5 Step Pilates Mat Workout

Have you ever heard of Contrology? It’s a term that refers to the culmination of the body, mind and spirit as they flow together in the beautiful anatomical synchronicity known as Pilates.

Pilates was created to balance our muscular system and “even us out,” so to speak. There’s a classical order to a Pilates mat workout that begins with a traditional warm up, gets more challenging as each exercise progresses, and finishes with a cool down. Like a perfect storybook, it has a beginning, middle and end.

I’ve chosen five of my favorite Pilates mat moves and created a challenging yet safe workout order. You can practice this sequence at home — or even waterside this summer!

1. The Hundred

I always begin a Pilates session with this breathing technique. It’s a precise, consistent breath pattern which is vital to the practice. By maintaining accurate repetition, your body and mind learn how to connect to this fitness rhythm, helping the flow of your workout.

Start lying down with a neutral back. Knees in table position and aligned with hips, aka 90-degree angle.

Inhale arms over the chest. Exhale arms to the floor, bring chin to chest and lift shoulder blades off the mat.

Five beats per breath and quick pulses with your arms gently tapping the mat with palms.

Inhale through the nose for 5 Exhale through the mouth for 5. This is “the” move to train your belly breath inward. 100 is the magic number.

Note: If you are a beginner, your neck may get the brunt. To modify, put your head down but keep counting, stay committed and keep breathing.

2. Saw

This movement increases spinal mobility by rotation, while strengthening your core specifically your oblique muscles.

Sit with legs in a V-position, hip width apart. Spine tall and chest proud extend your arms into a T-position, aligned with shoulders.

Turn torso towards the right, making sure your head and neck follow your spine. Inhale as you twist and exhale reach left fingers to touch right toes. It is important not to force this, allow your body to gain range of motion by keeping glutes grounded, and not moving hips. Six each rotation.

Note: If you cannot reach toes yet, don’t fret. Work with your flexibility and go as far as you can. If you have tight hamstrings, fold a small towel and place it under your sit bones to decrease discomfort in the back of legs and low back.

3. Bridge

This core stabilizer tones glutes and hamstrings, stretches quads and hip flexors and strengthens the lower back.

Lie on your back with legs shoulder width apart, arms resting at your sides. Heels under knees, and neutral spine.

On the exhale tilt your pelvis towards ribcage contracting abs as you peel up off the mat, each vertebrae starting with tailbone.

Press in your feet and squeeze your bootie as you lift hips till you are weighted on your shoulder blades. Keep your trunk in a flat position.

Hold the bridge for an inhale and on an exhale begin to roll down articulating each vertebra back to the mat.

Repeat six times.

4. Kneeling Side Kick

A full body stabilizer that tones glutes and abductors (outer thighs), triceps and lats, strengthens hip rotators, and helps improve flexibility in the low back.

Start with your right knee under hip. Your right arm straight, palm under the shoulder. Left hand behind your head with your elbow wide pointing towards the sky.

Extend right leg parallel to the floor and flex your foot. Inhale and draw your navel to your spine kicking your leg forward.

Exhale, point your toes as you swing your leg back as far as you can maintaining a flat back. This is a full body stabilizer. Repeat 6 times each side. Repeat 6 each side.

Note: Avoid arching low back or rocking hips and rolling hips toward the ceiling.

5. Side Stretch & Bend

This movement helps stretch out transverse abdominal muscles, while toning arms, triceps, and lats.

Begin sitting on your left hip with your left knee facing forward. Right leg bent with your knee directing up to the sky, your foot at the 45 degree angle in front of the shin.

Position left hand under the shoulder. Lined up with the hip. Soft bend in elbow to lend support to your arm during the exercise.

On the inhale lift hips and straighten legs forming an arch with your body. Make the shape of a rainbow.

Right arm extends in a sweeping motion overhead. On the exhale lower to start position.

Complete six each side.

Note: Squeeze inner thighs and tuck tailbone as you lift into the bend.