Rebuild Your Body With Mat Pilates

When I started working out in college, I mostly did high intensity interval training workouts and weights. This was fun for a year or two, but after a while I got bored of the same thing every day. I lost both the motivation and passion for the gym and stopped going as regularly as I used to.

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I started mat pilates at the NYSC about three or four years ago and fell in love. Although I enjoyed the change and group setting atmosphere,  I was mostly blown away with the way it transformed my body. I was never the most flexible person and surprised myself each week. My core became stronger and I built endurance so quickly that I was soon able to follow a whole class without taking rests. The girl who could never do five push-ups in high school could suddenly do ten, then a plank, then a side plank. Repeat.

I was proud of my progress and that alone was motivation enough.

Since I suffered from tendinitis in both wrists after giving birth to Liam (I wrote about DeQuervain’s Tendinitis here), I was afraid of taking pilates classes again right away. I didn’t want to injure myself more or feel incompetent during the group classes. I did a few Youtube workouts at home, but that was about it.

I only recently decided to jump back in, and it’s been the best decision for both my body and mind. It’s an all body workout and stretch at the same time, making you feel toned all over, energized, and powerful. Perfect for the busy mama — an hour and you’re done for the day!

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Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. As a child, he suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, but his drive and determination led him to become a competent gymnast, diver, and skier.

In 1912, Pilates lived in England and worked as a circus performer, boxer, and self-defense instructor. During the First World War, he served as an orderly in a hospital and worked with patients who were unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patients’ limbs, which led to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the ‘Cadillac’.

Much of his equipment, although slightly more modern today, is still used in many pilates studios.

Pilates emigrated to the U.S. with his wife, Cara, in the early 1920s. Together, they developed and taught the method in their ‘body-conditioning gym’ in New York. The Pilates Method, referred to as “Contrology” until after Pilates’s death,  became particularly popular with the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury. Originally, 60% of the clientele were men.

Pilates based his work on three principles: Breath, whole-body health, and whole-body commitment, with the whole body encompassing mind, body, and spirit. It has now become a worldwide phenomenon with over 12 million people practicing, and the numbers continue to grow due to its effectiveness and adaptability (

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The great thing about pilates is that it really does wonders for your body without taking a toll on it. Here are a few of its benefits:

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By emphasizing proper breathing, correct spinal and pelvic alignment, and concentration on smooth, fluid movements, you become incredibly in tune with your body.

Pilates values quality of movements over quantity of movements. Proper breathing is essential, and helps you move with maximum power and efficiency. Learning to breathe properly can facilitate the exercises and reduce stress.

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Conventional workouts are weight bearing and tend to build short, bulky muscles – the type that leads more easily to injury. Pilates elongates and strengthens, and a body with balanced strength and flexibility is less likely to get injured.

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Pilates exercises develop a strong “core,” the deep abdominal muscles along with the muscles closest to the spine. All exercises ask you to engage this portion of the body.

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A lot of conventional workouts tend to work the same muscles over and over again. Because of this, weak muscles tend to get weaker and strong muscles stronger, resulting in muscular imbalance. This is one of the main causes of injury and chronic back pain.

Pilates works the whole body, even the ankles and feet — no muscle group is emphasized or left behind!

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Since many of the exercises are executed in sitting or reclining positions, pilates is safe and low impact. At the same time, there are modifications for all exercises that allow for a range of difficulty levels.

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After pregnancy, a new mom’s abdominal muscles are weakened, her joints loose and unstable. Without concentrated effort, those ab muscles are bound to stay saggy… and get worse with baby number two! Pilates is the perfect way to rectify this before it becomes too difficult to fix.

It can help you . . .

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After 40 weeks (or more, in my case) carrying a baby, your pelvis feels like it’s constantly on the move. Pilates not only lengthens and tones abdominal muscles, but also focuses specifically on alignment of the spine relative to the pelvis.

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Pilates integrates all of the muscles and joints that were taxed during pregnancy and that are responsible for re-stabilizing your core, including the pelvic floor.

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Sorry to break it to you, but crunches alone are not going to flatten your belly, no matter how hard you try. They may actually even build the muscle and make your belly seem bigger! Pilates exercises like the Leg Pull Front or the Double Leg Stretch strengthen the midsection (the same one that was stretched beyond belief during pregnancy!) and result in a leaner, flatter belly.

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With a baby at home (and laundry, cleaning, papers to grade, etc…), working out over an hour a day isn’t realistic. The good thing is that you can do a high intensity pilates workout in under 10 minutes. A little bit goes a long way!


I encourage all women — expecting moms and new mamas especially — to look into pilates. The classes are incredibly versatile and can be as easy (or difficult) as you want them to be!

I guarantee that in no time, you’ll have your pre-baby body back.

Until next time, muffin top! 😉

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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