Our Beloved Pilates Mat Exercises: The Poster Edition

Our Beloved Pilates Mat Exercises: The Poster Edition

Welcome new subscribers! Thanks so much for reading and sharing your positive vibes for our beloved Pilates Method.

ANOTHER BIG THANK YOU goes out to you, dear readers for making On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises, one of my most-viewed and most popular posts.

Many of you purchased my Reformer poster and asked “What about a poster of the Mat exercises?”

You can purchase a Mat poster here.

I can't thank you enough for your support. I appreciate you and I look forward to continuing our adventures on the Pilates path.

Stay awesome, my friends!

March MATness Day 6: One Leg Stretch

Our Beloved Pilates Mat Exercises: The Poster Edition

The One Leg Stretch has many names. We also know it as Single Leg Stretch and Single Leg Pull.

From Return to Life Through Contrology:

  1. Lie flat with entire body resting on mat or floor.
  2. Bend head forward until
    • Chin touches chest, then INHALING SLOWLY
    • Clasp hands and
    • “Pull” right leg as far as possible toward chest
    • Keep left leg stretched forward (knee locked)
    • Stretch toes (pointed) forward and downward with
    • Heel raised (about 2″)
    • Clasp hands and
    • “Pull” left leg as far as possible toward chest
    • Keep right leg stretched forward (knees locked)
    • Stretch toes (pointed) forward and downward with
    • Heel raised (about 2″)
  4. Repeat the foregoing exercise five (5) times with each leg. (Later on the number of repetitions may be gradually and progressively safely increased to twelve (12) times with each leg.)

Joe Pilates heralded his method as a full body cleansing system. Prescribed movements get the blood pumping for our daily “bodily house-cleaning.”

A prime example of cleansing is right here in Joe's very first Mat exercises. The One Leg Stretch and the Double Leg Stretch stimulate our organs and digestive system and are wind-relieving.

Joe is very specific. Right leg first. Then the left.

As we breathe steadily first our right leg gives a massage of the ascending colon followed by a massage of the descending colon when we pull in the left leg.

Our studied movements act upon our all our vital internal systems. The deep squats of the Double Leg Stretch (following the One Leg Stretch) encourage us to reach and open as much as possible and then fold the body to be impossibly small.

Footwork and Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer, the Roll Up and the Roll Over on the Mat act exactly in the same manner on our organs.

Joe Pilates doesn't call just anything a ‘massage.'

Stomach Massage Series gets a bit of laughs for its name. However, I urge you: persevere and reap deep juicy stretches from your guts and back. Good stuff in there.

Whadaya know, another squat and I managed to use the word ‘urge.'

Meanwhile on the Small Barrel

Our Beloved Pilates Mat Exercises: The Poster Edition

My 30-Day Small Barrel Project began as a self-imposed posture intervention.

It's really the nicest thing I've done for myself for a while in years. The exercise in the photo – Breathing – has a huge impact on my back and how I stand.

I couldn't stop after 30 days of course.

It was too exciting. I have to know how it all turns out.

Skills on the Small Barrel are beginning to infiltrate elsewhere in the system.

The apparatus are our teachers too.

And while we're on the subject…

There's another One Leg Stretch in a helpful little series of ‘wake up exercises' you do before you get out of bed in the morning.

Especially if you are a bit stiff, these few simple moves will feel refreshing necessary. Perhaps even more than your cup of coffee. Maybe 🙂

  • Lie on your back
  • Gently roll your legs from side to side.
  • Alternate lifting your knees up an inch or so as though you were doing the Running exercise on the Reformer. Gently, like you're shrugging the legs (Can you shrug a leg?).
  • Pull one leg into the chest at a time – a few sets – slowly and gently. OMG One Leg Stretch.

Can you guess what comes next?

  • Pull both legs into the chest and then lie them back down. OMG Double Leg Stretch.

These morning moves may also be wind-relieving…

More Mat Posts:

Here's where you can find me in 2017

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

Last year I weighed in on a few crucial skills we learn in our very first Pilates lesson.

Turns out our first lesson is jam-packed with key intel to serve us on our Pilates journey.

As I progress toward Day 30 of my Small Barrel Project (today is Day 28!) I can add 2 more fundamental exercises to our skill set.

Pilates is straightforward and simple in many respects. Even in our first few lessons Joe Pilates introduces us to all the tools we'll need as an advanced practitioner.

The first of today's fundamental exercises is one I've had to refine and relearn repeatedly in my workout. Perhaps I've finally got it this time…

1. Frog

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

With a lazy bum and overworking legs the Frog is a continual challenge for me.

We learn Frog early on in our Pilates life. It's the first and foremost way we extend our lower body away from our center for a while.

