Pilates exercises have forged their way in the fitness industry over the past 2 decades. It has been used by all levels of fitness enthusiasts and high-level athletes alike. These exercises can be done purely on a mat on the floor, or they can be done on various Pilates equipment. And one of the most common Pilates exercises that is almost always practiced in the class is the Pilates Hundreds. Let’s understand better what this exercise is all about.
The Pilates Hundreds is the first movement of the original 34 Classical Mat exercises written by Joseph Pilates. This movement challenges the core muscles, leg, and upper body muscles while coordinating the arm movement with breathing.
If you have done the hundreds in a Pilates class before, there are no questions about what it is for. You already know, or at the very least, the intense burning sensation of your abdominal muscles will be screaming at you on why you are doing this exercise for.
But there is more to the Pilates Hundreds than just working the abdominal muscles. In fact, it works on a lot more muscles than you think. Let’s take a closer look at this very popular Pilates movement.
How do you do the Pilates Hundreds properly?
You can do the Hundreds exercise on different Pilates equipment but let’s look at the bare version of this exercise that is done only on the mat to make it easier for us to understand.
Starting Position: Lying down on the mat with your knees bent so that your feet will be comfortably flat on the floor.
Movement one: Lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor in a crunch position at the same time, extending your legs forward. Your legs should be straight and together and only a few inches off the floor. You should be feeling an intense contraction of your abs at this point.
Make sure that your lower back is flat on the mat and not coming off the floor, as this will be a sign of weakness on the core muscles and can be strenuous for your back in the long run.
Movement two: Pump your arms 6 inches up and down at the sides of your body. Your elbows should be straight, and the arms are firm while you do the pump with full energy. Do this pumping action a hundred times.
How do you count 100s in Pilates?
In general, you can count the pumping action of your hands by fives with one count every time your hands touch the mat. That means you pump your hands 5 times as you breathe in and 5 times as you breathe out. You do 10 breathes, and you’re done with the set.
If doing it for 5 counts is too hard for you, you can start with 2 on the inhale and 2 on the exhale. And gradually progress until you can manage to do 5 counts on each breathing phase. You just have to do the math to complete a hundred pumps. For example, if you do 2 on the inhale and 2 on the exhale, you have to do 25 breathe cycles to finish it.
What is the purpose of doing the Pilates Hundreds exercise?
Aside from just challenging the strength of your abs when doing the hundreds, there are quite a few points to take note of so you can do your Hundreds exercise with a better purpose.
- You do Hundreds to warm up the whole body. By holding the body in a tense position while pumping the arms strongly, the whole body will be boosted with a sudden rush of circulation all over.
- The Hundreds exercise will also establish a good breathing pattern to get you started with your Pilates workout. This is especially very important in the morning or if you came from a long day of work in the office where you are just breathing in a very shallow manner.
- It is a perfect way to start your exercise session with the whole body involved, as it will heighten your overall awareness. This will help you do the movements properly as you proceed with the workout.
- And of course, before we forget, the Pilates Hundreds is a very effective core exercise to strengthen your abdominal muscles.
What are the modifications of Pilates Hundreds?
Although the Hundreds exercise is the first exercise in the Mat sequence taught by Joseph Pilates, it is not the easiest. Most beginners will struggle to mount into the position and will only be able to hold it for a few seconds.
The intensity of the Hundreds exercise actually depends on the position of the legs in relation to the floor. So, in order to change the exercise’s intensity, we will change the leg position. Here are a few modifications of the Hundreds exercise starting from the easiest version that we do in our Pilates Mat classes in the studio to accommodate students of different level.
1. Hundreds with the legs down
You only lift the upper part of the movement with your feet staying on the floor. This will make it easier for you to do the exercise and focus on the breathing, the pumping action of the arms, and the contraction of the abdominal muscles.
This exercise is the easiest version, but you can still work a lot on your abs if you will learn how to contract them intensely as you are holding the position.
2. Hundreds with the legs in chair position
The next variation you can do is lifting the legs up, creating a 90-degree angle in your knee and hips. This will look like you are in a sitting position in a horizontal plane. If this is still too challenging, you can bring your knees closer to your chest to reduce the angle of your hips.
3. Hundreds with the legs at a 90-degree angle
This is the version that may feel harder than the 45-degree angle, especially if your hamstrings are very tight. You will be feeling an intense contraction on the front thigh muscles and hips. You don’t have to hold your legs at a perfectly vertical line; as long as you are keeping them close and pulled upwards, you will benefit a lot from the exercise.
