My Pilates love story started with mat. In fact, I didn’t even know at first that there was more to Pilates than just mat work.
Growing up in Ukraine I was taking aerobics classes at a local gym. My instructor went to the US for an internship and she came back with this new form of exercise – Pilates. It was so different from step, Latino and kick-boxing that were popular at the time. Pilates was love from the first sight (or the first class, in my case.)
Years passed before I moved to the US and got an opportunity to experience apparatus work. It was fun, it was new, it was great but my heart still belongs to the mat. The mat is where I feel the most freedom and joy of movement.
Correct me if I am wrong, but when you look at schedules of most Pilates studios you will find very few mat classes. Mat classes thrive in gyms and community centers but most Plates studios do not offer them (lack of space and lower profit margins are most common reasons why those classes aren’t on the schedule.) In fact, a lot of people (clients, not teachers) view mat classes as an inferior alternative to an apparatus class.
Just because a mat class does not need expensive equipment it is considered not as valuable as apparatus work. Heartbreaking, isn’t it?
Are you having trouble falling in love with mat yourself? Or are you struggling to develop mad mat love in your students? Take a look at these 5 reasons to be in love with Pilates mat work (and share yours in the comments below.)
5 Reasons to Love Pilates Matwork
- Body awareness – Pilates is a total body workout that makes you think about every move that you are doing. Apparatus is great at offering assistance and guidance (read this brilliant article by Benjamin Degenhardt) but mat really takes your body and mind to the test.
Varvara Kalinin the owner of PerfectPosturePilates says that her favorite thing about teaching Pilates mat is teaching clients how to use their own body resistance, deepening their understanding of the core muscles and body alignment. “Working on mat is great for linking mind, body and breath in a simple setting.”
- Do it anywhere – Matwork requires minimal amount of space which makes it perfect for a quick workout in the living room, bedroom or a hotel room.
Even before I started my Pilates teacher training I stayed true to my personal Pilates practice by completing a mat workout several times a week. Of course, you will gain greater insight into your body by taking classes from a skilled teacher but even personal workouts based on DVDs, online videos or (ideally!) by following Joe’s Return to Life through Contrology are a great way to build a practice. Practice really makes it perfect no matter what form of learning you choose.
Robin Long, the creator and Pilates teacher at TheBalancedLifeOnline.com points out that on the mat students are forced to work without the intrusion/distractions of props, machines, or other contraptions. Mat work keeps you honest.
- Free or low cost – I teach Pilates from my home studio and offering mat classes is not an option. However, it does not stop me from sharing my mat love with my clients. I always encourage my clients to start their own Pilates home practice by giving them links to my Youtube videos or simply writing down several moves to work on during the week.
Lindsey Jackson shares “Mat classes bring Pilates into the heart of the community and make them accessible for everyone. Whilst equipment can give its own benefits… I feel technique is best learned on the mat first so someone takes this body awareness onto the equipment.”
- No-Brainer. One of the challenges of working out at home is not knowing what to do. Even for me, a person who has been teaching fitness for 15 years, it’s nice to turn off my teacher brain and just follow the routine that somebody else put together for me.
Classical Pilates mat work consists of 34 exercises originally created and published by Joseph Pilates in his book Return to Life through Contrology. Learning and following this routine is a simple way to take the guesswork out of your workouts.
It’s amazing and so motivating to watch how the body learns to flow through the movements that first seemed close to impossible to perform.
- Fast – As a mother of 4 kids, free time is a major commodity in my life. I know that I am not the only busy person who struggles to find time for workouts. A complete Pilates mat workout takes only 30-40 minutes – it’s the time that anyone can set aside during the day.
- Bonus for the teachers: Build a community. If you are a teacher trying to add mat classes to the schedule then you can learn from Lindsey Jackson who runs Pilates mat classes in the UK with an ongoing wait list. “I think the fact that no two classes are the same helps. I think the ability to tailor individuals needs within the class helps… but mostly I think orchestrating the atmosphere for the group is what makes the class compelling. Adding value with snippets of health information, whether that be about diet, nutrition, stretch techniques, new playful movements, pairs work all add a dynamic that create group identity and bond, not just student and teacher relationship. The group members care about each other and help each other to be their best.”
How to Keep Your Pilates Mat Routine Fresh
- Change the tempo. Robin Long says “I keep it fresh by changing the order of exercises and introducing new transitions. In addition, I freshen up classic exercises by adding pulses, slowing them down, speeding them up or adding a twist. Pilates is repetitive by nature, but I try to mix it up enough to keep my students engaged and to provide new ways to learn about their unique bodies and how to use them.”
- Set a goal. Whether it is honing in on one of the Pilates principles or addressing a body concern (tight hamstrings, weak back muscles, shoulder stabilization etc.) set a goal for every workout that you are doing. One day you might need to spend more time stretching while the other day you really want to work on precision of every move.
Varvara Kalinin who offers several Pilates mat classes at her studio in Astoria, NY says “I come up with different routines and set different intentions for each class. I find setting intentions keeps clients more focused on what they are doing.”
- Break it up. One day you might have 30-40 minutes for a complete workout but sometimes all you have is 10-15 minutes. Lack of time is not a reason to give up a Pilates workout. Choose 4-5 exercises that you feel your body needs the most today. For example, stick to a Series of 5 Abdominals or go through the Side Kick series. You will instantly feel better.
Robin is a big proponent of 10-minute workouts. Every year she runs a 30-day Pilates Body Challenge that her followers love. “I am passionate about doing little bits each day. I find that by doing 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there I am able to keep up with my own practice without burning out or getting bored.”
- Bring apparatus work to the mat. You can expand the classical Pilates mat repertoire and challenge yourself in a new way by trying Reformer or Cadillac moves on the mat. It’s a fun way to mix things up while still staying true to the method.
- Use Props. Magic Circles, Therabands, Stretch Our Straps, Small Weights, Balance Discs, Foam Rollers, Spiky Balls, Myo Balls – the list of various Pilates props can go on and on. The purpose of adding a prop is to make Pilates moves more accessible or to develop a higher level of body control that can later be experienced without any props at all.
Use the video below to discover several ideas on how to incorporate spiky balls into a Pilates workout. The balls used in this video are part of the sFera Massage Ball Set endorsed by PilatesBridge and available through Amazon (only in the US and Canada at the moment.) PilatesBridge members can get a 20% discount on this set by using code PBRIDGE3
Are you mad about mat? Share why you love Pilates matwork or how you keep your workouts fresh.