can also be done while performing crunches with the upper body.
Option 4: Top person can roll up to Teaser then roll back down to a hanging bridge.
Option 5: Top person can reach back to grab their feet for a full backbend.



Supported Plank Series

Anyone who is familiar with the workouts at Mauro Pilates knows we love planks! All variations are both challenging and incredibly functional and all work the entire body. What’s not to love?

Starting Position: Base gets into a full plank position and balancing partner places hands on heels and feet on shoulder blades.

Option 1: Base lifts one leg as the top person bends their arm to help it lift. Top person can also lift the opposite leg from the arm that bends.
Option 2: For an extra upper body blast, partners can alternate push-ups or do push-ups at the same time.











Floating Rocker

Starting Position: Base lies supine with legs straight up and places feet on partner’s hip flexors. The balancing partner will begin by extending out in a straight line, with arms reaching straight back, and from there can progress to reaching behind to grab onto feet and lift up into a Rocker position.


Duo Shell Stretch:

This is a nice place to practice being both the base and the balancer as these positions are very supportive of one another. This is a great pose to finish off your practice. 

Starting Position: Base goes into child’s pose (sitting on heels, fold from your hips, letting top half of body press into upper thighs, touching your head to the mat). The balancing partner then rests their sacrum on the base’s shoulder blades and lies back into a backbend. Take deep breaths and enjoy.


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