Class #5128

Upper Body Mat

25 min - Class


Build up to a full Push-Up with this quick Mat workout by Ilaria Cavagna. She uses the Magic Circle and a Towel to work your powerhouse and entire upper body. This will create more strength and control that will give you the support you need during the more challenging movements.
What You'll Need: Mat, Towel, Magic Circle

About This Video


Read Full Transcript

Today's mat we'll focus on upper body strength. Yes, we will be able to do a pushup at the end of the class. Now to do so, we need to work a lot on the arms, but the arms connecting them to the body, right? We don't need to do only biceps and triceps, we need to incorporate the work of the arms to the rest of the body, and then lots of planks, and lots of holding the body in that position that we need for the pushup. You'll see that going progressively, you'll get to do a nice pushup by the end of the class.

Now let's start with the magic circle, which is perfect for this that I'm talking about. So I want you to start down here nice and tall, and you engage the circle, hold, and release. And again, you pull, pull, pull, hold it tight, and release. And again, engage the circle, stay tall, easing the neck and the face, and release. Now let's change the level, we go up in front of the chest and we do the same thing.

Engage, and release. We do just three today, but of course, you can play with more repetitions and beats and different pace and different intensity anytime you like. And, again, one more time, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, and release. Now up with the arms, and we go engage. This is the hardest, and release.

Let's try not to arch and not to lift the shoulders, right? A lot of times we go off of the lumber spine, so let's keep everything the way it was before, and release. Now we beat down, we lower, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. We stay down there for eight counts, and then we travel up, and then we stay up here. And now from here we shave and extend.

This is the first time we're actually bending and working the arms. Before it was all upper arm connected to the trunk. Two more. And up, and again, down, and up. Now let's go into shaving again, and we squeeze the circle as we go around the head.

And then we reverse, squeeze it the opposite way, and back again, extend the arms, and release it down. Now out to the side, and we go pull, hold and release. If it's easy for you to go and touch on the back of the arm and on the back of your back, you feel right away that muscle connection is really powerful. And let's do a couple of more times to engage and release. One more time, pull, pull, pull, and release.

Other side, magic circle on the hip, not too far back, we want to be in line with the joint, and here we stay, and we go pull, and release. And again, pull, pull, pull, and release. Let's do two more. Engage, engage, engage, and release. One more time, engage the circle.

Pull, pull, pull, and release. Beautiful! Now let's put the magic circle down, we'll use it a little bit again later, and I want you to go in all four. Now you know that I like the spiral up against, up on the legs, right? I like to work on spirals also for the upper limbs. Why?

A lot of times, myself included, we hyperextend, so if we don't want to hurt ourself, we need to think about a spiral, externally rotating the shoulder, externally rotating the wrist, internally rotating the elbows. You see how the feeling of those arms down onto the floor is way stronger. So let's hold this position, and we start dropping the chest down and pushing it up, and dropping it down and pushing it up. Nice and easy. Drop down, push up.

Now keep that connection and keep that spiral at the arms, and now we go bend the elbows back, and extend. Of course, a lot of weight is still on the knees, we go gentle, we go progressively, with both weight and range of motion. Now you can separate your hands a little bit if you feel better, and we go open out to the side, and up, which usually is a lot easier. And again, to the side and up, and to the side, and up. I want you to experience both.

Let's repeat in line with your shoulders, spiral up the arms, elbows go back, and up. Why it's important to do both? Because there is not one best way. We need to work all the muscles around the shoulders, around the arm. So this one goes a lot on the triceps, that's why it's usually more challenging.

And then when we widen this stance a little bit and we go out, then we go more on the pack in the front of the arms. So very good to experience them both, and to work them both. Now come up for a second, release the wrist. That's the limitation. Sometimes the wrist gets sore, so go little by little, if that's the case, okay?

Stop and go in different position, one different position can be this one. And we're gonna go now the plank, so stay on your forearms, stretch your body long. Now in this position, I want you to hold, I like keeping the legs together because that activates better my inner thighs, but if you like a bigger base of support, feel free to open them wider. And now from here I want you to push with the feet and back. You slide forward, you slide back.

