Pilates Matwork

Pilates matwork 101: Everything you need to know to start your practice

Mat Pilates is quickly becoming the most popular way to exercise with fitness enthusiasts around the world. And it's not just about breaking a sweat. Thanks to its magical mix of low-impact movements, body-strengthening benefits, and the fact you barely need more than a mat to practice, more and more people are heading to their nearest Pilates studio to see what the buzz is all about.

Whether you’re just curious or you’re ready to roll out the mat for your first Pilates class, we’re here to answer all your burning questions. From this guide, you’ll get a clear idea of what a mat class looks like, the benefits you can expect from your practice, and how to get ready for your first session.

Frequently asked questions

What is mat Pilates?

The popular method developed by Joseph Pilates is a series of floor exercises done on a mat to strengthen the entire body, improve posture, and enhance overall well-being.

Much like Yoga, Pilates fosters a mind-body connection with slow controlled movements and breath work. However, the ethos is rooted more in functional movement than spirituality, unlike its Yoga counterpart.

The functional movements done in matwork Pilates not only tone muscles, but help develop body awareness by incorporating elements of core strength, pelvic stability, and spinal articulation which are all crucial aspects for maintaining health and physical well-being into old age, making Pilates an excellent lifelong practice.

Apart from other popular forms of exercise that might be performed on a mat, you’ll find that matwork Pilates has a specific focus on form and proper muscle engagement in classic exercises designed by Joseph Pilates himself.

Is mat Pilates suitable for beginners?

Yes! Pilates mat exercises were designed to be easily modified for every ability and fitness level, making it a flexible and inclusive form of exercise.

Most studios and online platforms will offer Beginners Mat Pilates classes for those new to practicing Pilates.

Ready to take your first class? Discover effective workouts suitable for beginners on BAY STUDIOS+ with a free 7-day trial.

Do I need Pilates equipment?

The beauty of mat work is that little equipment is needed to get started. You essentially only need a Pilates mat and a bit of open floor space to perform the exercises.

Of course, you can always choose to support your practice with more equipment later, but it isn’t essential to get started. Some look to add weights to arms and legs, magic circles for resistance, or yoga blocks for extra support. You can explore more Pilates equipment to add to your practice here.

Because costly equipment isn’t needed for mat Pilates exercises, mat classes are going to be the cost-friendly option for your workouts as well.

What should I wear to practice Pilates?

Any comfortable fitness attire that will allow you to move freely and stretch. It’s also a good idea to avoid excessively baggy clothing that might get in the way of your movement or keep your instructor from checking that you have safe or good form. It also isn’t necessary to wear shoes or socks, while some prefer to wear Pilates socks.

Can I practice mat Pilates classes at home?

Absolutely! One of the biggest benefits of matwork pilates is that it can be done from just about anywhere. We understand the challenges of finding time to move amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life, which is why we created an online Pilates platform that makes it easier for you to carve out time for yourself and your practice.

How long are Pilates sessions?

For those practicing Mat Pilates at a studio, classes are typically 55 minutes or an hour. However, mat classes on an online platform can be anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour. When scheduling your Pilates workout, either through a studio or from the comfort of your home, it’s important to consider your schedule and the flexibility you will need to stay consistent.

Will Pilates help me lose weight?

While Pilates is not a high-calorie burning form of exercise, it can contribute to weight loss by increasing muscle tone, which helps to boost metabolism. With consistent practice, it’s possible to begin seeing results within 8 to 12 weeks.

Additionally, Pilates promotes a strong mind-body connection, which can encourage more mindful diet and lifestyle habits that support health overall.

Can pregnant people practice mat Pilates?

Yes, pregnant people can practice Pilates. Because matwork Pilates is a low-impact, strengthening workout that improves flexibility, it’s often recommended during pregnancy. However, it’s important to modify certain exercises and avoid positions that aren’t suitable for pregnant individuals, especially as the pregnancy progresses. Always check with your doctor for a recommendation on the safest movement activities for your body during pregnancy.

What to expect from your first mat Pilates class?

From even the first Pilates class you will begin to build muscle endurance through the exercises and see improved posture through spine stretch poses or specific alignment focus throughout the body.

The class will typically start with a warm-up sequence, followed by a series of exercises performed on the mat. You can expect to learn and perform foundational mat Pilates exercises such as the Chest Curl, the Hundred, and the Double Leg Stretch. We’ll be covering each exercise below to ensure you’re ahead of the curve in your first class.

The instructor will guide you through each exercise and provide modifications to accommodate different fitness levels and abilities. It’s important to note that this practice is just as much about body awareness and mental health as it is about moving the body, so move at your own pace and listen to what your body is telling you.

As you progress, you’ll find intermediate classes that incorporate more advanced positions and full-body exercises suitable for advanced practitioners. While the exercises at any level might be challenging, remember this is a lifelong practice for the body and the mind.

After your first Mat Pilates class, you’ll likely feel a sense of accomplishment, along with that well-known Pilates burn in your muscles.

Pilates mat exercises for beginners

Ready to get moving? Let’s dive into the matwork exercises you can expect to encounter in a Mat Pilates class that will form the foundation of your practice!

Chest Curl

Get into the starting position by lying on your back, with knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Hands are interlaced behind the head, elbows are wide.

Start to engage the abdominal muscles. As you exhale, begin to peel the head, shoulders, and spine slowly off of the floor. The lowest ribs will stay connected to the mat. Hold the position as you take a breath in for core stability. As you exhale, begin to lie back slowly, one vertebrae at a time.

The Hundred

Lie back with your hands by your side, legs bent in tabletop position (knees stacked over the hips). Engage the lower abs as you curl the upper body off the mat, reaching the arms forward. Look between the knees and begin to pump the arms up and down, inhaling and exhaling for five pumps each. Reach the belly button toward the back of the body while pressing the lower back toward the ground for deeper engagement of the abdominals.

Toe Taps

Lie back with legs in table-top position, arms extended by your side with palms faced down. Engage your abdominal muscles and keep spine in neutral. As you exhale, lower one leg until the toes tap the ground. Lift the same leg back to tabletop position as you inhale. Repeat the movement with other left leg.

If you would like to modify this exercise even more, you could start with each foot flat on the floor, lifting one leg to tabletop and lowering it back down, then switching to the other side.

Single Leg Stretch

Lie the body back and lift the head and shoulders off your Pilates mat. Pull one knee towards your chest while extending the other leg straight out, hovering above the mat. Alternate from leg to leg each time you exhale.

Double Leg Stretch

Similar to the single leg stretch, the head and shoulders are lifted off the mat with knees pulled into the chest. Exhale to extend legs and arms parallel to the floor. Inhale to circle the arms around, bringing knees back into chest, hands onto ankles.

You’ll notice that extra equipment isn’t needed to perform any of these matwork Pilates exercises. As most Pilates instructors will tell you, the key to any Pilates exercise is to focus on controlled, efficient movement that engages the muscles throughout the entire body.

Final thoughts

As you close this guidebook and prepare to step into your first class, remember that you’re about to embark on an exciting journey of self-discovery and growth.

Matwork Pilates is about far more than just exercise. It’s a transformative process that will strengthen your body, enhance your mind-body connection, and potentially change the way you view fitness. With every breath and movement, you’ll be building a stronger, more flexible, and more balanced you. So, get ready to embrace the world of Pilates. Your journey starts now!

Julia Oravisto

Julia Oravisto has been dedicated to the practice and teaching of Pilates for over ten years, founding BAY STUDIOS in Helsinki, Finland. The studio, along with its online classes, now serves participants in more than 35 countries.

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