Pilates Mat Workout Basics

Mat workouts make up much of the work done in a pilates routine. It’s the best way for a beginner to get involved into the program, and at the same time, it’s one of the hardest parts of the exercise to fully develop.

Mat exercises are useful in helping the body become strengthened and realigned, with increases in posture and balance occurring rapidly. Keep reading for a basic outline of some of the parts of the mat exercise program for pilates.

The Orginal 44

In the original pilates program organized by Joseph Pilates years ago, there are 44 different mat exercises. The exercises center around six basic principles which are the foundation for the program.

The principles are:

  • centering
  • concentration
  • control
  • precision
  • breathing
  • flowing movement

Based off of earlier exercises incorporated into yoga thousands of years ago, mat exercises are performed while in a sitting or reclined position.

While some push the merits of pilates equipment and neglect the basic mat work, it’s important to perform and it’s a part of pilates that you can perform anywhere, regardless of conditions.

Supine Breathing

By: Vox Efx

Most beginners are recommended to attend a class in order to get a very basic understanding of how to properly perform the exercises. Below are a few basic mat workout exercises which can help you to begin pilates.

First is supine breathing. Supine is a term that refers to laying on your back with your face facing upwards.

You should lie on your back with your knees bent at about a 45 degree angle. Place one of your hands on the lower part of your stomach, and inhale deeply through the nose.

Feel the way your hand moves when you take in the breath. Next, exhale, and try to focus on the movement of pulling your belly button as close to your spine as you can.

Take these breaths between four and six times; this will help you to relieve stress and relax before engaging in other pilates exercises.

Cat Stretch

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Next comes the cat stretch. For this exercise, you’re going to need to be on your hands and knees, with your knees directly underneath your hips and your hands underneath your shoulders.

Lay your hands out flat and contract your abs, causing your spine to be more properly aligned. As you inhale, pull your head upwards until you are looking in front of you.

When it comes time to exhale, tuck your chin and do your best to pull your belly inwards and towards your spine. Repeat this four to six times.

Abduction vs. Adduction

adduction and abductionAbduction refers to the contraction of a muscle that occurs in the middle of your body. You will probably hear your instructor refer to abduction while you are conditioning the midline.

Another pilates term you may hear is adduction. Unlike an abduction, which refers to a movement that draws away from your middle, an adduction is a contraction that draws toward your midline.

Another term you may hear may sound a bit confusing at first. Eccentric is a pilates term that refers to lengthening the muscle.

Of course, eccentric has another meaning altogether, but while you are practicing pilates it means that you will be lengthening the muscle during a movement.

Extensions and Concentrics

Another term is extension. Extension means that you will be straightening out a limb while using your muscles.

Concentric, on the other hand, means that you will be shortening the muscle.

Flexion is a related term that refers to the fact that you will be bending the limb with the use of your muscles.

Finally, hyperextension means that you will be straightening your limb, but this time you will be stretching it out beyond your normal range of movement and motion.

Pilates Anatomy Terms

By: Mateus Lunardi Dutra

When you hear the term cervical, this means that you will execute a movement that involves the area around your neck. Ligament most likely refers to the fact that you will be stretching the fibrous tissue that connects your cartilage and bones.

When your teacher mentions disks, he or she is referring to the shock-absorbing cartilage that rests between your two vertebrae.

You will probably hear your pilates instructor refer to a neutral spine. Keeping a neutral spine means that you are maintaining the natural curve of your spine while in the midst of a movement, instead of pressing it against the floor or flattening it out.

Another term you may hear is prone. Prone means that you will be laying face down on your front. The opposite of prone is supine, a move that means that you will be lying on your back, face up.

These are just a few of the exercises are terms that come up in a pilates routine. They are some of the first things to learn when beginning a pilates program, and consequently can be very important to your success.

More Information:

Mayo Clinic Staff (2012). “Pilates for Beginners: Explore the Core of Pilates“.

Top Photo by Centro Culturale Khatawat