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7 Beginner Pilates Mat Exercises for Your Clients

Easy Pilates Exercises

Mixing up your clients' workout routines will ensure they won't get bored. Read on to learn 7 beginner pilates mat exercises you should teach your clients.

In the modern fitness industry, the Pilates mat has become the go-to choice for people who avoid any free weights, machines, or an intense cardio studio atmosphere. The above is true, but the mat exercises can be so much more if done in the right way.

Joseph Pilates (yes, the man behind the mat) was born a sickly child in Germany. Through rigorous physical training, he not only conquered his ailments but became synonymous with top-of-the-line fitness.

He has trained soldiers in WW1 and eventually moved to the U.S. This was where he perfected his process, something he called "Contrology."

The Pilates mat exercises today are the surviving form of Joseph's contrology, a system designed for total body fitness. It was first made popular by dancers, gymnasts, and soldiers who worked with Mr. Pilates.

While the movements should speak for themselves, the rich history behind them can help convince any client to incorporate pilates mat exercises into his routine. Look at it this way, Mr. Pilates was a model for anatomical charts!

The Four Principles of Pilates

We all have to start somewhere. With Pilates mat exercises, it all stems down to four principles:

  • Breathing
  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Centering

These principles can apply to any and all of your clients' fitness goals. Proper breathing goes hand in hand with proper form and execution, a must for lifts and bodyweight exercises.

Concentration is a no-brainer. If you're not concentrated on the task at hand, what are you doing?

Control is probably the easiest to forget. It's very easy to learn a movement the wrong way, and perform it wrongly for weeks, months, or even years before you start feeling the negative impacts.

Breathing is what makes these exercises easier! Pilates is meant to be an excellent workout, not impossible to do.

Centering comes in conjunction with the other three principles and gives your clients the leverage to achieve any Pilates mat exercises.

Classical Pilates contains 600 exercises before counting any modifications or variations. How would you know where to start, and which ones would be perfect for a beginning client?

Luckily, we've combed through the Pilates codex to bring seven movements that add variety but also embody the core principles.

1. Heel Taps and the Neutral Pelvis

The concept of a neutral pelvis is at the core of every Pilates movement.

Many pilates mat exercises are done while the client is lying on their back The angle of the pelvis is important in achieving those principles of control and centering.

A neutral pelvic posture is one where the lower back isn't pressed against the mat (backward tilt) or arched too high off the mat (forward tilt).

A happy medium between these two, where the back is not in contact with the floor nor is it arching, is where you want it to be. Clients can concentrate on this while performing heel taps.

Your client should begin on their back with their knees up in the air, hovering above their hips at a 90-degree angle. While maintaining a neutral pelvic position, exhale and slowly lower one foot to the floor.

After a nice controlled inhale, exhale again, and lift the leg back up. Repeat the same process for the other side until the desired amount of time or reps is reached.

2. Roll-Up with Modification

The roll-up has the potential to become the foundational abdominal exercise for any fitness regimen.

"Six-pack abs" are probably one of the most common fitness goals. The debate over the best way to achieve them won't be settled anytime soon.

While the obvious answer is a diverse approach, most people want there to be a single exercise they can do.

Sit-ups and crunches are the most well known. However, there's a lot of debate on how efficient they are, whether or not they hit your lower abdominals, and the strain they put on the neck and back.

Enter the roll-up. Just one rep is equal to six well-executed sit-ups.

Fitness Magazine claimed it's "30 percent more efficient" than the traditional method. Plus, the roll-up is a large movement that recruits more abdominal muscle fibers that the standard sit-up or crunch.

The fact that it also does more in the way of spinal articulation is value added. More and more work environments are promoting bad posture which can lead to spinal degeneration.

The traditional roll-up goes from the floor to your toes. For your beginner clients, try this modified range:

Start seated with feet out front and heels pressed into the floor. If tightness prevents sitting this way with a straight back, then bent knees are permitted.

Exhale and roll backward, but only to about 30-45 degrees. Inhale, then exhale, and return to the starting position. The head should stay in alignment with the spine throughout the movement.

With this and similar pilates mat exercises that involve the abs, it's common to see clients tilt to one side when rolling forward. No one is completely symmetrical. The side they are rolling toward is there stronger side.

To get more out of the exercise and prevent further strength imbalances, encourage your clients to focus on the four principles. Tell them to stay centered throughout the movement.

3. Single Leg Stretch

Here comes another exercise with the client on his back. The starting position will be the same as the heel taps, but the head and shoulders will be lifted with the hands supporting the skull and neck.

From here, extend one leg and bring the other knee toward the chest. Inhale and then exhale, and reverse the movement for the other leg.

If your clients need more of a challenge, they can use their hands to bring each knee a little closer to their chest.

