Mat Pilates for Beginners: A Helpful Guide
With so many classes to choose from here at Chuze, deciding which one to take can be a little overwhelming. In this article, we’re going to dive into Mat Pilates for beginners so you can determine whether this class is right for you (but, we’ll let you in on a little secret—it’s perfectly suitable for everyone)!
What is Pilates?
The history of Pilates begins with Joseph Pilates.
Born in Germany in 1880, Joseph spent his entire life exploring the limits of the human form. While he was born a weak child, he defied expectations when he became a bodybuilder in his youth. He was fascinated by the physical body and explored an incredible variety of fitness disciplines – from Ancient Greece-inspired gymnastics to yoga and tai chi. He was also an expert skier, diver, boxer, and circus acrobat.
Pilates was living in England when World War 1 broke out, and for some time, he was interned there as an enemy alien. It was during this time that he began working as a nurse in a hospital, where he supposedly began using bedsprings as resistance to help injured soldiers regain movement. This planted the seed that would eventually grow into what we call Pilates today.
In the early 1920s, Pilates moved to the US with his newly developed Pilates equipment and regimen. It quickly became popular with dancers like Martha Graham and George Balanchine because of its application to injuries and emphasis on performance-building muscles.
Pilates has been a staple in the fitness industry ever since.
What’s the Difference Between Reformer and Mat Pilates?
When Joseph Pilates developed his pilates workout routine, he also developed a piece of exercise equipment called a reformer. Reformers are apparatuses that allow users to use springs for resistance. There are different types of reformers—one is a spring-loaded sled, another resembles a massage table with spring-loaded handles all over it, another looks like a chair with a spring-loaded footrest, and another resembles a barrel.
Fortunately, with Mat Pilates specifically, we don’t have to worry about all of that.
Per its name, Mat Pilates can be performed simply with a mat on the floor. Some teachers utilize tools like exercise balls, yoga blocks, bands, and rings, but it doesn’t require the spring-loaded equipment of traditional Pilates.
Reformer Pilates, the type of pilates that involves spring-loaded equipment, is generally done under the close supervision of an instructor, whereas Mat Pilates allows a larger group of people to exercise together.
When deciding between the types of Pilates, it’s good to note that both are highly effective for building strength and flexibility as well as aiding injury recovery. Some fitness professionals argue that Mat Pilates is even more difficult than a reformer, as it comes down to your body vs gravity without the adjustable support.
What are the Components of Mat Pilates?
There are many different exercises that instructors utilize for Mat Pilates, so we’ll just cover a few of them so you can get the gist of what a class may entail.
“The Hundreds” is the name of a common warm-up exercise in Pilates.
To perform The Hundreds, you’ll begin laying flat on the ground on your back and your knees either bent at a 90-degree angle (this is called “tabletop position”) or extended out at a 45-degree angle. You’ll lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor (if it’s available to you) and raise your arms slightly off the ground. Finally, you’ll pump your arms up 6-8 inches and down for a total of 100 reps. You’ll inhale every 5 pumps of the arms and exhale every 5 pumps.
The purpose of this exercise is to heat up your core strength and connect your body with your breath.
The C-Curve is a foundational movement of Pilates.
The C-Curve has many parts, so bear with us here:
Begin sitting on your yoga mat with your knees bent in front of you, feet flat on the floor, back straight up. Gently grabbing the backs of your knees, engage your abs so they pull toward your lower spine; this should cause your spine to curve, creating a C-shape. Continue this lowering toward the curve, but don’t let your body collapse. Once you reach your deepest point, hold the position for a moment, and use your abdominals to round back up to a sitting position.
In a Pilates class, your instructor will walk you through how breathwork comes into play and how you can make the back curve more or less advanced.
One of the movements utilized in Pilates is referred to as swimming, but no, you’re not underwater.
For this exercise, you’ll lay flat on your stomach with your arms and legs stretched out long. You’ll use your back muscles to lift your limbs off the floor. From there, you’ll do a swimming movement, in which you raise and lower the opposing leg quickly, switching back and forth between the two sides all the while. This should sort of resemble a swimmer in the water, which is where the name comes from!
Who Should do Mat Pilates?
Here’s the beauty of a mat workout—anyone can do it. Regardless of age, ability, or injury (for the most part), Mat Pilates is safe and accessible for most people.
If you are coming off of an injury, or are unsure if pilates is right for you, consult with your doctor first.
If you’ve ever wondered what Pilates might be like or want to try your hand as a pilates beginner, don’t take our word for it; hop into a class! With more than 30 locations, we’ve got plenty of space to get you started.