It’s not unusual that, when you first hear the word “Pilates,” your mind immediately conjures up images of big, fancy machines that you can’t imagine understanding how to use. While using a reformer can be an effective workout, it can seem intimidating to a first-timer who hasn’t quite dipped their toes in the Pilates pool just yet. But not to worry, mat Pilates was actually the first form of Pilates that existed, and the only equipment it requires? Yourself.
If you’re thinking about taking up mat Pilates, you’re in for an exercise that tones, strengthens and burns fat and boosts mental health. But before you grab your mat and book your first class, find out exactly what Pilates can do for you and how to best prepare for it.
What is mat Pilates?
While it seems fitness trainers and experts only started talking about Pilates as a form of exercise a few years ago, the workout has actually been around much longer than we think. Joseph Pilates developed the exercise in the 1920s as a way for bedridden hospital patients injured during WWI to keep up their strength. After opening his first Pilates studio near the New York City Ballet, he ended up using his practice to help recover injured ballerinas who needed a way to keep their dancer form. Gaining popularity in the ’90s, Pilates is now used as a low-impact exercise that builds strength, tones the muscles and creates a long, lean body frame.
Who does mat Pilates work for?
While Pilates exercises are no longer limited to just hospital patients, it remains true that this exercise is an option for those who are recovering from an injury but still want a low-impact exercise their body can handle. Even if you’re not taking Pilates for this reason, a mat class is perfect for those who want to try a toning class that is also gentle on the joints.
Pilates experts advise that you should take a mat class prior to trying the reformer. Mat Pilates will teach the foundations of the exercise, easing newbies into the workout. When you show up for your first class, make sure to bring a water and grip socks (while some studios allow the option to go barefoot, grip socks can often aid in helping you balance during difficult positions), and avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing. While many studios will provide mats, you may want to invest in your own if you decide to keep up the practice.
Physical benefits of mat Pilates
Generally, the goal of a mat Pilates class is to strengthen the body’s “powerhouse,” a Pilates term that refers to your abdominals, lower back muscles, pelvic floor, hips and glutes. Through a series of floor exercises using resistance bands and rings, the workout helps build, sculpt and tone these muscles, giving your body a long, lean look. Pilates can aid in flexibility and improving posture, as stretching your body is a vital part of class. While low-impact, Pilates burns fat during and after class, as your muscles continue to shed calories long after class ends.
Mental benefits of mat Pilates
As your instructor will be quick to remind you, focusing on your breathing plays a major role in Pilates. Encouraging you to breathe from your belly instead of your chest, Pilates connects your breath to the exercise, allowing that influx of oxygen to better complete each movement. Since you are concentrating so strongly on breathing deeply, the mind can benefit from mindfulness, relaxation and stress reduction during and after class. Over time, your mind becomes trained to stay more focused not only while working out, but also in your everyday life. Those who practice Pilates often reap the benefits of these deep breathing exercises, suffering less from anxiety, anger and even depression.
Mat Pilates is an effective, precise set of exercises. It’s accessible to everyone at any level of fitness and provides countless benefits. If you love rules and structure, or if a quiet, gentle workout is just what you need, check out the Pilates filter on the ClassPass app or website.
Every studio does a great job of creating their own unique atmosphere. Take time to explore which ones feel most like home to you. (And psst: for a limited-time, try five classes in your first month for only $19!)