Now this plank position is so important. If we don't know how, and we cannot hold this plank, we cannot really do a pushup. The core becomes really, really important. Now let's go a little bit into obliques. We go drop the hip down, drop the hip down on one side, and the other.

And again, twist and twist, and now release. Come back on your all four position, hands and knees. And now from this position, I want you to tuck your toes and lift up the knees. So we did a little bit of dropping and lifting up the chest before, I want you to repeat it here. Drop down, push up; drop down, push up; drop down, push up.

One more time, drop and push. Now stretch your legs back full plank, and we go point and flex, point and flex. Keep pushing the floor away, keep that spiral, make sure the elbows are rotating the opposite way than wrist and shoulders to create that tension. And then you can release, sit back, again, breathe for a second, and then you go back up on your plank, and we do walk in, walk out; walk in, walk out. This is gonna get us ready to a couple of exercise we're gonna do later.

Reverse, start with the opposite leg, and open back. One, sorry, two. Last one, three, and three. Now push back with your arms a little bit, stretch, and then we go walking through to sit down and go into the hundred. And guess what, I want you to focus on this position.

If you can keep the legs down, it's pretty much the same plank you were into before. If you need to keep them higher, that's absolutely fine. And you go pump, and reach. I wanted to show you that because it's important to see how this position is really the same one, right? The goal that we have to go down there with the legs is exactly what we're looking into when we do a plank.

Pump, and exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale. And again, in, and exhale out. Reach, reach, reach, reach, reach. And again, in with air, and exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale. And again, in, and exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale.

Reach back, and now up and over, pull back and down. Up and over, scoop and down. Come up over, roll back, and now we come up and we stay rolling. Scoop it back around, open, press back with the arms. Go over the first time we do the stretch.

Reach, lift, lift, lift, circle, and feel free to go all the way forward for a nice stretch. Let's repeat. Scoop back, open, press, over, and again, reach up, up, up, up, circle around, and over. Now flat back, elbows up, lean back, lengthen over. Now don't lace your hands, reach back, lengthen and lift the arms as high as you can.

Lift them up, and you up, up, up, up, circle around, and over. Of course, you can do this also with weights. If you want to increase the load on the upper limbs. Same thing, reach, lengthen. Now palms facing in, and you go up, up, up, up, up, circle, lift up, and over.

Now facing front, you lift up, and hands to the chest, you go inhale, exhale, inhale up, open, lift, lift, lift, lift. Stop here, turn your palms back, internally rotate the arms, and you go lift 10, nine, eight, seven, six. This is important for the top of the shoulders, the mid-deltoid, reach away with the arms as you lift. And again, you go in, down, lift, tall, the crease of the elbows facing down, and you go up, up, up, up. Lengthen the arms away, reach, let's try to touch the wall and the screen, and release.

Now flex, drop, reach forward, roll up, lift, open, hands go back, bend your knees, you lift, and you go bend five, four, three, two, one. And we repeat, head down, stretch, roll up, open. Now little arch, lift the sternum, open, open, open, open. And we repeat, you lift, and you go one, two, three, four, and five. Now here, shaving, we go up three, two, one.

Other leg, three, two, one. Open the arms, we go for hugs, but now I want you to force the opening, so here you open, and you go, more, more, more. Hug, open, more, more, more. Hug, open, more, more. Let's do one more.

And you go, three, two, one. And now we go for a nice rollover. Let's release the arms for a second, we go for a nice massage back. Open, down, deep. And again, go back, keep your waist long all the time.

One more in this direction. Pull, pull, roll down, and reverse. Shoulder width behind the head, and nice deep stretch rolling down, and you go back together. Now for the arms, I want you to press hard into the floor. That's your base, right?

So really push and reach, push and reach for the arms. Roll down, roll down, roll down. And since we're working on the upper body and planks, now here's how we do the leg circle. Press down and we go circle one, circle two, circle three. Of course, if it's too much, you can also release it down, and you reverse, one, two, and three.

Scissor, and you go one, two, and three. Reverse, circle one, circle two. Bring it across, this one in tighter. Roll in like a ball, come up, hold, you go back, come up, open and close. Back, come up, open and close.

Roll back, come up, open, and close. Roll back, come up, open, and close. Single, only four sets. One, one, two, three, four. And now we go open, two, three, four.

