What is mat Pilates?

Mat Pilates is a series of exercises from within the Pilates Method designed specifically to be performed on a mat. Joseph Pilates, the founder of the Pilates Method (which he originally called Contrology), developed mat exercises that were quite similar to the work done on Pilates machines (the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Chair & the Barrel). The idea behind this was to challenge your muscles in a variety of ways. The original Pilates workout included work on several pieces of apparatus - an isolated Pilates Mat work is a relatively new concept in the life of the method.

The benefit of Pilates matwork is that it can be done anywhere and with just a mat. It is easy to teach in a group environment, making it more affordable. However, what many people don't realize is that Pilates matwork is often harder than the work on the machines and initial tightness and muscle imbalance can make it challenging to access your core muscles during a Pilates mat workout. Pilates matwork is best done in compliment with private Pilates sessions.

The most commonly known Pilates mat exercises (which are also great for the abdominals) are The Hundred and The Series of Five (Single Leg Stretch, Double Leg Stretch, Single Straight Leg, Double Straight Leg and Criss Cross). Here are instructions on how to perform The Hundred:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Bend your knees so the feet are flat on the floor. Place your arms straight beside your torso with the palms facing down. 
  • Take a breath in and on the exhale draw your navel into your spine (narrowing your waist as if you were wearing a corset). Then slowly bring your legs up to a tabletop position (lift one leg at a time keeping your abdominals engaged, the knees will be bent at a 90 degree angle and form a 90 degrees angle with your hip joint). 
  • Reaching with your arms, nod your chin and curl your torso to bring your head and neck off the floor. Beginning pumping your arms at your sides. Inhale for 5 beats, Exhale for 5 beats. Repeat this 10 times. 
  • To advance the exercise - extend your legs to a straight leg position.

Special considerations:

  • Neck pain - Don't work through it! You can perform all or part of the repetitions with the head on the mat.
  • Back pain - This is an indication that there is too much load on your abdominals (ie. they aren't strong enough yet). Make the position smaller: If your legs are straight, put them in tabletop; If your legs are in tabletop, place the feet on the floor.
Mat pilates involves performing pilates exercises on the floor using a pilates, or yoga mat. Exercises in mat pilates can also involve basic pilates equipment such as a pilates ring, resistance band, or weighted balls. Mat pilates exercises are performed in a slow, controlled, precise manner and require an intense concentration. These exercises help strengthen the body's core by developing pelvic and scapula stability, and abdominal control, using focused breathing patterns. The main fitness goals of a mat pilates program include improved flexibility, muscle tone, body balance, spinal support, low back health, sports performance, and body-mind awareness.
Mat pilates is done on the floor using an exercise or yoga mat, which employs controlled breathing during body weight resisted movement to build core strength. An example of a popular mat pilates pose is called the Hundred. To do this, start on your back and engage your lower abdominals as you raise your arms off of the mat while reaching through your arms and fingertips. Raise your upper back, shoulders, head, and neck as you tuck your chin and look towards your toes. Your legs should be reaching and extending straight off of the mat. The abs should be doing all the work as you begin to slowly pump arms up and down in a controlled manner that is in unison with your breath. There are various other set movements or poses, and these can be learned in a class or by following a DVD at home. Mat pilates is a good place to start your pilates experience before moving on to more advanced techniques or equipment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.