Body Neutral Pilates Instructor Helen Phelan Shares Her Quick, Total-Body Strengthening Workout

Perfect for squeezing in during the hectic holiday season, this workout will improve your physical and mental strength.

No Equipment Full Body Pilates Workout For When You’re Short On Time
Photo: Courtesy/InStyle

Helen Phelan may be a former professional dancer with her own virtual Pilates studio, but you won't hear the instructor promising to sculpt "long, lean lines." In contrast to the mostly aesthetics-driven trainers out there, Phelan is "body neutral" and "feels strongly that health looks different on every body," she tells InStyle.

Her unique method is rooted in contemporary pilates, but she also takes inspiration from her classical dance training, functional fitness, somatic theory, and mindfulness techniques.

"I developed this approach to exercise because I felt like the boutique classes I was taking in NYC were either physically challenging and fun but entirely rooted in diet culture and made me feel bad about my body — or compassionate and mindful but at times a little boring and not engaging," Phelan explains. "I felt there had to be a way to marry a modality that challenges the body mentally and physically but doesn’t use body shaming as motivation to participate — and my method was born."

To give us a taste, we asked Phelan to create a no-equipment workout for when you’re short on time but want to squeeze in a full-body workout. The sequence can be repeated if you’re looking for more intensity (and have more time).

1. Cat-Cow


On all fours, inhale through the nose to arch the back and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Exhale to round the spine like a Halloween cat, contract the abs, and spread the shoulder blades wide to warm up, stretch, and strengthen the core.

Repeat 5 times.

2. Knee-Hover Taps


On all fours, press through the knuckles and fingertips instead of the wrists, tuck the toes under, exhale and float the knees a half-inch off the ground (the closer without actually touching, the better!). Tap the knees back to the floor without putting weight into them, and exhale to lift again.

Repeat 15 times to work the deep core, shoulders, and arms.

3. Kneeling Tricep Push-Ups


On all fours, keeping hips stacked over knees and arms externally rotated (elbow points facing back) and shoulder blades un-shrugged, bend the elbow as far as you can (you don’t have to hit the floor for it to build heat in the tricep).

Repeat 10-15x to strengthen the shoulders, core, and triceps.

4. Bird-Dog Crunch


On all fours, reach the right arm forward and the left leg straight back, slightly tucking the tail and pushing the floor away with the supporting side. Exhale to round the spine, and bring the elbow and knee towards each other, energetically pressing them into one another. Inhale to extend arm and leg back out to the start.

Repeat 10 times on each side to improve balance and stability.

5. Forearm Leg Circles


Come down to the elbows, but keep the arms parallel to encourage better posture. With a bent knee, lift the right leg directly up behind you, to the right and back to the start, making a circle.

Repeat 10 times, then reverse. Repeat on the second side to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings while releasing the hip flexors.

6. Forearm Plank to Pike


Still on the forearms, extend the legs out straight, hip-width apart. Inhale to pike the hips to the ceiling, flaring the sits bones in neutral spine, exhale to curl the tail under and return to plank.

Repeat 10 times to integrate the entire body.

This whole workout is in quadruped (on all fours) to minimize transition time. But if wrist soreness is a problem, reduce the flexion on the wrist by rolling up the edge of your mat, and prop the heel of the hand on the elevated edge with the fingertips on the floor itself to lessen the pressure, Phelan suggests.

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