4. Hundreds with the legs at a 45-degree angle
5. The Classical Pilates hundreds version
This is the hardest version in terms of leg position, where your feet are only a few inches off the ground. There is a big tendency that your lower back will arch(come off the mat) at this position, so make sure you keep a strong effort to contract the abdominals as much as you can.
Here is a video I created where I discuss the different levels of the Hundreds exercise without the breathing pattern to make it easy to understand.
What muscles works when you’re doing the Pilates Hundreds?
This exercise works a lot of muscles in the body if you do it correctly. Here is a study from the SciELO website to see the leg muscles working in the Hundreds together with the abdominal muscles. And another article from ScienceDirect of how the Pilates Method increases respiratory muscle strength and performance as well as develop the abdominal muscle thickness.
Let us look at what muscles are worked in the Pilates Hundreds exercise from top to bottom. You will be surprised by the muscles on the list.
1. Neck flexor muscles or the muscles at the front of your neck
You may have noticed that your neck feels strained when holding the hundreds position. This may not be a bad thing as long as you are doing the exercise correctly.
Whether you like it or not, your neck muscles have to carry your head in this movement, and they will have to contract the neck muscles to keep your head position which unsupported. There may be some instances that these muscles can be overstrained if your head position is incorrect.
2. Shoulders, triceps, and Lats muscles
As you pump your arms vigorously up and down, your deltoid and your Lats muscles will be working alternately. And your triceps muscles will be working as well, as you keeping your elbows straight.
3. The respiratory muscles of the ribs
You have muscles attached to your ribs that will work while breathing. And these muscles are working very hard, especially in the hundreds position as your abdominals are working very hard, restricting your diaphragm from expanding.
These muscles will get stronger and will increase your capacity to breathe in different positions of the body.
4. All the abdominal muscles
This includes the Rectus Abdominis, the Obliques muscles, and the Transversus Abdominis. Let’s put it simply that all your abdominal muscles will be working in this exercise, which no one will argue with.
5. The stabilizer muscles of your spine
Because of the challenging position imposed on the back and the pumping action of your arms, the small muscles of your spine will be at work. This is one of the reasons why Pilates exercise is very popular among rehab practitioners.
6. The Inner thighs
These muscles work a lot, especially if you do the Hundreds with the Pilates magic circle but your inner thigh muscles will also work well if you press your legs strongly together when you are doing the straight leg versions.
7. The quadriceps and hip flexor muscles
These muscles work just as much as the abdominals muscles in the Pilates Hundreds when you start straightening the legs in the movement. This will even intensify if you are doing the 90-degree version of the movement.
Common mistakes when doing the Hundreds exercise
- Working on a too advanced level version
One of the common mistakes in doing the hundreds is doing a version that is too advance for your current level. This is especially true in a group class setting where you will feel the pressure of doing it with the group.
If your neck is feeling more strain than your abs or your lower back is having a gap on the floor, there is a big chance that the version you are doing is too hard for you.
There is nothing wrong with doing the easier movement level; in fact, even with advanced practitioners, the basic version can still be challenging if you know how to fully contract your abdominal muscles.
Though a slight neck strain is not bad when doing the Hundreds exercise, too much neck strain can lead to a stiff neck the next day. One reason is when you position your neck wrongly in the movement.
A good cue for you to remember is where you are gazing. You should be looking at your abs but not over-squeezing your chin to your chest and also not gazing at the ceiling.
Lower back awareness
One most important thing to safely and effectively do the Hundreds is to make sure that your lower back is flat on the mat. One main reason that the lower back is coming off the floor is that your abs are not strong enough, or maybe you are trying a version that is too hard for your level.
The other common reason that the lower back isn’t flat is that you are just not aware of where your lower back is or what is the position of your lower back when you are exercising.
One easy solution is to place a towel or a small thin object underneath your lower back and try to press that object with your lower back while you are lying down. Repeat this drill until you develop better control over your lower back. Then go back to the Hundreds exercises but this time, go a level lower than you normally would and just focus on that sensation. As time goes by, you will get a better connection with your back overall.
Where can you do the Pilates Hundreds?
You can do the Hundreds exercise on almost any Pilates machine. In our Pilates studio at UMove Fitness, we explore the Hundreds exercise on all of our Pilates equipment available. The most common version is being done in a Pilates Reformer group class.
The main difference in doing it on the Pilates equipment is that different muscles will be engaged depending on the contraption being used.