Beginning the Hundred, the Leg Circles and Double Leg Pull would be impossible for some without Frog.

I dare you to go through your Reformer or your Mat workout to see just how many times you find yourself needing some Frog skills.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

Why here's our very first Footwork position.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

Coordination follows shortly after our Frogs and Circles. What you have learned to do with straps and support, now you must repeat without them.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

In the Stomach Massage Series you'll take what you've learned to do lying down and now do it sitting up.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

All the gloriousness of Short Spine Massage begins with our simple Frog.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

And for those that like a challenge we've got a nice High Frog up in the air upside down! Yes, Frog has some thrills in store for us as well.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

OMG Double Leg Pull!

2. Scissors

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

Scissors – which granted you may not learn in your first Pilates lesson – repeats itself in countless exercises where we are multitasking: one side and then the other.

Our first incarnation of the Scissors is probably not on a barrel, but oh that's a good one.

We'll probably encounter it first on the Mat. You may know this exercise by another name: Single Straight Leg Stretch.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

How do we keep the center in control as our limbs alternate?

Better learn quickly because Joe Pilates is just getting started.

Do these Scissors look familiar?

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson
Yes, the Tree. We've talked about this Scissors extravaganza before.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

Here we go again in the Tendon Stretch.

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

Here's a little nicer one in the One Leg Elephant.

Now for a couple more doozies…

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

Sure, I'll see your High Frog and raise you a High Scissors. Why not?

The Pilates System: 2 More Mad Skills from your First Lesson

And perhaps the ultimate upside down scissor, Control Balance.

Small Barrel Project Recap

All of which brings me to my Small Barrel Project update:

Today is day 28 on my 30-day Posture Intervention on the Small Barrel.

Wow. Only 2 days to go!

I now know I can never stop doing these 10-15 minutes of exercises.

My Small Barrel has become one of my teachers.

What I find with ease to be possible on the Small Barrel enhances and primes me for my Reformer or Mat workout.


Thanks Joe, it's all in there.

What's going on here anyhow?

The Frog and Scissors are game changing exercises in the Pilates Method, the foundation of so many of our other exercises and well worth exploring.

What are these exercises teaching us?  

Frog and Scissors are some of our first examples of the lower body reaching away from the center. In Pilates we begin by strengthening the center and gradually we increase the challenge by reaching further away from our strong center.

Frog refines our engagement of the seat to elongate the low back and support the lower body in the air.

Scissors increases the difficulty and we reach our lower body away from the center one side at a time.

The center must remain steadfast! We do this many times in the Pilates Method ALL. AROUND. THE STUDIO.

It's not too late to join my Small Barrel Project.

Check out the exercises. Use a Small Barrel, a Spine Corrector or even just your Mat. Play along in just 10 minutes each day and see what magic happens…

Been working on your exercises? Leave me a comment and let me know how you're doing!

And here's where you can find me in 2017.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

Over the last 2 1/2 weeks I've been obsessed with focused on my Pilates apparatus du jour, the Small Barrel.

It's amazing the discoveries to be had with just these few exercises done daily.

True to form I was surprised (not really) by how my Small Barrel Project has infiltrated my Reformer and Mat workouts.

When one exercise gets better, they all get better, right?

Not news – exactly – but a new experience.

In last week's post I declared the Small Barrel exercises to be a microcosm of our entire method of 500+ exercises.

True, but how do we apply this to our teaching?

Back in the day…

I vividly remember when I knew lots of exercises on the Small Barrel, Spine Corrector and Ladder Barrel, but had no idea what do do with them as a teacher.

When and why would I take someone to the Barrels to better their skills on the Reformer and Mat?

Maybe I didn't even know to ask this question…

How do our Pilates barrels fit into the greater Pilates system?

The Premise of the Pilates Apparatus

Even without springs, the Barrel apparatus offers us all the benefits of support and assistance to better our Pilates skill set.

Remember that's why we're here on our Barrels… to take a fresh look at an all-too-familiar skill we need to improve.

Small Barrel Project Recap

Today is day 21 on my 30-day Posture Intervention on the Small Barrel.

Wow. Only 9 days to go.

Although I may never stop doing these 10-15 minutes of exercises.

Observations from this last week:

  • My back feels fantastic all the time.
  • Weak side and tight hip have come to an understanding with the Barrel's feedback.
  • My head is now completely in contact with the barrel in the Arm Series.
  • I've got a more complete connection along each side of my body from toes to fingertips.
  • My lower body connection is stronger.
  • I've found my seat in exercises in which I didn't even know I needed it: Hip Twist and Helicopter.

