Whether you’re taking some time at home to stay safe, or you’re simply looking to boost your knowledge of powerful exercises that can keep you in great shape no matter where you are: these are a few must-have mat pilates exercises that can be done with just a mat.
What Is Mat Pilates?
For as popular as it is in the mainstream, many people surprisingly still don’t realize that there are two different types of pilates classes (and ways of benefiting from Joseph Pilates’ original fitness vision): mat pilates and reformer pilates.
Mat pilates differs from reformer pilates in that you don’t need any special equipment to practice this particular exercise technique. Like yoga, this physical fitness work can be done with the aid of a simple mat to cushion your joints from the hard floor. Compared to a typical yoga class, mat pilates focuses more on toning and higher intensity workouts.
In some ways, we can think of mat pilates exercises as falling into one of three basic categories: abdominal, stretching/flexibility, and toning/strength. Let’s take a look at some exercises that you can do as part of a mat pilates class, or by yourself at home until you’re able to take pilates classes at Phitosophy’s studio.
Mat Pilates Exercises – Abdominal
Mat pilates, arguably more than anything else, revolves around core strength. And of course, core strength is really talking about the power of your abdominal muscles. If you’re looking for a basic mat pilates exercise that focuses on building abdominal strength, you really can’t go wrong with chest lifts.
Starting from a prone position on your back, slowly raise your knees up so that they are bent with your legs gently touching one another. Bring your arms and hands up behind your head, and intertwine your fingers to act as a cradle for the crown of your head. Gently but firmly press your triceps forward so that your elbows are pulled forward, but ensure there is no excess tension.
As you inhale, firm your core muscles and lift your head and chest up from the mat, no further than the bottom of your shoulder blades. Inhale as you raise, exhale as your return to the mat. Try to incorporate a small, intentional pause in both your breath and your motion at the top of the exercise. This will help provide rhythm and focus to the motion, and ensure continued attention on your breath.
For an additional challenge, you can incorporate a slight torso twist at the top of the movement where you pull your right elbow toward your left inner thigh, and vice versa, before returning down to the mat. This lengthens the amount of time you’re being held up by your core, and introduces a nice stretch into the motion as well.
Mat Pilates Exercises – Stretching
Speaking of stretching, mat pilates offers bountiful opportunities to increase your flexibility and bring mobility exercises into your daily routine.
We’re going to look at two stretch-focused pilates exercises today, one of which is more about a true stretch and body loosening, while the other incorporates some strength and core work as well.
Let’s start with the classic spine stretch – sit on your mat about 2/3rds of the way to the rear of the mat, with your legs out in front of you. Make a “V” shape with your legs, slightly larger than shoulder width apart. Now, with excellent posture, sit up tall and raise your arms directly above your head. Slowly, lower your body down and keep your arms straight to reach towards your toes as far as possible. You should feel the majority of this stretch in two places – your back (spine), and your hamstrings. Keep working this pose every day to see amazing progress!
If you’re wanting to work on strength as well while you get your stretch in, have a go at the single leg stretch pilates exercise. In this one, you’ll be lying flat on your mat in a resting position on your back. Then, you’ll simultaneously lift your torso and feet off of the ground to form a slight “V” with your body. As your core holds your torso upright, point your left toe and bring your right knee into your chest with a gentle hug. Then, repeat the process with the other leg. This gives you an opportunity to get a deep stretch while also getting that core burn in at the same time.
Mat Pilates Exercises – Strength
OK, you’re ready to try a pilates exercise that’s more challenging and centered around strength and toning? Let’s work the “hundred”, one of the most popular mat pilates exercises. Similar to the previous exercise, we’ll want to start on our backs on the mat and lift up from shoulders and feet to form that slight body “V”. This time, however, we’ll raise the legs even higher, to form a 45 degree angle. Then, arms rise off the mat as well, pointed straight down toward your toes. With firm arms extended, inhale and exhale as you move your arms up and down, as if you were treading water. The combination of arm engagement, core burn, and leg work from the position you’re in all combine to make “the hundred” one of the most powerful ways to start seeing results from mat pilates, even by yourself at home!