What are the Benefits of a Daily Pilates Mat Workout?

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What are the Benefits of a Daily Pilates Mat Workout?

Joe Pilates intended his mat exercises to be done as homework.

Your maintenance plan.

30 minutes to return you to the “zest and pleasure” of living!

But first, we must begin.

With a studio in my home, doing my own workout often feels like I am still working…Or maybe I have taught so many clients in a day that I am convinced I had a workout as well?

Ultimately the challenge becomes about just lying down on the Mat/Reformer/Cadillac.

Oh it can be daunting…

What are the Benefits of a Daily Pilates Mat Workout?So I teamed up with my husband (as fate would have it, also named Joe) and embarked on a daily mat practice.

Inspired by Benjamin Degenhardt’s March MATness, our plan was to do at least a few exercises every morning: 10 minutes at the bare minimum and a bit more or even the entire Mat if time permitted.

10 minutes is the least that I can do for my optimum health.

It’s my body.

Hopefully I'm gonna have it for a while, right? It behooves me to care for it so it will run strong for life!

Pilates is my lifetime warrantee.

I would also like to note that a few times each week Joe is scheduled to begin work at 6am. So that would mean some 5am Pilates for me.

Was I up to the challenge?

Was I up?

To be frank, I have never been a morning exerciser. It’s all about the sleeping in for me and then squeezing in a workout between clients. Which I have to admit, rarely happens…

So we began in July this year. It is now mid-October and we have maybe missed a handful of days – Sunday, the hardest day sometimes. A day of rest, we rationalized. It’s okay, I thought, Sandy Shimoda will kick my ass on Monday, so I’m safe.

Sorry, no photos of the 5am workouts…remember, Pilates isn't pretty…

But please, PLEASE!! What are the exciting results???

  • Joe recently announced for the second time since our first workout that all nagging “injuries” he would feel now and then, have vanished.

And that’s a big statement coming from him. When you are married to a Pilates teacher, we of course offer much more counsel than one might desire.

“You know, Pilates could help you with that.”

“There’s an exercise for that.”

“Blah, blah, Pilates…blah blah blah.”

All of which is true, of course, but coming from one’s spouse…well, you know how that goes…

  • The trajectory of my own Pilates workout remains ever onward and upward. No sliding back if you do the mat (at least a bit of it) EVERY day.

You can get even more out of your weekly lessons when you arrive strong and focused.

  • I keep myself strong to teach my clients. Pushing and pulling and standing all day long is harder than you think… or harder than I think it is.

It is a constant challenge to take care of my own body as I give full energy to others.

  • My back no longer feels stiff after hours spent on my laptop writing these posts 🙂 

Time flies when you are blogging…!

  • Any insecurity about how to reconcile my appetite (insatiable) with staying fit has disappeared as well. I feel fabulous and believe that I look stunning as well. Mentally my daily Pilates workout has empowered me to be confident in my own skin. Not an easy feat.

One more Series of 5, please…

  • I feel weird to have a morning without the Mat actually…

Why not cultivate a good habit?

Bonus video blog: 7 ways to feel fantastic in 5 minutes.

Join me!

Use these 7 exercises as a place to begin. The entirety of the Mat may seem too much at first, especially if you would like to introduce a friend or family member to a daily Pilates workout.

Start simply and build on your success day by day. Use the video at first. Then see if you can learn them and they’ll be YOURS for life!!

Share your thoughts and progress in a comment below.

Thank you for reading…and for doing your Mat!



3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

Click here if you missed Part 1.

Pilates is unique. Unlike traditional fitness regimens, the Pilates Method includes rolling exercises.

Rolling exercises make me smile. Playful and idiosyncratic, rolling on the mat makes it hard to take yourself too seriously.

I like to call it the “Whee factor”.


The sheer perfection of the rolling exercises is utterly captivating: a consummate example of our journey towards ultimate control.

Part 2: Let's Roll!

The Roll(ing) Exercises of the Pilates Method include Rolling like a BallOpen Leg Rocker, the Boomerang, the Seal and the Crab. Here you must maintain the integrity of your shape.

Joe Pilates also gives us exercises that roll and unroll the spine: the Roll Up, the Roll Over, the Spine Stretch, the CorkscrewNeck Pull, Jackknife and bien sȗr, the Teaser.

All the above mentioned exercises have their respective challenges and intricacies and totally deserve posts of their own, promise!


Let's examine the Pilates rolling exercises through the lens of one of my very favorites. Can you guess?

You won't be surprised…

The ROCKER with Open Legs.


The Open Leg Rocker is an elegant exercise and a paragon of the 2-way stretch. The long reach of the lower body propels you backward, and the lift from the pit of the stomach all the way up to the top of your head returns you to balance.

Mmmm, Contrology is delicious!

Can you resist the invitation to flail about and use momentum?

The Rocker has become…an obsession…and the Handstands on the Barrel as well…

…oh but I digress…

Quick & Dirty Trick #1: WWJPD?

Pass the manifesto, please…

Take a look at the 4 figures of Joe's Rocker with Open Legs and consider his instructions:

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.Fig. 1:

  • Take position illustrated

I have emboldened the directions that were news to me. I found these to be particularly insightful.

