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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Wiggins

10 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Pilates Mat Class

Updated: Sep 4, 2019

Whether you’re new to pilates or a seasoned regular, you’ll want to regularly check in on your approach to practice. Pilates is a lot about mindfulness, after all! Ask yourself if you’re unintentionally making these common mistakes, and learn the easy fix to be on your way to a better pilates mat practice.

1. Arriving late When you skip the beginning of class, you’re really missing out! The first part of pilates mat class helps you transition from the busy outside world and into your mat practice. We review proper breathing techniques and practice proper core engagement. These crucial first exercises set the foundation for an efficient and effective workout. Do your best to be on time and you’ll maximize the benefit of your class.

2. Not putting your phone in silent mode This is one of the most common missteps we encounter. I do understand it happens from time to time. But as a teacher I’ve seen the embarrassed look on students’ faces when they realize it’s their phones making the noise! Be kind and hit the quiet button.

3. Using only a single yoga mat Mat Pilates involves a lot of rolling movement where a thick mat is a must-have. If your gym only has the thin yoga mats, take two (or even three) and give yourself a good cushion for rolling like a ball or open leg rocker. Bonus: a super thick mat actually makes the rolling exercises more challenging. Some of my favorite mats include the Manduka Pro 6mm mat and Hugger Mugger extra thick (1/4”)

Is one yoga mat enough for Pilates mat? Go with 6mm thickness or more, or try "doubling up" for more cushion.

4. Chewing gum during class Pilates uses a lot of breath work and training, and a piece of gum in your mouth actually poses a hazard! Anything in your mouth can interfere with proper breathing. While I understand the desire for fresh breath, I’d like to instead encourage you to slip in mint in your mouth before pilates class, or toss the gum as you walk in.

5. Not telling your instructor about pregnancy or other possible conditions which may affect movement Some movements are simply not a good idea for specific medical conditions. For example, rolling on your stomach might pose a problem even for newly pregnant students. If you don’t want to prematurely announce your pregnancy or recent augmentation surgery to everyone in class, speak quietly with the instructor before class. A good instructor will offer suitable alternatives. They can also present them in a way that doesn’t share your private information with the world.

[Heads up from a teacher’s perspective: it might take a couple of times to remind the instructor before they remember you from week to week. It helps us tremendously if a student reminds us at every class at least 2-3x so we can remember your unique needs among the dozens of people we regularly teach.]

6. Wearing improper clothing A tee shirt and sweats might work great for sculpting class, but during mat pilates any kind of blousy clothing could be an issue. For example, you might bend over and find your t-shirt exposing your midriff as if falls down towards your shoulders. You’ll soon forget about your form as you rush to cover up the unexpected peep show.

The best outfit for mat pilates is leggings/capris without any zippers or buttons and a form fitting top. [note: some leggings have zipper pockets in the back which could hurt during some exercises] Clothing doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive; you can find highly rated budget-friendly leggings even on Amazon! When you don’t have to worry about your shirt gaping open during bridgework, you can concentrate more easily on your practice.

Woman middle-age pilates student exercise fitness
Comfortable leggings and a form-fitting top is perfect for Pilates mat class!

7. Thinking it’s too easy There’s a common saying among pilates teachers: if it feels too easy, then you’re probably doing it incorrectly! Ask the teacher afterwards if they have suggestions on how to feel more challenged; they can offer immediate feedback. It’s really worth the effort to learn how to do Pilates correctly. Proper breath, alignment and core engagement can make pilates mat class your most challenging class all week! Which leads to another very common misstep worth reviewing…

8. Not learning proper core engagement The core musculature in your body consists of the pelvic floor connecting the deepest layers of muscles in your abdominals and back. It works in tandem with the diaphragm to provide support during Pilates’ demanding movements.

If your core muscles are not engaged and connected to the movement, it lessens the quality of your practice. (See #1 above where we take time at the beginning of class to review and “find” these important muscles!) Your best bet for learning proper core engagement is working with an experienced instructor who can provide cues to help you master this essential Pilates skill.

9. Ditching pilates for cardio class A regular pilates practice can actually make your cardio workouts more effective; for example, a flexible, strong body can bounce back quickly from intense workouts. A strong core can also help reduce your chance of injury.

Also, too much cardio can actually hurt your chances of meeting your weight goals. A balanced fitness routine can maximize your results from exercise. This includes strength plus flexibility training (thankfully, Pilates can help with both!). If you’ve stopped seeing results from your daily high impact classes, try swapping one day a week for a pilates mat class.

10. Judging yourself unfairly after one class (or many!) I often have very fit clients attend class who run marathons, competed in college and/or professional sports, or otherwise achieved high levels of fitness. Yet if their training hasn’t included pilates, they likely find the movements very difficult — if not impossible— to perform completely.

My best advice for newcomers: give yourself 10 sessions to decide if Pilates will work for you. Show up, do your best, and give yourself credit for trying. Whatever you do, DO NOT compare yourself to anyone in class.

You can master pilates to suit your unique body, but it takes worthwhile effort to perform most mat exercises. Don’t get discouraged if you felt like you could only do half of the exercises your first class. It takes time, but it does get easier and you DO see improvement!

Since I know many people play the comparison game anyway, please remind yourself that the person next to you might have practiced for years (they might even be a Pilates teacher!). So many factors influence a person’s practice, including age and body structure.

It’s not fair to yourself to expect mastery levels right away, even if you can rock a handstand in yoga or were a gymnast in college. Give yourself grace and time, and soon you’ll enjoy the satisfaction of progressing in your pilates practice!

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