Mat Pilates for Beginners

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About Mat Pilates for Beginners

Mat Pilates is a strengthening and lengthening form of exercise that focuses on your core (trunk) muscles while also training your arms and legs. Mat Pilates is based on the original exercises Joseph Pilates developed to strengthen his own body as a very young man and then began teaching others. The Mat work came before any of the Pilates Apparatus (equipment) he developed. It includes over 500 exercises and can be practiced anywhere. Mat Pilates can be modified for any age, body, or fitness level. It is even possible to practice the modifications of the Mat work in a chair.

The Benefits of Mat Pilates

Pilates is a mind, body, and spirit practice with benefits that include improved posture, better coordination and balance, increased lung capacity, improved concentration and focus, increased body awareness, stress management, and injury prevention. Mat work is a great choice for everyone from Pilates beginners to advanced students because the exercises not only can build in difficulty, but every exercise can be modified to decrease or increase the level of challenge. Practicing Mat Pilates helps build a strong, balanced body and increases flexibility. As you progress in your practice you will notice improvements in breathing, focus, stress management, and body awareness. Mat Pilates is perfect for beginners because you only need your own body, a mat, and some floor space to start.

Some advice for beginners

Mat Pilates classes are a great option for those new to a Pilates practice. Group classes and private sessions taught by a trained Pilates teacher are offered in Pilates studios and also some gyms. You may also choose to begin a home practice with the help of books, videos, or streaming services like Pilates Anytime. Pilates is not like quite anything you’ve ever done before in the best ways possible. Take your time and don’t assume you are going to use the same muscles you’ve used in every other form of exercise you’ve ever done. Allow yourself to slow down and to make movements smaller versus using what you may feel is your full range of motion to be able to focus on deliberate movement. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t do every exercise perfectly. Pilates is called a practice for a reason – it requires focus and dedication. Choose to take class at least two times weekly to begin with, and don’t be afraid to get on the mat and try some of the exercises daily at home.

Mat Exercises for Beginners

Beginner Mat Pilates exercises take into consideration that you are learning to use your body in new ways. Gaining awareness of your movement, using breath, and flow are all important to practice properly. Learn Amy Haven's favorite Pilates exercises that you can do without any equipment or props, anytime, anywhere.

Join us today for more beginner-level online Pilates classes designed just for you!

Beginner mistakes to avoid on the Mat

When beginning your Pilates practice, don’t get frustrated. This is a new focus on your body and how it moves. Often we go too quickly or are trying to make large movements and miss the point of the exercise. Slow down! Make every movement a bit smaller. Remember that you are working to stabilize one portion of your body while moving another. If your work feels like all leg work, make the work smaller and focus on your breath and your abdominal engagement. Don’t forget to breathe! A huge portion of finding proper engagement comes from your breath work. Cues like “sink your belly button to your spine” can be confusing. This doesn’t mean suck in your stomach, press your lower back to the floor, or hold your breath. It is the feeling of allowing your ribs to relax toward your hips while your belly button is pulled toward your spine on an exhale to engage your abdominal muscles. You will feel a pulling up of your pelvic floor (lower abdominals – think below the hips) muscles even though your pelvis won’t move or tip. Pilates will not be easy right away. That’s okay. Allow yourself to enjoy the process of learning about your body and moving in a new way. Have fun with it!

Mat modifications for beginners

Don’t be afraid to use modifications offered for the Pilates exercises. Bent knees versus straight legs, head and neck support, not lifting your head initially, and even going slower than instruction if following a video are all fine. A Pilates teacher will tell you that the number one thing is not to get hurt. Listen to your body and if something feels wrong to you or too much for you on any given day, modify or skip that exercise. Some Pilates Mat classes may include small props such as balls, a magic circle/magic ring, and TheraBands to increase your challenge and help you find the right muscle groups to use for each exercise. Make sure you understand how to use these properly to get the most out of your exercise.

Featured Mat Classes

Over 1,500 Mat Pilates videos to choose from in our ever growing Pilates library.

Beginners ready for intermediate classes

Once you feel like you are able to do beginner Pilates exercises with good form and deliberation, you will experience both the feeling that the work is easier, and that you can find more work or muscle engagement within each exercise. This is a great sign that you are ready to add intermediate exercises to your routine. Joseph Pilates famously said, “in 10 sessions you’ll feel different, in 20 sessions you’ll notice a difference, in 30 sessions you’ll have a whole new body.” This may or may not be your experience, but the only way for your Pilates practice to be effective, no matter your goals, is if you do Pilates regularly. Practicing Pilates a minimum of twice a week is a good start.

Some advice for intermediate classes

If you have been practicing Mat Pilates for a while and feel like you are ready for the next level, you could take a private class with a Pilates teacher to learn some new exercises. Pilates teachers go through intense training programs of at least 450 hours initially. An instructor will help you take your practice to the next level and avoid common beginner mistakes. You could also begin a Reformer Pilates practice, if you haven't done so already.

Mat Pilates Frequently Asked Questions

What should you do if you feel discomfort or pain?

First and foremost, listen to your body. If you are feeling pain, stop immediately. If an exercise causes discomfort (not muscle engagement but actual discomfort), try one of the modifications. An example would be a bent knee versus legs extended or smaller movements than it seems your range of motion dictates. And if that doesn’t feel more comfortable, skip that exercise for now and come back to it in a few weeks.

How often should you exercise on the Mat?

Early in your Pilates practice, you are just starting to make changes that include finding the time to practice Pilates. One of the keys to allowing Pilates to improve your life is actually doing Pilates! Aim for at least two Pilates sessions per week to start. If you can make it three all the better. And you may find yourself loving it and feeling so great after doing the Mat work that you want to hop on the mat every morning or each night for 15 or 20 minutes. Let your body and your responsibilities and how Pilates makes you feel dictate your frequency as you progress.

How to find a good Pilates teacher?

You can find a great Pilates Mat teacher anywhere! A Pilates studio is one of the best places to begin. Mat classes are a bit larger than Reformer (apparatus) classes and less expensive. There are many well trained Pilates teachers who also teach in gyms and athletic clubs. Sometimes your local community center will have a Mat class too! Mainly you want to take classes from Pilates teachers who have been through a minimum of a 450-hour comprehensive training program. Online resources like Pilates Anytime are another option since we bring some of the best Pilates teachers in the world into your living room for your own “private” Mat class.

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