One of Pilates’ key features is its emphasis on a flowing sequence of movements. Exercises don’t stand alone: they are linked in series that keep the body moving in a balanced way. On the mat, there is a short sequence of beginner exercises that wake up the abdominals, stretch the hips, work the buttocks and inner thighs, open the chest, and focus the mind.
Before You Start
Be careful with any injury, weakness, or pain. Modify if necessary by softening the knees, keeping the legs close to the torso, making any movement smaller, resting the head and neck, or leaving out any exercise that causes pain. Don’t allow the lower back to arch out of control; keep the Powerhouse of the torso (abdomen, back and buttocks) supporting the spine.
This exercise wakes up the body and promotes circulation and breathing. Lie on the back, bring both knees to the chest, curl the head and shoulders off the mat, and reach the legs to a controlled working level (bent at 90 degrees or straight and reaching between 90 and 45 degrees).
Stretch the arms at hip level and beat the arms 6-8″ up and down as you breathe in for five counts and out for five counts. Repeat for ten breaths. Feel the abdominals pulling in and up throughout.
Transition: lower the feet, reach the legs straight if possible, and reach arms back.
The Roll Up
Inhale to reach arms up to the ceiling. Curl the head and shoulders forward, and exhale to roll all the way up, bringing head towards knees. Curl the tailbone under and inhale to start rolling back; exhale to roll to the mat and reach the arms back.
Transition: finish lying flat and hug one knee to the chest.
One Leg Circle
Reach one leg up to the ceiling, pressing the other into the mat, arms by sides. Bring the top leg toward the nose, across the body, down and around in a circle and stop at the top. Circle five times in each direction. Keep the pelvis still and abdominals scooped in.
Transition: roll up to sitting.
Rolling Like a Ball
Bend knees and hold ankles. Curl into a ball with feet lifted off the mat. Pull the abdominals in to roll back onto the shoulder blades, and roll up to the starting position. Keep the body curled and the Powerhouse scooping. Do 6.
Transition: roll down to the mat.
Single Leg Stretch
Curl the upper body forward, hug one knee to the chest, and reach the other leg out at 45 degrees. Switch legs, moving them simultaneously. Keep the lower back and head stable and still. Do 6-10 on each side.
Transition: hug both knees to the chest, hands on ankles.
Double Leg Stretch
With upper body curled forward, reach both arms and legs up to the ceiling. Sweep the arms out to the sides and circle them as you bend knees to chest again, pulling the ankles in for a stretch. Do 6-8.
Transition: roll up to sitting.
Spine Stretch Forward
With straight legs, separate your feet shoulder-width. Reach both arms forward. Pull the abdominals in and squeeze your bottom to lift tall, inhaling deeply. Exhale to roll the head forward and curl the spine, one vertebra at a time, until the top of the head is reaching toward the mat. Inhale to roll back up. Feel the abdominals pulling back to give the spine a comfortable stretch. Do 3-5.
Benefits of the Basic Pilates Mat
When performed regularly, this basic mat routine strengthens the body safely and effectively. It’s a flowing, quick routine that can change the body.