Interesting…I follow this first direction without the the next part (Fig. 2) where the knees bend in. Hmmm…what might I be missing I wonder…

Fig. 2:

  • Bend knees

Oooh, the combination of the inhale plus essentially pulling the legs in to bend the knees instantly deepened the scoop of my stomach. Niiiiiiiiice move Mr. JoJo…mind if I call you JoJo?

Oh. You do mind. Pressing on.

Fig. 3:

  • Grasp ankles firmly
  • Toes (pointed) forward and downward (knees locked)
  • Spread legs upward and outward as far as possible
  • Keep abdomen “drawn” in as far as possible with
  • Chin touching chest

Nerd alert! Joe wants us to “grasp ankles” not the calf or thigh. More on this later…

Okay I really like the direction to “spread legs upward and outward as far as possible.” You can feel the clear engagement of the entire lower body. And just when you need it.

And “chin touching chest” is great to counteract any head flinging that might want to go on…

Not by moi, of course.

Fig. 4

  • “Roll” over backward trying to touch mat or floor with toes

This direction may sound a little scary as this is not the way I was taught to do the exercise…so again…

…I had to try it.

Control is imperative here if you don't want to bonk your head on the mat, yes.

Following Joe's direction makes this exercise feel just as yummy along the entire back of the body as the Roll Over, another of my favorites. It is a wonderful stretch as you use control (your stomach!) to stay lifted and not land on your head.

Bonus info from JP

Joe also includes the following:

NOTE: Repeat the foregoing “rocking” exercise backward and forward six (6) times.

Got it. Do 6.

CAUTIONS: Fig. 3 – Arms and legs rigid (elbows and knees locked). “Pivot” on base of spine, “rocking” backward to Fig. 4 position, then “rock” forward, pressing head firmly against chest, at the same time pressing arms firmly forward against legs until you reach Fig. 3 and try to balance yourself in that position.

Which brings me to…

Quick & Dirty Trick #2: No Bent Legs!

The Rocker with Open Legs is a wonderful long stretch of the entire back of the body. It requires lift in the back and length in the hamstrings. It is therefore of vital importance to have “arms and legs rigid (elbows and knees locked).”

Waaaaah…the language, it's killing me!

In Return to Life, Joe is a man of imperatives and superlatives. Straight the arms! Long the back!

Wait, there's also “pressing arms firmly forward against legs.” Hmmm…I must try…

It's easy to “pump” yourself up by bending the elbows when rolling back, and often there is tightness in the back and/or legs that makes it hard to straighten the legs. Pressing forward into the legs with the arms is actually quite helpful in this regard. Especially for the folks that like to hang onto their legs for dear life.

So Joe essentially gives us a CAUTION about cheating. He knows we'll want to, but he strongly suggests we don't.

“Straight the legs?!” What's to be done? 

Tight backs/legs can get some help from the leg straps from the Cadillac, thusly:

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

For a bit. In conjunction with lots of stuff all around the studio that's gonna stretch that stuff out. After a while they will “Long the Back!” and “Straight the Legs!” all on their own. Hellooooo, ankles…

Quick & Dirty Trick #3: The Order of the Universe

Another way to follow Joe's guidelines to the letter is to look at what he has given us up until this point in the Mat. What are you doing in the eleven exercises that precede the Rocker with Open Legs to ready yourself?

The Hundred, Roll Up, Roll Over, One Leg Circle, Roll Like a Ball, Single Leg Pull, Double Leg Pull, Single Straight Leg Stretch, Double Straight Leg Stretch, Criss Cross, Spine Stretch…

Joe has prepared you well. By this point you have encountered every skill you will need for the Rocker with Open Legs. Of particular import is the Spine Stretch which immediately precedes it. The same stuff without all the fancy balancing and rocking back and forth.

So seize the moment. Long the Back! Straight the Legs!

The Rocker is coming.

I know rolling is good for me, but what's it done for me lately?

It is this very action of “rolling” and “unrolling” that cleanses your lungs so effectively by driving out the impure air and forcing in the pure air as you “roll” and “unroll.”

Indefatigably and conscientiously practice breathing until the art of correct breathing becomes habitual, automatic and subconscious, which accomplishment will result in the bloodstream receiving its full quota of oxygen and thus ward off undue fatigue.

It is far better to be tired from physical exertion than to be fatigued by the “poisons” generated by nervousness while lying awake. Particularly beneficial in this regard are the spinal “rolling” and “unrolling” massage exercises which relax the nerves and induce sound, restful sleep.

[And with regard to the Corkscrew:]

This exercise strengthens neck and shoulders and is an internal and spinal massage.

Got it:

  • Clears Toxins
  • Rejuvenates the blood
  • Energizes the body
  • Calms nerves
  • Induces sound sleep
  • Massages internal organs
  • Massages the spine/back

That sounds pretty darn good for me. 

It's invigorating, jostling, expiratory, gut-wrenching. It gives a nice massage. Soothing, warming, niceness for our body.

Plus… if you act now, I'll even throw in 2 extra sets of Rockers with Legs Together and Feet Flexed.


