Step Up Your 100’s: Do the Pilates Hundred Challenge

Sam Harris-Hughes
Step Up Your 100’s: Do the Pilates Hundred Challenge

Arguably the most well-known exercise in Pilates, the Hundred is a versatile and very effective exercise, and is suitable for students of all levels and abilities.

It warms up the body by getting the blood pumping, strengthens the core and the upper and lower stomach muscles, and improves the muscles' endurance capabilities.

Pilates creator Joseph Pilates starts the traditional mat work sequence with the most advanced form of The Hundred. But trust me when I say — just simply getting into the position correctly for this version of The Hundred is extremely challenging, let alone holding it there for 100 pumps of the arms!

How to Do the Hundred Exercise

The Hundred exercise is done by holding both legs up and keeping the head and shoulders lifted just a few inches off the floor in the shape of a shallow bowl, with the arms reaching along the sides of the body just above hip height.

While holding this position, the arms pump up and down about 3-5 inches, 100 times. The breath is continuous throughout the entire exercise, breathing in over 5 beats of the arms, then breathing out for the next 5 beats, and so on.

Joseph’s advanced Hundreds begin lying down flat with legs stretched out along the floor. The head, shoulders, arms and legs lift simultaneously into the 100’s position (legs very close to the floor). All of this, of course, without letting the back arch and keeping the stomach pulled flat.

But, as I said, merely getting into this start position in this way is an advanced move, and can cause injury if done incorrectly. It should only be attempted if you are at an advanced level of Pilates and are not suffering from any lower back pain.

So for the rest of us (the vast majority!), here are several modifications that can be used as stepping-stones to get you to this level.

Get in the Starting Position

Start lying on your back with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Set your core first by engaging your pelvic floor (as though you are trying to stop yourself from going to the toilet) and also sinking your belly button toward your spine.

Nod your head and lift your head and shoulders off the floor, just to the tip of your shoulder blades. As you do this, imagine your front ribs sliding down toward your hips as though they were trying to slide under the front of your pants. The arms also lift off the floor to about hip height and reach long toward the wall in front of you.

It is important to keep your stomach pulling flat throughout the entire exercise, and not to let it push up, creating a dome.

Modification 1

Some people will find this starting position with the feet down enough to get you working and it’s perfectly fine to hold this position to do the Hundred. Remember: you will hold this position for quite a while, so start at a level that is right for you.

It is better to be technically and anatomically correct than to push your body, cause injury to yourself, and not get the full effect of the exercise.

Modification 2

Lift one leg at a time to table-top position (90 degrees at the hip and knee) and hold the legs at this position for the Hundred.

Modification 3

Progress from version 2 by straightening the legs at an angle that is suitable for you, keeping them squeezed together before you begin pumping your arms. The lower the legs, the harder it gets, so version 3 can be taken in many different stages by gradually lowering the legs over time.

Modification of the Advanced Version

If you’ve mastered doing the Hundred with the legs straight and low, but you still find it difficult to lift directly into the 100’s position from lying flat (without letting the back arch), you can start with this modification to work your way up to it.

Simply just lift one leg when coming up to the 100’s position, leaving the other leg lightly on the ground. It’s important to always prepare by engaging your core before lifting.

Tip: Imagine the legs reaching long out of the hip joint. The legs should be held from the abs, not the hip joint. If you still feel the front of the hips working hard, try turning the legs out so only the heels are together and the toes are pointing outward.

Other Variations

Building Endurance

If you’ve worked your way to having the legs straight but can’t hold it there for 100 beats, simply continue beating the arms and bring the legs back to table top. You may feel that after a couple of sets of 10 beats, you are able to straighten the legs again.

Your endurance will gradually build up and you’ll be able to complete more sets with straight legs. Otherwise, you can start with less beats and work your way up to 100.

Protecting the Lower Back

Some people find that their lower backs do begin to ache, even when doing the earlier modifications and working their core. In this case, or if you have lower back pain, try performing the exercise with a flat back, rather than in a neutral position.

Ensure that your abdominals are still pulling in. Think of the belly button pulling all the way down to the floor.

Sore Neck

Holding your head up for that long can also feel strenuous on your neck. Make sure you're looking just above your knees, not at the ceiling, and that you are not poking your chin forward. Imagine you are holding a plum between your chin and your chest.

If you’re still experiencing a sore neck, take one hand behind your head and allow your head to be held and supported by your hand.

The #StepUpYour100s Challenge

Want to step up your 100's? Take the 10-Day Pilates Hundred Challenge! Here's how to #stepupyour100s:

Day 1

  • Complete all 10 sets (1 set = 10 beats/1 complete breath cycle) at a modification level that you can manage.

Day 2

  • 2 sets (20 beats) at one level higher than your beginning level from Day 1
  • 8 sets (80 beats) at your beginning level

Example: If on day 1, you did modification 2, then today, start with 2 sets of modification 3 with legs straight at a height that's challenging but manageable for you, directly followed by 8 sets of modification 2.

Or if your Day 1 position was modification 3, simply take the legs lower as your next level.

Day 3

  • 3 sets at one level higher than your beginning level, and
  • 7 sets at your beginning level

Day 4

  • 4 sets at one level higher than your beginning level
  • 6 sets at your beginning level

Day 5

  • 5 sets at one level higher than your beginning level
  • 5 sets at your beginning level

Day 6

  • 6 sets at one level higher than your beginning level
  • 4 sets at your beginning level

Day 7

  • 7 sets at one level higher than your beginning level
  • 3 sets at your beginning level

Day 8

  • 8 sets at one level higher than your beginning level
  • 2 sets at your beginning level

Day 9

  • 9 sets at one level higher than your beginning level
  • 1 sets at your beginning level

Day 10

  • 10 sets at one level higher than your beginning level

Ready to step up your Hundreds? Join us in the Pilates Hundred Challenge and share your progression on Twitter by using this hashtag: #stepupyour100s.