Pilates is an ideal at-home workout for plenty of reasons. It's a beginner-friendly, low-impact workout designed to strengthen and tone the core that doesn’t require much space or equipment. And Pilates enthusiasts found a way to level up the workout at home.
Enter: Wall Pilates. The trendy workout uses a wall to increase the intensity of each exercise. Fans of the workout claim it offers toning benefits similar to a reformer Pilates class — without the price tag of a class at a pricey boutique studio.
What is wall Pilates?
Wall Pilates is essentially performing traditional Pilates exercises — like bridge pose or Pilates 100s — with the assistance of a wall to mimic the foot bar used in reformer Pilates classes. By pressing your feet against the wall while performing different exercises, you add resistance to each move, which can help build strength.
"In Pilates, the only resistance you have really is the force of gravity. Using a wall for static resistance, you can actually exert the force," Heather A. Milton, exercise physiologist supervisor at the NYU Langone Health’s Sports Performance Center, tells TODAY.com. "This is a type of resistance training known as isometric training. Essentially, you can choose to exert force at varying levels of your maximal effort."
The benefits of wall Pilates
“Wall Pilates is great for improving stability, balance, strength and control,” explains Callie Jardine, a Pilates instructor and founder of Sweaty Studio. “Unlike traditional Pilates, your feet are typically elevated throughout most of the workout, so you may experience increased circulation, improved digestion and sleep and reduced muscle cramps.”
For those who want to improve their overall strength, balance and stability, wall Pilates may provide an easy way to do it in the comfort of your home. “The wall adds resistance to workouts without the need for extra equipment,” says Jardine.
Milton says that research does show that isometric training is an effective way to build strength without putting a lot of stress on the joints. But she also caveats that there is little research to support claims about wall Pilates specifically — and much of the purported benefits are anecdotal or assumed based on the proven benefits of traditional mat Pilates. However, she does see some benefit to incorporating this type of exercise into your routine.
"There is benefit in that you can strengthen your abdominal wall," she says. "It is a low-moderate intensity exercise, so it will not provide the same benefits as moderate or vigorous exercise in terms of body composition improvements and cardiovascular health, however if you are not doing any exercise and decide to start wall Pilates, you will achieve a benefit of improved musculoskeletal health."
She also adds that using a wall is an effective way to ensure that you're performing Pilates moves with proper form. "Doing exercises that use the wall as feedback — for example doing a side lying leg raise as you slide your heel up the wall — is a great way to ensure you are maintaining proper alignment," she adds. "Other ways to ensure proper alignment are to see yourself in a mirror, of course, have an instructor tell you. When you are at home, using the wall is a good alternative method."
Can you see results with wall Pilates?
The popularity of the workout has inspired one-month wall Pilates challenges to circulate on social media. One popular challenge created by Rachel’s Fit Pilates has almost a million views on YouTube. And the before-and-after photos of people who commit to one month of wall workouts are compelling.
Fitness influencer Renée Mowatt is one of those success stories. She first discovered wall Pilates on TikTok — where the hashtag has 12.6 million views. She saw impressive results from the workout and now shares her popular wall Pilates workouts with others who want to give it a try.
“To start off, I did wall Pilates around 4-5 times per week to really help improve my form and fitness,” she says. Mowatt started to see results after about a month of doing 10-30-minute wall Pilates workouts; noticing an improvement in her strength, flexibility and coordination.
Are these results something everyone can expect? "When starting from nothing, yes, you can see improved strength or balance," says Milton. "However, if you are an already active person and decide to change your workout to this, I predict you will not see much improvement in one month."
It typically takes a few months to see physical changes from a strength workout, and possibly even longer for a lower-intensity workout like wall Pilates, Milton adds.
"Strength gains take 4-6 weeks for the nervous system to improve the efficiency of activating muscle, and more like 12 weeks to actually see changes in the muscle size itself," she says. "This is when you are stressing the muscles at least 60% of their max ability. With Pilates, many people may be at a lower percentage of their max effort when doing, for example, leg circles, thus not eliciting sufficient stress for the muscle to adapt to become stronger or more defined, unless doing very many repetitions."
Wall Pilates: A beginner-friendly workout
Still, wall Pilates is a workout with a low barrier to entry: Workouts are available online, free of charge and require no equipment and little space, making it an easy place for beginners to start.
“It is a great alternative to in-class Pilates if you want a more cost-effective workout that you are able to do at home while also having fun,” says Mowatt.
Understanding basic Pilates movements is helpful for those who want to try wall Pilates, but the workout has grown in popularity because it’s so beginner-friendly.
Mowatt herself is new to Pilates, starting her practice just 10 months before finding wall Pilates. “I started off with shorter 5-10 minute workouts until my form improved,” she says.
Jardine designs her Wall Pilates workouts to be purposely beginner-friendly, with slow-paced movements and verbal cues to help those new to Pilates focus on their form and prevent injury.
3 at-home wall Pilates exercises
Interested in trying wall Pilates for yourself? Jardine and Mowatt share a few easy moves to get you started.
As with starting any new workout, listening to your body is important. “Take breaks and modify exercises as needed, and don’t beat yourself up if it feels difficult at first,” says Jardine. “That’s usually the case for everyone!”Leg raises
Start lying flat on your back facing the wall with both legs extended vertically and arms stretched alongside the body. Rest both heels against the wall, then lift each leg one at a time toward your body at around a 45-degree angle. Alternate for 20 repetitions.
Start by lying flat on your back facing the wall, with your feet about one foot away. Bring your feet hip-width apart and set them on the wall, so that your calves are parallel to the floor and your thighs are at a slight diagonal. Let your arms rest by your side on the mat. Then, tuck your hips under and press through your heels to slowly peel your back off the mat into a bridge position. Slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
Stand with your back flat against the wall. Slowly walk your feet away from the wall as you sit down into a squat, bending your knees to a 90-degree angle. Make sure your ankles are directly below your knees. Roll through the balls of your feet to lift the heels off the mat while staying in the wall sit. Lower the heels back down. Repeat for 15 reps.