Serendipitous Bonus from Rock Star Clare Dunphy.  Enjoy!

Thanks so much for reading 🙂

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks That ROCK! So you will too.

Share your favorite Pilates rolling exercise in a comment below.

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.This one is for Sarah.

I found rocking on the front of the body to be a shocking development in my first Pilates classes.

We had already been rolling on our backs since day 1, so of course why not rock on our fronts? This realization did not make the rocking exercises easier to do…

But I get it. 

That Joe Pilates, he thought of everything.

Part 1: Let's Rock!

The Rock(ing): a challenging exercise done primarily on the Mat.

And yes, technically the Swan Dive is also a rocking exercise, but what say we give that one an entire post of its own? (Oh boy, already excited about the photos for that post…can you feel my joy?)

Quick & Dirty Trick #1: WWJPD?

Do a little homework. Consult Joe Pilates' manifesto Return to Life Through Contrology.

Take a look at the 4 figures of Joe Rocking and let's consider his directives:

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

Fig. 1:

  • (a) Take position illustrated
  • (b) Rest body (face downward) on mat or floor
  • (c) Press arms to sides with palms upward
  • (d) Stretch legs (close together) backward
  • (e)Keep toes (pointed) forward and downward

I have emboldened the directions that were news to me. I found these to be particularly insightful.

When I begin in this position as Joe suggests, I lengthen my body on the stomach just as I would do on my back preparing for the Hundred or the Teaser. Cool. No big deal…I'm just on my stomach…

As I “stretch legs (close together) backward” I feel my seat engage. Brilliant. Guess what it's gonna have to do by the time we get to Figure 4.


  • (a) Bend legs forward toward head
  • (b) Grasp feet

Ok, pretty per usual. But “feet”, mind you, he does not say ankles. Duly. Noted. Let's press on.

Fig. 3:

  • (b) Thrust chest out with head thrown back as far as possible
  • (c) Stretch legs (close together) toward mat or floor

Thrust chest out with head thrown back as far as possible?!!

How many of us would never want to use these words to teach our clients? Sounds scary, I know.

So I tried it.

With the first action of thrusting the chest out, trying to throw my head backward only resulted in more lift of my whole shape similar to the Down Stretch on the Reformer. More on this later, as it was one of my favorite parts. It did not result in a crank of the neck, as I had anticipated. Interesting…

…and I am a bit of a neck-cranker.

I like direction (c) he uses here as well. “Stretch legs (close together) toward mat or floor” is very clear and effective. Thanks Joe!

Fig. 4:

  • (a) Rock forward until chin touches mat or floor
  • (b) Rock backward as far as possible
  • (c) INHALE SLOWLY as you
  • (d) Rock forward and
  • (e) EXHALE SLOWLY as you
  • (f) Rock backward

Okay, let's talk about all this stuff. At the risk of getting über-precious about the breathing (Resist!) the rocking exercises on the stomach (as well as all the rolling exercises) have their roots in Joe's philosophy of correct breathing:

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

Honestly, who can think about breathing while doing this exercise? I only hope to survive and make it to the Control Balance. One thing I can actually count on is that I will keep breathing. All the other stuff, ehhh, not so much…

Must… Move… Vigorously! Lift up, everybody – Up!

However, following Joe's directives made the exercise feel good:

INHALE slowly as you Rock forward

EXHALE slowly as you Rock backward

I am sure I have been exhaling my face into the mat for years. This change of where the exhalation comes made a big difference in the exercise for me. It gave me more lift and ease in the exercise and a big, full, toxin-clearing exhalation like the Down Stretch on the Reformer as I said earlier. Which brings me to…

We only have one exercise

You saw that one comin', huh?

Quick & Dirty Trick #2: Lengthen and calm yourself.

You've done the research. You've made it this far in the mat. Just 3 more exercises and you are golden…don't freak out. It's only the Rocking. All the exercises you have already done have led you to this moment. You are ready. Lie on your stomach and stretch yourself long.

Quick & Dirty Trick #3: A backbend is not a free-for-all.

Don't lose your sh**, K? Work fiercely to engage all that which wants to pooch out onto the mat. Try to forget the exercise is a backbend when you are in the starting position (Fig. 1). Find straight first, when bending the knees for the initial stretch – ribs in, stomach in, seat tight – find the stretch in the thighs and hips if it is not already palpable, or ridiculous. That backbend will find you soon enough…

Who's in charge here?

The Pilates exercises that Rock and Roll are stunning examples of ultimate control. Both ends of the body must work constantly in opposition to move us about. Find the 2-way stretch here just as you would in any other less-fancy exercise: lift the back and then reach the toes to the sky.

In the Rocking it is the reach of the big toes that will help you find your seat and the work of the lower body while you Down Stretch your way to success with the lift of the upper body and chest a là Swan.

Ready for Part 2?

Click here for my exploration of the Pilates rolling exercises and why they are so freakishly good for us. They make a good pair, the rocking and the rolling. They work together to encourage the strength and flexibility of the entire back.

Mmm…a massage for back and front and the toxic air goes bye-bye!

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

3 Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

Got some Quick & Dirty Tricks of your own? Share them in a comment below.

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