Moreover I've furthered the following skills (just to name a few) that I can take to the Reformer and the Mat:

  1. Connecting the upper body (shoulder girdle and arms) into the center
  2. Finding the seat creating length in the low back and extending the hip
  3. Balancing the body side to side to untwist myself

Those are some biggies…

Let's take a closer look.

1. Connect the upper body (shoulder girdle and arms) into the center

Here we are on the Small Barrel:

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

On the Reformer we'll use the connection here, the waistline reaching all the way to the hands into the apparatus (the pole in this case) to sharpen our Rowing Series.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

And our Short Box Series

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

And our Hundred

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

You see how this goes.

2. Finding the seat to create length in the low back and to extend the hip

Our Small Barrel exercise(s):

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

The lower body exercises done on the Small Barrel emphasize the strength of the center driving the action of the lower extremities.

Guess what?

We'll see this scenario everywhere…

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

SemiCircle utilizes the stomach and seat to lengthen the back and extend the hip.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

And the same thing in the Snake/Twist but – whoopsie – upside down.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

And upside down again for our old favorite Knee Stretches Knees Off.

3. Balancing the body side to side to untwist myself

I've often been told that no one is entirely symmetrical. Strength imbalances from sports, old injuries, surgeries and the like can create one side that likes to bully the other.

Sometimes there may even be a little twist in there to wrangle.

Well we've got an app(aratus) for that.

The Small Barrel exercise:

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

In this simple exercise, the Scissors, which shows up every 5 seconds in our Pilates workout in one incarnation or another, we've got an opportunity to see how one side of the center affects the other.

What happens in the center when one leg reaches away? The Small Barrel can give us wonderful information on imbalances in the back and hips.

Where will we use this skill again?

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

Oh Tree, is there anything you can't do? Use the feedback from the Barrel to inform your center here where you don't get the luxury of support from the apparatus.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

OMG look familiar? Again, in the Side Kicks Series you must figure out what's going on in your center sans support and feedback.

So jump on those Reformers and dust off your Mats.

Flaunt your new skills in your next workout!

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? 

Here’s where to find me in 2017

The Pilates System: The Hundred vs. the Wall

The Pilates System: The Hundred vs. the Wall

Hello and welcome to another epic battle of Pilates exercises.

Lately I've been working diligently to perfect one of the most infamous of the Pilates exercises: the Hundred.

I've also felt a resurgence of the Wall exercises. Such simple and effective exercises which can be done anywhere you're able to commune with a wall.

The Wall is a great finisher to your at-home-between-studio-visits Mat workout.

Who doesn't want better posture I ask you?

Check out how brutal and demanding the Wall can be in a recent video:

From Reader's Digest, October 1934, Cutting a Fine Figure:

A few remedial exercises must be gone through daily, if you care two pins about having a 20-year-old figure at the age of 50.

Here is one that Pilates recommends: lie down and try to make the whole length of the spine touch the floor, likewise the shoulders and arms, stretched above the head.

You can't do it, but trying is what counts.

Just what we do at the end of our Wall exercises yes? We work steadily to lengthen the back of us – now in an upright position – along the oh-so-unforgiving wall.

Again, it's impossible, but it's the trying that counts and corrects our posture.

Correcting our posture? Remember there's another stellar group of Pilates apparatus which serves us on our quest for amazing and youthful posture: the barrels (Small Barrel, the Spine Corrector and the Ladder Barrel).

Make the Hundred Great Again

With our rigorous Pilates training, we can develop a facility for a familiar exercise like the Hundred.

We become tremendous cheaters.

As you'll see in this week's video, I can fake my way through the Hundred. I can park my legs low off my pelvis and really not connect my lower body into my center.

No bueno…

Let's make this exercise a challenge again. Let's see if we can work it so well maybe the whole 10 sets of the Hundred will be too much and we'll barely make it to 80…

First, what are we warming up here in our iconic Pilates exercise?

The center. The back. Right?

In just a few short exercises our order of the Reformer exercises and our order of the Mat exercises will demand our backs embark on the juicy, stretchy challenges of the Overhead and the Roll Over, respectively.

How exactly is that gonna happen?

No need to change the order, however, we do need to make all our preceding exercises that much more effective in preparing the body for inversion.

Might as well start with the Hundred.

Hundred vs. the Wall

Use the 2 videos included in this post to refine your exercises: the Hundred with help from the Spine Corrector, and the Wall.

Let's see how helpful this will be to perfect your ultimate expression of the Hundred.

You too may speak the same phrase I do every five minutes in my Pilates workout:

“Oh yeah, it's just like that other exercise…”

The Pilates System: The Hundred vs. the Wall

Enjoy this short video tutorial. Wanna see your favorite exercises in an epic battle? 

Lay it on me in a comment below and let's go for it!

