Pilates Exercises 101: All About the 100

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The 100 is an exercise that is simultaneously simple and intimidating. It’s a defining exercise for Pilates and the heart of the mat workout.

The Basics of the 100

First off, let’s lay out how to do the 100.

  1. Lie on your back, knees bent to form a right angle and hips at a right angle, or for the advanced form with legs outstretched and feet six to eight inches off the floor. Toes pointed.
  2. Inhale as you reach your arms out.
  3. Exhale as you roll your head, neck and upper shoulders off the floor, imagining an orange between your chin and chest. Draw your belly button towards the floor to engage your abdominals.
  4. Inhale deeply as you pump your arms for five controlled beats, pulling the air deep into your lungs as your ribcage expands laterally.
  5. Exhale for five beats with control as you pump your arms with each beat, using percussive breaths as you say “shh, shh, shh, shh, shh.” Be sure to completely empty your lungs by the fifth exhale.
  6. Continue this cycle nine more times for a total of ten cycles and 100 beats. Again, keeping the movements controlled and rhythmic.
  7. Slowly lower your head and shoulders to the floor, then your arms, and finally your legs.

If this exercise seems familiar, it’s because you see an animation of it at the beginning of each 100s to Happiness challenge!

It’s common for those who are new to the practice of the hundred to find that their neck and shoulders become strained. To prevent this, focus on using the core to pull the head and neck off of the ground.

Breathing for Pilates exercises

Breath is extremely important in Pilates exercises. In fact, breath control is a pillar of the system as a whole. That importance is very much true when it comes to the hundred, as it encourages practitioners to engage breath in a focused way during a challenging exercise.

In the 100, breath becomes a tool for empowerment, pulling you through the exercise. Rather than being an overwhelming beast of one hundred counts, the hundred is boiled down to just twenty breaths – ten in and ten out. When viewed from that lens, the whole thing doesn’t seem nearly so intimidating. Exercise is in many ways about perspective, so changing perspective through the use of breath control offers a way to look at things in a whole new way.

Deep breathing encourages slower and more controlled movements. It releases tension, allowing the body to work more efficiently and with less strain. Pilates is all about control and precision, things that are greatly improved with proper breathing.

Another piece here is that deep, lateral breathing during the hundred pushes oxygen to all parts of the body. Flooding the body with oxygen during a tough exercise allows you to have a greater ability to go further and to feel better through exercise.

Controlling the breath through this strenuous exercise pulls the mind and the body closer in sync with one another. It focuses the mind on the task at hand, and pushing out all other distractions.

The Mechanics of the Pilates 100

Starting off a workout with this exercise is a great idea, because it offers a full body warm up. When done correctly, the 100 pulls in all of the major muscle groups and pushes them to get to the next level. It’s one of the reasons that beginners find the hundred to be so challenging, but by that same token it’s the thing that makes the hundred so wonderful. Arms pumping, legs engaged, head up, toes pointed and core on fire, the hundred is fittingly a centerpiece of the mat workout, though it’s great to do any time with any fitness routine to get you started and ready to go.

What makes the 100 different from other ab exercises is that it uses both the upper and lower body to create resistance for the core.

Think about the 100 in contrast to a sit-up, where the lower body stays still and only the upper body moves. By only engaging half of the body, only half of the core is utilized. The same is true for a move like flutter kicks, which only use the lower portion of the body and therefore only engage the lower half of the abs. By using both the upper and lower parts of the body, the 100 engages more than either one on its own.

Why 100?

One hundred of anything is a big number, and that’s part of the magic of this exercise.

The hundred is different from everything else that Pilates created in his exercise system, which he called “Contrology.” His emphasis in every other exercise was on doing just a few repetitions, but doing them with absolutely perfect form so as to get the most out of the body. The hundred is the only exercise he created that pushes repetition to such a high level. It’s important to recognize that though the exercise goes to a high number, perfect form is still of central importance. Arm pumps should be controlled and rhythmic, body still and breaths deep.

Joseph Pilates was a master not only of the science of exercise, but also of the science of motivation. A central reason for the success of his system is that he captured what makes us want to get things done, what motivates us to mold our bodies.

Mastering the 100 pushes us to see how amazing our bodies are, what incredible things they’re capable of. Though for beginners the movement can seem intimidating, with practice it quickly becomes a comfortable and wonderfully awakening exercise. By breaking it down into just twenty breaths, Pilates offers students a way to see things in a new light, empowering them to get more out of their bodies.

The uniqueness of the 100 is part of the reason that we love it so much. Doing the 100 every day is not only a way to a fit body, it’s also a way to a fit and empowered mind. In fact, it’s what our 100s to Happiness app is named after. Check out our app for 100 days of Pilates exercises just like this — if you can do this, then you can do anything. The hundred can really take you to happiness!

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