Not that it ever wasn’t sweet to sweat, but it seems like everywhere we turn, the yearn to burn is stronger than ever! Activewear has entered the high fashion world, new research points us to the best ways to work out, and fitness studios are popping up on every corner. It can get overwhelming to figure out the ins and outs of what’s what – which is why we’re doing the work for you.

In this TCM 1.0, we’re turning our focus to Pilates: why you should fit this multitasking workout into your fitness schedule, and the best exercises for beginners. We’ve enlisted the help of Tandy Gutierrez, founder of Pimp Your Mat, a subscription-based, boutique-training wellness site that delivers 30-minute Pilates workouts to your inbox every 3 days. Tandy is helping us get back to the basics and breaking down this essential workout. Get up to speed on the basics, then try her Pilates for beginners on the mat.  Into it? Her Pimp Your Mat deal below is exclusively for Chalkboard readers!

Pilates still seems to be a fad, yet it’s been around since the early 1900s. While often depicted as a feminine format, Pilates was created by a man for men in the military and Secret Service. Regardless of what you think of Pilates, it’s a format for everybody at any point in life.

Pilates is… Efficient: Pilates works you from the tip of your toes to the top of your head. You activate every muscle, ligament and tendon in your entire body with each exercise. With its focus on form, you get more bang for the buck per exercise in Pilates than with other fitness formats. Quality over quantity is the mantra. Pilates teaches you to do 3-5 perfect repetitions, rather than thirty half-assed ones, while creating equal length and strength for your entire body. Pilates is strength building and flexibility inducing because it includes all the tiny connections you think aren’t important, but make a huge impact, like your fingers and toes.

Pilates is… Intelligent: The Pilates technique is based on your anatomical alignment and addresses your bones first, bringing them into proper alignment so that the muscles, ligaments and tendons can run their appropriate path and ‘route,’ the way they should. Think of it like Legos: we start with a wonky pile of pieces that have been played with relentlessly for (insert your age here) years. Everything you do pulls you out of alignment: crossing your legs, carrying your purse on one shoulder, sitting in a car or at a desk for far too many hours a day. Every time you get on the mat, Pilates takes those Legos and stacks them beautifully to allow the proper amount of space between joints, which reduces overall pain and prevents injury. By working the body in proper postural alignment, you allow your tissues to connect in the way they are designed, which means no wasted efforts. Proper alignment in a workout gets results because everything is ‘talking to each other’ the way it should without interruption or road-blocks like misalignment or jumbled wiring. Workout with an eye on the details you get results faster.

Pilates… gets down to your nerves: Pilates not only addresses your muscular and skeletal system, but also your nervous system. The focus on breathing in Pilates enhances the benefits. Linking breath to movement is calm, kind and functionally improves lung capacity and muscle tissue. By teaching our bodies to breathe from our lungs three dimensionally, you improve your VO2 max (capacity to process oxygen). It also cuts down on overall tightness and stress in your body. Pilates is the secret training tool of many any elite athletes. It literally makes everything you do better, from the inside out.

Pilates… Gives Good Core: Pilates works your core like no other. I don’t care how many other workouts you’re doing – if you’re not doing Pilates, your core is missing out. Everything you do in Pilates starts at your core, specifically with your transversus abdominis. Your transversus muscle is an abdominal muscle that runs around your waistline. It’s our natural corset. It creates a narrow waistline and protects your spine. The fascinating thing about the transversus is it cannot be actively activated. Meaning if I ask you to make a fist, you can make a fist and it activates the muscles in your hand and wrist to strengthen and protect it. Most people can’t ‘flex’ their transversus on command. It’s a learned technique and initially only passively activated. That means something external has to set it off balance to kick it on. Enter the Pilates hundred, the hallmark warm-up exercise of Pilates. You won’t find this exercise anywhere else and its main job is to engage your transversus. The cool thing is, once the transversus is on, it stays on and basically super-powers your workout and core results. Pilates increases overall strength, endurance, lung capacity and gives you abs you never thought you could have, both inside and out. Pilates does all of this by working from your core, not on it.

Pilates… Improves Your Posture: Duh – it’s based on anatomical alignment. Pilates aligns your bones then strengthens your muscles around those bones to hold them in place. This is the reason people who do Pilates have that gorgeous long and lean look – it creates stunning posture.

Pilates… is the Ninja of the Fitness world: This is my favorite reason. Pilates is sneaky. It’s not super sweaty, and doesn’t beat you down or beat you up. It’s kind to your system and builds you up rather than breaking you down. Being exhausted, sweating to death or feeling like you’re going to throw up during a workout is a sign something is wrong, not a marker of how good or useful your workout was. When you watch a Pilates workout it often looks like, ‘What the hell? All they’re doing is stretching and breathing.’ Meanwhile, internally all your systems are firing, connecting and balancing for strength. You might not even need to shower after, which is yet another bonus if you’ve got places to go and things to do. Changes may be slower with Pilates than other formats, but results last a lifetime. Pilates will shrink wrap your body so it’s lean, muscular and strong. And although the scale may not change that much, you’ll have an entirely different, entirely fit body.