Now scissor, and we do only four sets because we will repeat all these exercises in a plank. You go down, and up. Hold on a second, two, and up. Three, let's get down to that plank, if possible, and crisscross, three, two, one, and come up. Now we are going to repeat the abdominal series in the plank.

If it's too soon, feel free to do a few more sets lying on the back, otherwise we're gonna go in all four with the toes on the mats, on the towels. So from here we go into a plank, and we do the single, pull, pull, pull, pull. Two more sets. Now the double, both in, push it out, both in, push it out, in and out. Last one, in and out.

Now pike up a big pull up, and you go slide through, and up, and down, and up. You can go small, or you can go bigger. The bigger part down if you are, but the flexibility is the easiest thing. The hard work is the pull up from the stomach and work on the shoulder. Now here double straight, you go open and scoop, pull, pull, pull, pull.

Open out, and pull in, pike up. Two, and in, out three, and in. Now push out again, and we go twist, and twist, and twist, and in. Last one, in, and twist. Very good.

So if you are new to that type of work, just start with one exercise. Then you had another one. Start with few reps, and then as you get stronger up here, then you can go for more. Now get back to our circle, and we place it down on the mat. Hands on top of it.

So you, in a lift, and press down exhale, exhale, exhale, and release. Just that, find the lift first. And again, press down, lift all, and release. And again, lift, lift, lift, and release. Now press down, bend your elbows, curl, push the circle down as you exhale, and roll it up.

And again, tall, elbows to the side, and curl round, round, round, and lift. And again, press, all the work is underneath the arms, not on top. And go, keep the neck relaxed, and lift. Now we grab the circle, and we are going to squeeze engage as you pull it in, and lengthen out. Pull it in, squeeze, and lengthen out.

Pull it in, squeeze, turn to your right leg, go overstretch the arms, and go, come back up. And now to the other side, twist, squeeze the circle. Reach, reach, reach, reach, reach, come back up. As you lift, engage the circle, turn to the right, and stretch the arms to squeeze a little less as you stretch forward. As you come back in, you pull tight in, and center, and again to the left.

Reach, reach, reach, and you go left, squeeze it tight, and release. We place the circle down, we'll use it at the very end. And we'd turn on the stomach for a nice opening. Finally, a little stretch. So you can come up to the elbows, or even higher if you need to extend the abs a little bit more.

And you go look, neck roll, all the way around and center. And again, look down all the way right, and center. Now here, lift up one leg, kick, kick, reach down. Keep lifting up the stomach, up with a leg, kick, kick, reach down. And again, up, kick, kick, stretch down, lift, kick, kick, stretch, and down.

Now since we got so good at those planks, let's try to do this last exercise up on a plank. So here, scoop your navel up, and lift, lift, lift, lift up one leg. Kick, kick, reach down, up, kick, kick, length, and down. And again, lift, kick, kick, stretch and up. Kick, kick.

And now we lower ourselves down, you turn the head, and we're going to double. You go two, three, two, one, and stretch. Open, open, open. Other side, you go three, two, one, and really open the chest, we need it. After all that work, we need to stretch, and down.

And again, three, two, one, stretch and back. Nice and long, more, more, more. And last one, three, two, one, and stretch, stretch, stretch. And now you go, sit back round, and now we go lying on the side, and we go for side kicks. Now here, we have two option, we can stay elbow and knees, or you can attempt to go up on the feet, okay?

Both options are good. So from here, you hold, and with the top leg you go front and back, front, and back. Two more, kick, and reach, and kick, and reach. Now leg on leg, and you go up, and down, and up. Support the bottom hip, up, and squeeze.

Lift, back to parallel, and we go circle three, circle two, circle one, reverse. Back up and front, circle two, and last one. Now we deserve a little mermaid. So you sit down, you stack your legs, you lift up and you go reach, reach, reach. You can bend the arm, really nice, deep stretch.

And now we place the hands down for a snake. Pike up, the knees push forward, you articulate your back, and you open, and then you curl. You articulate it back, and then you keep your arms there as you sit down again. We'll do one more, and as we do so we turn the other way. So you pike, you open to the front first, open like the down stretch, you lift up, and now we pike again, and we sit on the opposite hip, so that we are ready for the side kicks on the other side.

