My journey with Pilates has been a transformative one. Initially, when asked about my favorite class to teach, I didn’t have a clear answer. Now, if posed with the same question, my response is instant and enthusiastic: Pilates. Specifically, it’s the Mat Pilates exercises that truly captivate me. This passion isn’t confined to one style; it encompasses all forms of Pilates, whether in the pool, with machines, or on the mat. Teaching and practicing Pilates brings me immense joy and a deep sense of fulfillment.
This connection with Pilates was further deepened in 2020, a year that took me on a nostalgic journey back to the days of regularly practicing and teaching mat Pilates. The lockdown period presented an opportunity to engage with my community through daily live classes on my Facebook group. As I led these sessions, both as a teacher and participant, the experience reinforced the significant benefits of Pilates for mental and physical health. It was a powerful reminder, not just for me but also for every dedicated participant, of the holistic advantages that this practice offers.
Why Mat Pilates?
Practicing mat Pilates exercises is a simple and excellent way to maintain body movement, whether at home or on the go. It involves no heavy lifting or large machines; instead, it uses our own body weight on the mat to strengthen, shape, tone, and stretch, ultimately helping us feel good!
Feedback from regular participants in the daily live classes included remarks such as “I feel stronger,” “I’ve become more toned,” “I can see muscle definition,” and “I’ve discovered muscles I never knew I had.”
Regular practice of mat Pilates exercises can certainly assist in shaping and toning every part of your body, reaching even the deep-seated muscles. I’ve selected the following 10 exercises as my top favorites for you. It was a challenging task, as I enjoy many more, but if I had to choose just a few, these would be my picks.
“In 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference, in 20 you’ll see the difference, and in 30 you’ll have a whole new body”— Joseph Pilates
Please be aware that my approach to teaching mat Pilates exercises includes numerous variations and modifications to the traditional classical mat Pilates repertoire. You can access some of my free, on-demand classes on my YouTube channel.
Exercise #1: SL Bridge Lift and Lower
An advanced variation of the bridge exercise enhances glute engagement on one side and challenges hip stability.
Start in a supine position with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms resting alongside your body. Lift your pelvis off the ground into a bridge position. Raise one leg straight up towards the ceiling. While maintaining the bridge position, lower and lift this leg. Ensure your hips remain level and your spine neutral, avoiding hyperextension of the lumbar region. Perform 8-10 repetitions on each leg.
Exercise #2: Side to Side
This exercise is a modification aimed at working the oblique muscles. Beginners may rest their legs on a Swiss ball. Start in a supine position with your legs in a table-top position (knees over the hips and shins parallel to the floor), and arms resting at your sides on the ground. Slowly move your legs from side to side, allowing one side of your hips to lift off the floor. Keep your shoulder blades on the ground and your knees together.
Exercise #3: Roll Up to Twist
A delightful variation of the classical Roll-up includes an added “twist”. Begin in a supine position with your arms extended overhead. Roll up to a sitting position, lifting off the floor one vertebra at a time, and reach over your legs. Then, extend one arm up and over your head, rotating your thoracic spine as the arm completes a circle, and roll back down. Alternate between the right and left sides.
Exercise #4: Rolling Like a Ball to Teaser
From a seated position on your sacrum bone, adopt a rounded spine with bent knees and feet off the ground. Roll backwards and then come back up to balance on the sacrum bone again. Continue by extending your legs and reaching your arms up into a teaser position. Perform this for 10 repetitions.
Exercise #5: Scissors
Start in a supine position with your head and shoulders lifted off the ground and legs straight. Split the legs, pulling one leg towards you, then switch and alternate the legs. Perform this for 10 repetitions.
Exercise #6: Side Kick and Lift
Lie on your side, propped up on your elbow, with the bottom leg bent and the top leg straight. Kick the top leg forward and then back. As you kick the leg forward, lift your hips off the ground, and lower them back down as you kick the leg backwards. Perform this for 10 repetitions.
Exercise#7: Side Bend and Twist
From a side-seated position, with knees bent and the top foot in front, lift your hips off the ground and straighten your legs, reaching one arm up and over your head. Then twist and turn your body to face the ground, reaching the arm towards the opposite foot. Return to the side position and bend your knees to lower yourself back to the starting position. Perform this for 8-10 repetitions.
Exercise #8: Leg Pull Front
From a full plank position on your hands, extend one leg off the ground, lifting and lowering it. Do this 5-6 times for each leg.
Exercise #9: The Push Up
The push-up can also be done on the knees if this variation is too challenging. Perform 8-10 repetitions. Maintain a solid plank position with a neutral spine, avoiding any sinking in the lower back.
Exercise #10: Swimming
Start in a prone position with arms extended forward in a V shape, thumbs pointing up towards the ceiling, and legs straight. Extend and lift the opposite arm and leg, then switch. Begin slowly and gradually increase the pace. Continue for 30-40 seconds.
To Wrap it up…
This guide offers a practical and versatile approach to mat Pilates exercises, suitable for various fitness levels. The ten exercises presented provide a comprehensive workout, focusing on enhancing strength, flexibility, and overall body tone. Ideal for both beginners and advanced practitioners, these clear and accessible instructions make Pilates an enjoyable and effective tool for achieving a healthier, more toned physique.
For a fun twist, I invite you to join me for a Mat Pilates class on my YouTube channel. It’s a great opportunity to experience these exercises in action and add an extra dose of enjoyment to your fitness journey!