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

The Pilates Language: Laying the Foundation

The Pilates Language: Laying the Foundation

An internet search of the benefits of Pilates reveals the following:

“…Women strengthened their rectus abdominis (the muscle responsible for six-packs) by an average of 21 percent, while eliminating muscle imbalances between the right and left sides of their cores, according to a Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study.”

Okay, your abs will be amazing and a stronger core will help with everything.

“Researchers believe that by stabilizing the core's lumbar-pelvic (lower-back) region, Pilates alleviates stress on the area and ups mobility.” 

If you have back pain, Pilates will help.

“Pilates elongates and strengthens, improving muscle elasticity and joint mobility.”

If you have joint pain, Pilates will help.

“You'll learn to control the movement of your body.”

You'll need to think and pay attention.

“Pilates: It's amazing for sex.” 

From “Look better naked,” all the way to claims I'm blushing too much to offer here on the blog. 

“…you can learn moves that mimic and improve performance in your sport of choice.”

You'll get better at your chosen sport, even if that sport is life itself.

Gain long, lean muscles and flexibility.” Pilates will give you “a dancer's body.”


The Art of the First Lesson

Despite the accuracy of the above claims, that's a lot of language.



Eliminate muscle imbalance. 

Yes, please.

But this language is not actionable.

Who really knows what we're talking about in their first lesson?

What does “improving muscle elasticity” mean to a first time student trying to learn to do a Roll Up?

The First-time Student

Pilates has a different point of view on exercise than traditional fitness. We also have a language – that we all desperately want to use – which will be unfamiliar at first.

As a teacher, I consider efficient communication to be one of my main jobs.

With any beginning student, even an athlete, we must lay the foundation.

How can I effectively communicate to Mr. X in his first lesson?

Consider the difference between asking someone to “lengthen the back” in a seated position.

I'm not suggesting these words would be used in this situation, but it's what we all want to see as a result, yes?

Yet who knows what this means sitting on the Short Box for the first time?

We must lay the foundation.

We also must never underestimate the power of silence. Communication does not imply a lot of talking.

Pedestrian Language

I like to think in ordinary, everyday words. The exercises will feel foreign enough on the first lesson. Elaborate language will not be helpful at this point.

Let's use words we all understand and things most people can figure out how to do:

“Sit up taller.”

“Pick your head up and reach your arms forward.”

“Roll up off the Mat and reach past your toes.”

“Lower your heels slowly.”

“Use this.” accompanied by a poke of my finger.

“Lie down.”

“Sit up.”





Occasionally even these directions may misfire.

Relax…it's not a sin to get up and show Mr. X what to do.

“Oh yeah, I can do that…” the visual learners will love you.

The Collection of Cues

The word ‘cue' is not a favorite of mine.

cue 1 |kyo͞o|


  • a thing said or done that serves as a signal to an actor or other performer to enter or to begin their speech or performance
  • a signal for action
  • a piece of information or circumstance that aids the memory in retrieving details not recalled spontaneously


In progressing students toward autonomy, I prefer to think in terms of making ‘suggestions' or ‘corrections' rather than prompting them into action.

What you say vs. What you SEE

My formal education is in the theatre. I absolutely love the craft of acting and I enjoy a good narrative almost more than life itself.

As an actor, the skills you cultivate in your training and through the rehearsal period will serve you well in performance. All the preparation is built into you until the curtain goes up and you are live and in person.

At this point in the process, you must show up and respond to your fellow actors.

Similarly our years of Pilates training, CECs, weekly lessons and countless observation hours prepare us for anything and anyone to show up at our studio.

We are thoroughly prepared and now we must show up and respond.

Even crazy can be effective…

Through the years I've uttered things that work perfectly yet really shouldn't. Clients also contribute to the dialogue with suggestions that work beautifully for them but which would mean nothing to anyone else.

I've used the following bizarre directions with great success:

“You need to slouch more.”

“More parenthesis here.” (to elicit the Round shape of a new exercise)

Fielding the question “Am I to squeeze the asshole?” giving it a try and then responding, “Yes.”

“Pretend you are round.”

“Yes. Now do that forever.”

“Can you be taller upside down?”

The Experience of the Exercises in our Bodies

I firmly believe our intimate experience of the Pilates exercises in our own body serves us immeasurably as a teacher.

How the exercises feel and how they perform in the body enables us to choose wisely for our students.

The order of the exercises also informs us about the exercises.

  • What are they doing for the body?
  • How do they progress us forward in our workout?
  • What are the demands on the body that show up later in the order?
  • How are we being prepared for them in the early exercises?

Get your own personal workout on a regular basis and cultivate depth in our Pilates exercises. Your endeavors will reward you tenfold!

And here's where you can find me in 2018.