Starting out on the Equipment vs. Mat – What’s the Difference?

Starting out on the Equipment vs. Mat – What’s the Difference?

Mat classes are often the first experience most people have with Pilates.  Recreation centers, health clubs, and community gyms may offer mat classes to its members.  Mat exercises can be difficult for beginners to do, however, because they do not have the core strength to perform the exercises correctly. This combined with an instructor that may have minimal training and a room full of students, can lead to injuries at worst, or ineffectiveness at best. Consequently, some people come away with the notion that Pilates causes neck pain, or aggravates back issues.  This is a valid concern in the Pilates industry.  A qualified instructor needs to watch and teach by cueing and observing, not by performing and demonstrating to the class in the front of the room.  The watchful eye of a certified, educated, and experienced teacher that can spot poor technique is the best insurance against injurious Pilates training.

The truth of the Classical Pilates Method is based on a full, integrated system of equipment—and mat exercises are just part of the technique (only 25 percent of the Pilates exercise system/repertoire can be performed on a mat).  By adding equipment, or starting out on the equipment, you are able to experience a more authentic, quality experience. The equipment can aid in changing your body faster and more safely because the springs provide support and resistance that help you to engage your core connection in a way that is difficult to do on the Mat alone, especially for beginners. The equipment allows you to shape, tone, lengthen and align quite different than working on the mat alone. But it is important to do both, and there’s nothing quite like a challenging mat class; and the more experience you have in Pilates, the harder the mat classes can be.

Pilates Terminology

Pilates Terminology


Pilates instructors use verbal cues to help students execute movements correctly, but some may be a little confusing at first. Here are explanations for some of our lingo!   

When you hear:

Try doing this:

  • Neutral Pelvis
  • Maintain the lower spine’s natural curvature by keeping your two front hip bones level with your pubic bone. Don’t flatten out or over-arch the curve in the lower back by tilting the pelvis.
  • Abdominal Scoop
  • Hollowing out your abdominals using your exhale and your deep abdominal muscles. It is a feeling of pulling your abs “in” and then “up” under your rib cage.   This does not mean flattening your low back or “tucking your pelvis”.
  • Powerhouse
  • A term coined by Joseph Pilates himself. The abdominals, back, hip and shoulder girdle muscles all working together. These are the main stabilizing muscles and are very important for preventing injury to the spine. As Joe said, “the engine that drives the movement”.
  • Pilates Breathing
  • “Breathing is the first act of life, and the last… above all, learn how to breathe correctly.” Joseph Pilates. In Pilates, we use diaphragmatic breathing as the rib cage expands laterally (side to side) and towards the back of the ribcage.  Breathing patterns are the focus of many exercises, but of course, it is utilized in all.
  • Sitz Bones
  • The sitz bones are the two bones that you “sit on” and are located at the bottom of your pelvis. If you sit on a hard chair you’ll likely feel them poking down. Aiming your sitz bones towards your heels when lying down encourages a neutral spine.
  • Lengthen Your Legs
  • Stretch the muscles of your legs without tensing or overly pointing your feet. Keep your hips even. Imagine someone gently pulling your legs by the ankles.
  • Pilates Stance vs. Parallel Stance
  • Pilates stance is the formation of a small “V” with your feet by placing your heels together and your toes a “fist distance” apart.  Contrastly, a parallel stance is keeping your feet in parallel alignment with equal weight distribution on all four sides of each foot.
  • Chin to Chest
  • As you lengthen the back of your neck, slightly tilt the chin down. The chin shouldn’t actually touch your chest; keep the width of an apple or tennis ball between the two.
  • Relax Your Shoulders/Slide Your Shoulders Down Your Back 
  • One of the most commonly heard cues! Overusing the upper body muscles and shoulder tension is common in many people. Pilates teaches correct shoulder stabilization and alignment preventing many shoulder injuries.  Avoid letting your shoulders lift to your ears, draw them down and back.
  • Articulate the Spine
  • Roll forward or backward through the spine one vertebra at a time. Feel as though you are imprinting each bone into the mat as you roll up or down.
  • “Engage”  your Abdominals
  • Use the deep abdominal muscles to stabilize your body before you move, and to initiate the movement.  The “scoop” explained above is utilized here.
  • Zip your Thighs Together
  • Squeeze the inner thighs and sitz bones toward each other, actively pressing your legs together.
  • Tabletop Legs
  • Lie on your back and raise your legs to a 90-degree angle from your body. Then bend your knees so your calves are at a 90-degree angle to your thighs.
  • Make a C-curve



  • Lengthen on each side of your waist
  • Creating a C-shape with your back by looking into your abs and tilting your pelvis anteriorly. All the while not letting your ribs collapse.  (see below)


  • Even though your spine is in a curve, do not let your ribs collapse onto your waist. Keep length and space from your bottom ribs to the top of your hips. To avoid collapsing into your ribs, pretend you’re curving over a porcupine.


  • Work in Opposition
  • When you sit on the floor, try to lengthen your spine upward. At the same time, push your legs into the floor, and reach through your heels. Or as you reach up, draw your shoulder blades down your back. The effort of lengthening in both directions builds stabilization and makes each movement a whole-body exercise.
Pilates: How it can help you stay injury free while enjoying your athletic pursuits

Pilates: How it can help you stay injury free while enjoying your athletic pursuits

“If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

– Bill Bowerman, renowned U.S. track and field coach

Schools out and summer activities are taking over our schedules, but that should not stop us from pushing our bodies to reach our fitness goals. However, when it comes to our workout routines, it can be difficult to judge what is helping to strengthen our bodies, vs. what is putting us at risk for sports and movement related injuries.   This is where Pilates factors in. It can help us develop well balanced and flexible bodies that not only perform better on the court, course or field, but also keep us doing what we love longer and without getting sidelined from injury.

Injury Prevention

We hear the words “injury prevention” thrown around often. Typically associated with stretching, this term has a loose definition that can mean various things to any given individual depending on the types of physical activity they choose to perform. Pilates is much more than simple stretching; it is a fitness category in its own right that has a significant impact on injury prevention.

Here are some valuable insights into Pilates you should know if you are serious about staying injury free:

Core Focus

Our bodies are designed to operate as a single unit that flows through our core muscles. Pilates does not just recognize this concept – its foundation is built upon it. The fact is that the majority of your functional strength is capped by the strength of the muscles that comprise your core, or “Powerhouse”. A high-volume of injuries each year result from not properly engaging your core while exercising which can lead to stress fractures, muscle tears, and general strains and pulls among others. With Pilates, the goal of every exercise is to build core strength through the use of proper form and exercise methodology.

Controlled and Balanced Movements

With Pilates, you are the master of your body. Pilates is not about performing a million repetitions, maxing out while weightlifting or beating personal bests on the field, rather it stresses coordinating movements and achieving alignment of the body. Pushing yourself may look different from what you are used to in your gym routines, but this practice requires mental focus over physical momentum, forcing the body and the mind to work together to perform exercises with precision and an eye toward technique. Control is massively important in preventing injury. Understanding your body’s natural limitations and finding ways to control them is the best way to prevent getting hurt in the long run.

Whether you practice Pilates as an aid to another sport or it’s your workout of choice, the benefits are ample. Yes, maybe we are not all meant to win a gold medal or beat a world record, but even if our personal best is walking around the block, no athlete should have to deal with unnecessary injuries when there are modern ways to help prevent them. Fitness is about feeling good, and Pilates can help you maintain that feeling in all aspects of your daily life.