Pilates exercises provide an engaging workout for your whole body; working and building your core muscles leads to many physical and mental health benefits, such as improved balance and posture, greater strength and coordination, and a reduction in feelings of anxiety or stress.
But with so many different types of Pilates exercises available, where should you begin? Take a look at our guide below where we uncover popular exercises done during mat, reformer and TRX workouts.
The Mat Workout
The mat was one of the first tools Joseph Pilates included in his fitness programme when he developed Pilates after World War I. Though more of a support and protective measure during Pilates exercises, the mat is crucial to ensuring your workout is successful and that you don’t hurt yourself during your session.
Mat Pilates exercises are where most Pilates newcomers start their journey. Unlike the reformer or TRX exercises, the mat workout doesn’t require any additional equipment or apparatuses. However, this doesn’t mean that mat Pilates exercises are easy – many people who try Pilates for the first time on a mat still have to learn and adapt to the techniques used during Pilates exercises. It can be difficult to learn and master the core principles of Pilates: concentration, control, precision, breathing, centering and flow. Pilates exercises rely heavily on these principles and by adopting them into your workout, you’re guaranteed better results!
Top 3 Mat Pilates Exercises
The mat exercises follow a sequence that, when done properly, can really engage your entire body, providing a great workout without too much impact on you, unlike exercises such as running or weight lifting.
Some of our favourite mat Pilates exercises include:
This common mat Pilates exercise is one of the first Joseph Pilates introduced to his fitness programme and is one you will often do in your Pilates class. It earned its name from the hundred beats you do with your arms during this exercise. It makes a great starting workout as it requires you to implement the breathing technique required in Pilates exercises to ensure a proper workout. In order to do the Hundred properly, you will need to coordinate your breathing with your movements.
The criss-cross is another popular mat Pilates exercise that works your abdominal muscles and places a focus on your obliques, which are important muscles to work out if you want to build your abdomen or define your waist. Like the Hundred, this exercise requires you to control your breathing and motions carefully while moving your legs and upper torso.
The Scissor Kick
Also known as just the scissors, the scissor kick is an advanced mat Pilates exercise that requires a lot of shoulder and pelvic stability, while also requiring hip flexibility. The workout targets your upper and lower abs, as well as your obliques, and really builds on your core strength and your ability to maintain balance and posture.
The Reformer Workout
The reformer, which was also developed by Joseph Pilates, is a type of Pilates exercise apparatus that can arguably provide a more intense workout than mat Pilates exercises. It is a bed-like frame with a flat platform, called the carriage, on top which rolls backward and forward on wheels. There is also a footbar at the end of the reformer which is adjustable and holds springs. At the top of the frame, opposite the footbar, there are also some straps with handles that you can place your feet or hands into, depending on the exercise.
The reformer is a highly customisable piece of equipment that makes it possible for people of almost any body type to use it to exercise. It’s a great choice for those looking to improve their core stability and achieve good postural alignment. It’s also perfect for toning up, rehabilitating your body after an injury, or getting a thorough, full-body workout.
Top 3 Reformer Pilates Exercises
It is usually advisable that you try mat Pilates exercises before hopping aboard a reformer. This is because learning and acquiring the techniques needed to properly perform Pilates can be a lot harder to do when you’re also maneuvering a piece of equipment you aren’t familiar with. However, a great trainer and the right attitude can help you start your reformer Pilates exercises in no time!
Here are our favourite three reformer Pilates exercises:
While this exercise is one of the more simple reformer Pilates exercises, it still requires you to control your breathing and to work with the muscles needed to complete the workout. The amount of tension you feel on the reformer can make this exercise more or less difficult, so a slacker cord may be the better choice if you’ve never done this reformer exercise before.
The Reformer Footwork
Footwork is an important part of your Pilates exercises. The placement and movement of your toes, heels, arches and tendons can influence how well your workout goes. Footwork can also provide valuable information to your instructor, such as about your foot-ankle-knee alignment, the strength of your leg and foot, your pelvic stability, and even how much control and flexibility you have. It can also help show muscle imbalances or dominant sides of your body!
The frog reformer Pilates exercise is quite simple but should still be done under the care and advisement of your Pilates instructor when trying it for the first time. This exercise involves the straps and handles found at the head of the reformer, and provides a thorough workout of your abdomen, hamstrings, pelvis and your back. Control is a major element in this exercise as you need to keep your torso flat on your reformer when working out.
Which Pilates Exercises Suit You?
Pilates is a versatile fitness programme that just about anyone can participate in. It provides amazing fitness and health benefits and can leave you feeling slimmer, healthier and happier than before. A full workout using all the Pilates exercises above, plus the many we didn’t mention, can quickly show you the results you want out of your fitness programme: a strengthened core, greater balance and posture, and an improved sense of self!