A Deep Dive Into Mat Pilates

Pilates: most of us have heard of it, how many of us can clearly define what it is? It’s easy to become racked with questions when you first hear of this unique form of exercise: What sets Pilates apart from Yoga? What happens during a Mat Pilates class? What are the different types of Pilates? What do you even use to practice Pilates? Throughout this article we will go through the history of Pilates, the different forms of the practice, and specifically the ins-and-outs of Mat Pilates — a version of Pilates that we offer classes for in The Studio.


The basics of Pilates boil down to a low-impact exercise that “uses a combination of approximately 50 simple, repetitive exercises to create muscular exertion.” Similar to the naming of Yoga poses, Pilates poses were given specific names and can be performed on a mat or on a Pilates apparatus all the same. But what truly separates Pilates and Yoga is that Yoga usually entails holding one’s body still in a specific pose, but Pilates requires getting into a pose and then moving the limbs repeatedly to challenge core muscles. Some of the original Pilates poses include The Hundred, the Roll-Up, the Single-Leg Stretch, the Hip Twist, and the Side Bend — just to name a few. Though Pilates began as an exercise with very specific steps and order, nowadays Pilates practices have expanded into many forms.


To truly understand Pilates, you must learn about the inventor and namesake of the art: Joseph Pilates. Joseph was born in Germany in 1883 and was a sickly child for most of his formative years, which led him to the pursuit of fitness and health as an adult. When he grew up, he “moved to Great Britain just before the outbreak of World War I and was interred by the British government for being a German national”. It was during this interment that the seeds of his practice were sown: Joseph worked in a “British army hospital and began adding springs and pulleys to the beds of immobile soldiers” to help them regain mobility as they healed, foreshadowing the Reformer machine. After the war ended, Joseph and his wife Clara moved to New York City and introduced Contrology to the world, an early version of the Pilates we know today. They opened a studio that quickly became “popular with dancers, who believed it was a great way to recover and improve technique”. Joseph and Clara continued to run this studio until his death at age 83 in 1967. Contrology was renamed Pilates to honor his legacy and has continued to evolve into the practice we see today. (To read more about Joseph’s life, visit the Pilates Foundation website).


Pilates has changed quite a bit since its invention in the early 20th century. Nowadays, there are a few widely recognized varieties of Pilates that are found in fitness studios across the world.

Mat Pilates: Mat Pilates is based on the original Contrology that Joseph Pilates created before developing the Reformer machine. Mat Pilates is performed laying on a mat with little to no additional equipment and utilizes the force of gravity on body weight to strengthen the core, arms, and legs. HCI offers Mat Pilates classes multiple days of the week including Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Reformer Pilates: Reformer Pilates equips a Reformer machine: a bed-like mechanism fitted with a sliding platform, springs, pulleys, and ropes to aid in performing the various Pilates poses. People who practice Reformer Pilates usually do so in professional studios, as the machines are quite expensive and should be used under the supervision of a trained instructor. However intimidating it may initially appear, many find that using a Reformer hastens and enhances the results of Pilates more than regular Mat Pilates.

Classical Pilates (Contrology): Classical Pilates follows the exact original sequence of exercises as set by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s, starting from the basic foundation of positions and gradually leading into more complicated ones. Classical Pilates may also be done on a mat or a Reformer machine.

Contemporary/Hybrid Pilates: As the name implies, Hybrid Pilates merges classical Pilates with other types of exercise, such as Barre, Yoga, Aerobics, and more. HCI also offers Barrelates classes in The Studio on Fridays and Sundays, blending together the ballet inspired exercises of barre and the muscle toning movements of Pilates.


The benefits of Pilates, especially Mat Pilates, stretches beyond just strengthening the body. Mat Pilates can improve posture, coordination, balance, concentration, stress management, and injury prevention. Many also find that practicing Pilates gives them a time to practice mindfulness and gratitude during the business of life. All you need to start doing Mat Pilates is your body, a mat, and a little bit of floor space. Unlike some more complicated Pilates forms, Mat Pilates is perfect for people of all fitness levels “because the exercises not only can build in difficulty, but every exercise can also be modified to decrease or increase the level of challenge.” If you’d like professional guidance to kick off your own Mat Pilates practice, The Studio Mat Pilates classes are the perfect place to start. Our instructors can lead you into the new world of Pilates and even teach you how to use props like balls and resistance bands to enhance your practice further.


The Studio offers Mat Pilates and Barrelates classes multiple times during the week, including weekdays and weekends. Check The Studio schedule on our website or the Member App to sign up for a time that’s right for you! For more details about our Mat Pilates and Barrelates classes, check the Mind + Body page on the HCI website.