Back to Basics: Mat Pilates

January marked the beginning of my adventure into classical Pilates. After receiving my initial 500 hour certification last year I still felt like I had gaps in my knowledge. While I had training for mat, reformer, exo chair, Cadillac, barre, and TRX, I unfortunately felt a little like a Jack of all trades, master of none. This is probably the ballerina in me, but I love knowing the hows and the whys of movement. For the first few months that I was teaching Pilates I lacked certainty. It's hard having feelings of self doubt when you are meant to be the authority figure in the room (or Pilates studio). When I can fully grasp a movement in my own body, I can then transfer that information to my clients in a more precise way. When I happened upon Jennie Groom of Studio Flo I knew the stars had aligned. Her teaching style answered so many of the questions I had been battling with and fed my hunger for knowledge. I barely thought twice about becoming her apprentice to learn all that I can from her.

We tackled the original mat order first. As a young dancer, mat Pilates was my first experience with the exercise form and saying that I didn't care for it is an understatement. I was a teenage ballet student at the time and Pilates gave me tight glutes, made me grip my hip flexors, and tense my neck. I saw and felt no benefit and basically wrote it off as an uncomfortable form of cross-training.

Coming back to mat Pilates was eye opening. There are 34 exercises that are thoughtfully ordered, dynamic, challenging, and not at all uncomfortable once you understand where to focus your energy. While it is a great workout that can be completed pretty much anywhere in under an hour, the exercises will not be mastered in one go; there are always improvements in form to be made and deeper layers of the exercise to be peeled back.

Spine Twist

Dissecting the mat order connected quite a few dots and presented a theme that I already know will carry over into our study of the reformer order. Understanding the intended movement of the spine and desired shapes and sensations is vital to wholly reap the benefits of practicing Pilates. Constantly imagining the expansion of the back, the dichotomy of the heaviness and flexibility of the rib cage, and awareness of the tailbone are key to really connecting with each exercise and stringing together a theme of spinal mobility.

I was surprised to find that I developed some new favorites. I saw exercises like Boomerang and Double Leg Kick through new eyes. What had at first seemed like a strange combination of arm, leg, and head movements became challenging tests of balance, core strength, and coordination. The execution is also a true test of your progress and understanding of Pilates as well. Coming back to this core set of exercises from time to time will surely remind you of where your focus should be, simply because once you are attuned to the rhythm and balance of the exercises you recognize being off-kilter or awkward at once. It becomes evident quickly if you are losing the tuck of your tailbone or the scoop of your belly.


Reflecting on my new found respect for the mat order makes me feel a little foolish. I already knew that apparatus Pilates did great things for my body, so why would I discredit the simplest of its forms? Sometimes the most basic and pure things are the best and when you take away the springs, handles, loops, and bars you still have a full body workout that moves your spine in every direction!


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