Of course, you know you have the choice to go on the knees or to do the sequence on your feet all the way in a plank. So you go front and back, and kick, and reach, and front, and back. Let's do one more, front, and leg on leg. You go up and flex, kick and down, push with the hip up, push with the elbow, circle as parallel, one, two, and three. Reverse, back up and front.

Circle two, circle three. Now leg on leg, we sit on the hip. We have a mermaid on this side, you lift up nice and long, big side bending. To release, you can look down for an extra stretch, you stretch up, and then down, snake again. You pike, push forward with your knees, with your hips, and roll your body forward, push into the floor, head down, curl, reverse, all the way up, and sit.

Again, scoop up, reach over, open, and now you pike, you lift, and we go into a plank. Leg pull, and leg put down. So you go swing back front and change, lift the leg. Push and down, one more set. Push and plank, and push and plank.

Twist. Open the chest up to the ceiling, push with both arms, and you go kick and flex, and kick and flex. And again, up and down, and up, and down. Sit down, scoop down into the floor. From here, teaser up, and to the side, back to the center.

Teaser up, and to the side, back to the center. Scoop and lift, and down to the side lift, work the abs. And again, last one, lift, lift, lift, open to the side, and really ease. And now let's get back to our pushup. So first we go on our hands.

I was rushing into the circle, not time yet. We go in front of the knees, we pick up the feet, and I want you to go elbows to the side. So this should be easier, like we were saying before, you keep your body nice and long from the knees to the head, and you go down to the floor, and up; down to the floor, and up. And again, down and push. Now let's bring the elbow, the hands little underneath the shoulder, a little closer in, and now we try to go all the way back with the elbows close to the waist.

And you go bend, and up, bend, and up. One more, down, and up. Now to progress to a full plank, I love using the circle under the sternum, so that the circle can help us up. So from here, we place it there. Hands out, we go with the elbows out first, you go down and up, and lower and lift, down, and up.

Feel free to readjust the position, close the hands in, and underneath the shoulders a little more. Now the elbows go back, and push, back, and push. Last one, and up. And now you go, and you can do a couple of stretches. If you're really, really sore with the arms, you can do a little cross with the arms and over to the other side.

And then you can bring the arm up and cross it over this way. Hold it for a little time, 20, 30 seconds. And then you go to the other side, grab the elbow, side bend a little bit. If you feel that it is very tight on this side, and then you release. So you see how many ways you have to get stronger.

Build up step by step, don't do everything. On the first time you do this workout, if certain things are too advanced, just go back to the repetition, and do the variation before. And if you repeat it consistently, you're able to get stronger. And then as always, you can join me on the chair for more upper body work, and more strengthening of the arms and the chest.


1 person likes this.
Thank you for this great class. I love that you always give the reasons “why” for the exercise and what muscles are working. 
Loved the many ways you worked upper body strengthening into this routine.
Wow! What a phenomenal class! I’ll definitely come back and do it again. Thank you Ilaria!
Wow. This is a powerhouse routine. Thank you!
1 person likes this.
Terrible instructor…her transitions are much too fast! I consider myself an advanced practitioner but this was certainly not a moderate pace!
Ethne D ~ Thank you for your forum post. We are sorry to hear that you did not enjoy this class. After reviewing it again, we have decided to keep it at a moderate pace as she did give time for transitions between movements and also added explanations when needed. We are happy to help you find other classes that may be better suited for you. Please email us at if you would like any recommendations.
1 person likes this.
Grazie Ilaria 🙏 I love your classes and always feel 💪 afterwards
1 person likes this.
1 person likes this.
Pilates practitioners are very in touch with their cores and hips, but shoulders and arms, not so much.  Pilates is so great at re-teaching the muscles to work together.  Ilaria gets those muscles working together in a way your brain may have forgotten.  Brings all the upper body to the party!
Melissa C
Ilaria! The most beautiful pilates ballerina!  So good. Thank you! Thank you!
1-10 of 22

You need to be a subscriber to post a comment.

Please Log In or Create an Account to start your free trial.

Footer Pilates Anytime Logo

Move With Us

Experience Pilates. Experience life.

Let's Begin