Pilates-Based Mat Exercises

Joseph Pilates designed a fitness technique that enhances strength, flexibility, fluid movement, balance and coordination. He developed the original set of 34 mat exercises in the early 20th century. The Pilates technique inspired other fitness experts to create exercises based on the Pilates principles. Some instructors integrate these Pilates-based mat exercises into their muscle conditioning classes, but they are only effective if performed in perfect form. Pilates emphasized quality over quantity. Limit each exercise to 16 repetitions. Engage your core muscles throughout the movement.

The Crisscross

The American Council on Exercise published a study on the most efficient abdominal exercises. The Pilates crisscross, also called the bicycle maneuver, was at the top of the list. The exercise works the oblique muscles, which run diagonally across the abdominal area, as well as the rectus abdominus, which is the large, central abdominal muscle.

Begin in a supine position. Elevate your extended legs, but keep your lower back imprinted into the mat. Place both hands behind your head, engage your core and lift your head and shoulders from the floor. Rotate your upper body to the right, simultaneously bending your right knee. Keep your upper torso elevated, and switch sides. If your back arches, keep the extended leg in a higher position.

The Clam

When Joseph Pilates moved to America, he opened a studio in New York City and became a fitness guru for athletes and dancers. Dancers require a significant amount of external hip rotation, called “turnout.” The experts at the McKinley Health Center in Illinois suggest that strengthening the hip muscles prevents common athletic injuries such as knee pain and iliotibial band syndrome, which is pain radiating down the outer thigh. The clam is an efficient exercise for this purpose.

Lie on your right side and bend your knees so that they form a 45-degree angle with your upper torso. Stack your hips, as if your pelvis had two eyes that focus straight ahead. Place your left leg on top of your right. Keep your heels together. Inhale to prepare. Exhale and raise your top knee so that it faces the ceiling. Perform eight to 12 repetitions, and then change sides. Engage your core to stabilize your pelvis.

The Shoulder Bridge

The shoulder bridge exercise enhances your awareness of spinal articulation. It also provides a moderate hamstring and gluteal workout. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Begin by tilting your lower pelvis, so that your pubic bone moves toward your navel. Continue lifting each vertebra from the mat, until you reach a bridge position. Try to feel every vertebra touch the mat as you return to the starting position. Imagine that you have grapes in each vertebra, and try to pop each grape against the mat. Add challenge by performing this exercises with one leg lifted and extended, or by placing your feet on a stability ball.

About this Author

In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include “Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness” and “101 Women’s Fitness Tips.” Her articles have appeared in “Aspen Magazine,” “HerSports,” “32 Degrees,” “Pregnancy Magazine” and “Wired.” Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.