It All Starts with The Hundred

I’m struggling, ok, dying, trying to do The Hundred. Jay Grimes is standing over me, and I think he’s laughing a little. It’s my first lesson with him, and after five years of consistent Pilates practice and teaching, it’s like I’ve never done The Hundred before.


He stopped me and said, “Did you know Pilates is one exercise and 500 variations?” I shook my head, eyes wide. And then he followed up with, “And do you know what that exercise is?” Again, dumbfounded, I shook my head (still in The Hundred and dying, BTW). “It’s the double-leg pull. It has everything: the strong center, the two-way stretch, and the breath. And you can find it in every exercise.” And he was right. And then I had to finish The Hundred


Now here’s the thing about the one-exercise theory. Any exercise can be the one.


For me, these days, it’s The Hundred. 


Often considered the signature exercise in the Pilates system, The Hundred has it all – the breath, abdominal strength, lower and upper body connections, and the ever-elusive two-way stretch. It’s the exercise that leads to and leads from so many exercises.


In Return to Life, Joseph Pilates gives clear-cut instructions on the exercises, and there are so many gems to be found, bits of forgotten wisdom on every page. For The Hundred, two, in particular, are the keys to success.


Return to Life starts us here:

  1. Lie flat with the body resting on the mat or floor
  2. Stretch the arms (shoulder-wide, touching the body, palms down) straight forward
  3. Stretch the legs (close together, knees locked) straight forward
  4. Stretch the toes (pointed) forward and down








  1. Lift both feet about 2″ above the mat or floor
  2. Raise head with eyes focused on toes
  3. Raise both arms about 6″ to 8″ above the thighs







Coming up from below

If we begin the exercise by lying flat, with the arms by the sides, lengthen the body, and pull up into the hundreds position from below, we create a strong and supported center through an elongated c-curve. The back anchors to the mat to allow the psoas (troublemaker on a good day) to move from length into contraction, which helps stabilize the back into the mat rather than pulling it away to support the legs’ weight and allows the seat to do its job.


The Breath

Roll into the exercise in an inhale and start the pumping on an exhale. Coming into the exercise on an inhale fills the lungs and opens the back and the rib cage, creating space and length to support the upper c-curve. And if we’re actively inhaling with the movement, it opens the throat and releases tension from the front of the neck. When we exhale on the first five pumps, the center tensions and tones. It supports the position, anchors the back, and encourages diaphragmatic breath. 


Are you curious about what the elders have to say about The Hundred? Check out this article which features comments from Ron Fletcher, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Romana Kryzanowska, and Carola Trier.


Karen Frischmann is a mentor for Pilates teachers looking to refine their craft and gain a deep understanding of the classical Pilates method. A true teacher’s teacher, she applies her 25 years of experience, extensive knowledge of the body, and sharp attention to detail to creating programs and workshops that nurture teachers around the world.



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