Pilates… is Ageless: Pilates is a practice. It’s something you embark on, similar to yoga, that you can continue to do at every age and stage of life. There are endless variations and modifications. I’ve been doing Pilates for 18 years and always return to it no matter what else I do for fitness fun because it keeps you healthy, balanced, injury free and strong. There is nothing else like it. You can take the form and technique that you learn in Pilates and apply it to any other fitness format. The same cannot be said in reverse. Our sons, ages 3, 7 and 19, all do some version of Pilates. My husband, who’s 46, does it; my aunt, who’s 63, does it; and my mother in law, who’s 81, does it. It’s fab for super fit people and equally amazing for injured bodies that literally may not be capable of other workouts. Pilates evolves with your body. You never ‘get it’, you practice it and go on a journey with it.

In our busy, tech connected, layered lives we must find ways to manage our time in order to stay healthy. Pilates works your full body with every exercise, making it the most efficient way to go these days. Every inhale and exhale strives to knit you stronger and more narrow throughout each exercise. Want to get started? Check out these five exercises, perfect for Pilates beginners:

Pilates 1.0: The 5 Best Exercise for Beginners

The Hundred

What it does: Acts as a warm-up to get blood flowing and activates your transversus abdominus muscle.

  • Lie on your back and bring your knees to a table-top position, inner thighs, knees and feet touching, arms laying long by your side.
  • Inhale to scoop your belly button up under your ribcage.
  • Exhale to keep your belly button there.
  • Inhale to look towards your knees, exhale to lift your head neck and shoulders off the mat, shoulders as far away from the ears as possible.
  • Hover your arms 2 inches off the ground.
  • Pump your arms up and down in a vigorous motion.
  • Continue pumping as you breathe in for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts. 
  • Repeat 10 times then rest. Hence why it’s called the hundred, since you will take 100 breaths.

Bent-Knee Lower Lifts

What it does: Flattens that space between your belly button and your pubic bone. Teaches you how to lead from your core instead of your hip flexors or legs. 

  • Lie on your back and bring your knees to a table-top position, inner thighs, knees and feet touching.
  • Lace your fingers together and put them behind your head and neck. Cradle your skull. Point toes strongly.
  • Inhale to scoop your belly button up under your ribcage.
  • Exhale to keep your belly button there.
  • Inhale to look towards your knees, exhale to lift your head neck and shoulders off the mat, shoulders as far away from the ears as possible, elbows as wide as comfortable.
  • Inhale to lower one leg towards the mat as if you are trying to dip your toe in a pool of water.
  • Exhale to return that leg to table-top position.
  • Inhale to scoop your belly button away from your clothes as you lower a leg, exhale to cinch in your belly button more as the leg floats back to tabletop.
  • Keep the pace slower than you think you should and do 4-10 on each side.


What it does: Strengthens your glutes and hamstrings, giving you a great booty boost while strengthening and protecting the low back.

  • Lie on your back on the mat with knees bent, feet on the mat in a parallel position, arms resting long by your side.
  • Press the backs of your shoulders into the floor intensely.
  • Inhale to scoop your belly button up under your ribcage.
  • Exhale to keep your belly button there.
  • Inhale to tuck your tailbone under you, squeeze your glutes as much as you can, peel one vertebrae at a time off the floor until your hips are as high as your body allows without pain in the low back.
  • Inhale to sink your ribs lower than your think you should. It may feel curved, like a hammock.
  • Exhale to tuck your glutes under more than you think you can then press the hips higher.
  • Press equally though your big toes, baby toes and heels to keep the full soles of the feet on the mat. 
  • Hold for 5 counts then roll down through your spine with control.
  • Repeat 3 times.

Side-Laying Leg Circles

What it does: Strengthens and tones your obliques and hips while ‘cleaning out’ your hip socket by allowing it to move in a circular motion.

  • Lie on your side and line up your shoulder and hip with the back edge of your mat, with legs at the front corner of your mat.
  • Tuck your tailbone under and squeeze your glutes, shift your top leg to feel longer than the bottom leg.
  • Inhale to scoop your belly button up under your ribcage.
  • Exhale to keep your belly button there.
  • Lift your top leg two inches off the bottom leg, point the toes strongly.
  • Trace circles about the size of a CD one direction ten times. Then reverse and repeat the opposite direction.
  • Repeat entire exercise on the other side of your body.

Wide Plank

What it does: Strengthens and tones your full body by working against gravity.

  • Face your mat on your hands and knees in an all-fours position.
  • Slide your shoulders away from your ears, squeeze down in your armpits.
  • Spread your fingers as wide as they will go, press firmly through the meaty part of your palm so much so that you feel your upper back round.
  • Press through the pads of huge fingers until your knuckles slightly bend.
  • Tuck your tailbone under slightly and squeeze your glutes.
  • Inhale to scoop your belly button up under your ribcage.
  • Exhale to keep your belly button there, against gravity.
  • Inhale to step one foot back to the corner of your mat.
  • Exhale your other foot to the other corner of the mat.
  • Inhale to press your heels back towards the edge of your mat as possible.
  • Exhale and imagine gluing the backs of your knee creases to the ceiling to gently straighten your legs. 
  • Inhale and walk you hands back slightly closer to your armpits (you will feel ‘launched’ forward over your hands.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds.

TCM Reader Deal: Sign up for a free 30-day subscription to Pimp Your Mat, no commitment! Simply enter the giftcode CB2014 at checkout on PYM when you click through here. You’ll receive a welcome email to activate your code and can cancel at anytime. If you love it, you’ll be able to start your new membership right away. Offer valid through January 31st, 2015. Happy sweating, readers!

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