Pilates Rules: What are they?

There’s an order for the Pilates mat and reformer which can feel like a set of Pilates rules to follow.

You may have noticed this after a few classes. Typically you’ll start with some form of footwork, hundred, and then roll up for the mat or leg circles/short spine on the reformer.

And why is there an order? Because each exercise builds on the next. 

We move from flexion to twisting to extension and side bending. This order helps warm up our body and prepare. That way when we do our spinal extension or side bending it feels easier. 

And if you’re a rule follower like me, that’s a hard habit to break the “Pilates rules”.

I’ve felt the need to follow the rules when practicing Pilates. Meaning I focus on what I should do versus what my body needs. 

But is there a time when we should break the Pilates rules? Well, keep reading to find out!  

Pilates reformer order
Did you know there’s an order to the mat and reformer?

In Joseph Pilates’ book Return to Life he explains how to do each exercise on the mat. This is the order many of us follow. 

And so when I would roll out my mat to practice, I feel the need to follow this order. 

Now there is a good reason behind the order. The same way you would warm up before a sport, the exercises at the beginning are your warm up. And towards the end of the mat are the more advanced ones. 

The same is true for the reformer. 

But what if one day you lay on the floor or reformer and notice how your body feels? Maybe it’s stiff or sore in specific places. Or you recently injured an area. 

It’s important to notice these feelings in your body. Pilates is different from physical therapy because we are working the entire body. 

There are ways to address those parts of your body without focusing the entire session on them. 

For example if your low back is tight I would try to release it first even if it’s only a little bit. And then add a pad or a towel underneath to help. 

My goal is always to move without pain. 

And I don’t always follow the order when teaching clients and here’s why:

Every day you wake up and your body feels different. And when I ask you for feedback- how does your body feel? That guides your session. 

If you’ve had a rough or stressful day, the session will be more gentle and focused on breathing. 

The breathing we do in Pilates helps calm the nervous system. It’s called diaphragmatic breathing and you can read more about it here.

Other days I ask how you’re feeling and you say great! Those days are the ones to go at a quicker tempo or add in some advanced work. I know I can challenge you and your body is ready for it. 

When teaching clients I let their body speak for what they need. Your body is the guide this way and not the mind. 

Pilates mat order
So why do I hold myself to this rule to follow the order?

Because my mind is trying to dictate what to do. If I focus internally on what my body needs today it’s a more intuitive answer. And I move from my thinking brain to my feeling brain. 

It’s important to listen to our body. 

When your car makes a sound that’s unusual, what do you do? You take it to get fixed. 

Too often we hear those sounds and ignore them. We think they’ll go away. But even when they are whispers they are important. 

Another reason for following the order is I’m a rule follower. I’ve always tried to be perfect. 

And perfect isn’t real. Perfect is not intuitive. It’s putting me back into the thinking brain. 

In addition to following the order I felt the need to practice for an hour. Why an hour?

Maybe because my Pilates classes and lessons have been an hour. 

I don’t know the reason but I do know that I was having trouble focusing for an hour. So I shortened my practice to a half hour. 

And guess what?

It made it a lot easier to practice. I may not always be motivated but as long as I’m consistent, I feel better each time I do Pilates.

Our motivation comes and goes and that’s natural. But when you commit to doing Pilates as often as you can, that consistency brings results.

So now I’m breaking the rules and letting my body be my guide. It’s the map and my brain will follow.

Listen to your body’s needs and book your Pilates session today. You’ll begin to notice a difference in how your body feels. You’ll feel so good after!

And you can sign up for a 30 minute session (online only) if you have trouble focusing or finding an hour’s time.

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