They can also execute the movement in quick repetitions. This would look like the classic bicycle-kick ab exercise known as the criss-cross in Pilates.

As always, maintaining a neutral pelvis is the most important part of this movement. The exercise hits all core muscles, engaging the obliques on the side as well as the upper and lower abs.

4. Rolling Like a Ball

This one may need a little selling. What on first appearance looks like something a five-year-old does when they're bored, it's actually a core exercise that helps loosen the back to a degree.

Let it be known that this one is indeed an original Pilates exercise. The reason why rolling like a ball is a must do is because it addresses two issues that are the root of a lot of different problems: a tight back and a weak core.

Have the client sit on the floor. Balancing on their hip bones, bring the knees to the chest, and grab the lower legs. A curved spine is necessary for this one, so you can forget about the neutral pelvis.

With chin tucked in, roll backward on exhale. Once they hit the upper back/shoulder area, inhale and then exhale while engaging the core to roll forward.

The spine should keep the same curve throughout the exercise. The only muscle being used are the abdominals. Enjoy the massage on the lower back.

This is a great one to have at the beginning of a routine. It can help loosen the back, making the rest of the movements a little easier.

5. The 100

This is the move that should start any sequence of Pilates mat exercises. It handles all four of the core principles and promotes circulation.

The breakdown is simple. Client on their back, neutral pelvis. Knees up and lower legs parallel to the floor.

Arms fully extended, about six inches off the pilates mat, palms facing down. Head curled into the chest.

Now, this alone already takes concentration and engages the core. The next part is where the coordination and breathing come in.

While breathing, wiggle the arms a few inches up and down. Five times for every inhale, five times for every exhale. Repeat 10 times (now you know where the name comes from).

The coordination involved in this exercise should be of special interest to seniors as improving coordination is one of the things they should work on.

Modifications are easy. The hundred can easily become the seventy-five, or the fifty. Repetitions are one of the easiest things to change, and also a great way to gauge progress.

Again, the hundred should be the bread and butter of any routine. It's one of the few pilates mat exercises that is easy to understand, hard to master, and fully encapsulates the spirit of pilates.

6. Saw

The saw manages to be a solid ab exercise without looking like an ab exercise. It gives your clients a break from lying on their pilates mat. Plus, it hits an area that is very important in these times: the upper back.

Whether your clients are students or senior citizens, chances are they spend a whole lot of time sitting. This is part of the reason why lower back pain is such a common complaint.

The other area that suffers is the upper back.

The chest tightens, especially if the person is at the keyboard for long periods of time. This causes the shoulders to roll slightly forward, which causes issues in the upper back as well.

Saw is perfect for this because it targets the shoulders and upper back for a great stretch. It also happens to be yet another good ab exercise.

It's one of the less strenuous movements, which is great for a beginning program. You wouldn't want to scare away any beginners, would you?

For this pilates mat movement, the client is seated with the legs spread in a wide "V."

With arms spread straight out to the sides, gently twist to the left. The right arm will then reach toward the left foot, gently pulsing three times. The client should focus on the abdominals here, not strain the lower back.

Slowly roll back up while still twisted, then untwist when the spine is straight. Repeat on the right side.

7. The Mermaid

Lastly, a great exercise to hit another neglected area of the body. The mermaid is designed to stretch the sides of the torso.

While this is an area that doesn't necessarily bother many people in the way chronic back pain might, tightness in this region can cause issues in other parts.

Truthfully, who even thinks about their sides? To a lot of people, it may just seem like there is skin laying over the rib cage, but there are all sorts of primary and supporting muscles in play:

  • Teres Major
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • External Obliques
  • Serratus Anterior

These muscles are involved in everything from arm rotation (Teres Major) to side "crunching" and stability (Obliques), shoulder movement, and spinal extension/stability (Latissimus Dorsi).

The serratus is especially important not only for supporting the shoulder blades but also aiding in respiration.

You can see why neglecting the sides can affect so many other areas, and why the mermaid is an essential movement in beginner Pilates mat routines.

Begin seated on the right hip with legs folded to the left. The left hand will hold the ankles, while the right arm is extended overhead.

While the core is engaged, reach the right arm over the left, making sure it stays straight. If done correctly, you should feel a stretch along the right side of the body. Repeat twice and then do the other side.

Pilates for Your Business

Every studio can benefit from a pilates mat. It's a cheap setup, and will diversify your clientele. The exercises are so easy, and they deliver results.

No matter your skills as a trainer, your clientele will partly measure your ability by the results they get. Your success depends on theirs, so you owe it to yourself to have some experience with the Pilates system.

Of course, none of this is possible if you don't have a web presence that draws people in. Make sure your own brand is inspired so you can introduce new clients to the wonders of the Pilates mat!