The Shoulder Bridge

Pre-Pilates “Matwork A” (v1) – Hints and Tips

Pre-Pilates “Matwork A”: The Foundations


This series: Pre-pilates A, B & C is designed for beginners, to help you get started with Pilates.  The assumption is that you aren’t suffering from any medical condition, so these exercises are suitable for most people – but there are some exercises that are contraindicated for some of the exercises.  If you have any pain and or concerns, stop and when you come to the studio, ask.  I love to help!


All these exercises have as an objective: Spinal Mobility and Strengthening (premium content for clients).  Spinal health must rank as one of the most important things in life.  Runners and cyclists often get compressed spines, so these exercises are invaluable for you to loosen up your lower spine.  If you work at a desk all day, ditto!


“If your spine is stiff at 30, you are old. If it is flexible at 60, you are young.” Joe Pilates


This workout is excellent if you suffer from non specific back pain.


Perfection is not a Principle of Pilates.


In “Matwork #A”, we learn The Principles.  I like to think of these exercises in this workout (and B & C) as “The Foundations” upon which The House of Pilates is Built.  It’s a way of learning the basic concepts of Pilates to help you get started.  If you are an advanced practitioner, within this series, there are always ways to challenge yourself both physically and mentally!  Many of these exercises actually get more difficult the more you know!  And it is because of this that these exercises should be revisited by everyone: advanced and beginner!


What do we learn in this workout?


  • We learn the basic positions; simple transitions; types of breathing, pelvic position & stability, scapular mobility & stability and abdominal work & spinal rotation.
  • We use all the body positions but for standing: supine, sitting, quadruped, side lying.  For the sake of ease of making the video, I’ve omitted standing.
  • The emphasis is on: Fundamentals of Movement, safety, form and learning to learn about Pilates.
  • Classical Pilates exercises (as opposed to Pre-Pilates): Roll Down preparation; Rolling Like a Ball, Single Leg Stretch, Rocking Prep, Baby Swan, Single Leg Kicks, Seal Puppy and Push Up preparation.


“Work from inside out and not from outside in.”  Jean Claude Nelson


These exercises can give you weeks, months and years of work, so don’t feel disillusioned if you don’t “get it” immediately.  Ask me to help you, and I’ll be glad to.  If you’re not a client but like this content, why not book an Assessment Lesson now?


The gains in Pilates isn’t about the number of repetitions, but the quality of them!


There are hundreds of notes, ideas and comments that we can make about these exercises, so I’ve limited it to just one or two sentences as I could literally go on for ever…


Pre-Pilates: The Workout

All Fours


The abdominals cause the spine to curve as the tailbone tucks under.  Exhale and feel how full exhalation is connected to abdominal to contraction.

As you inhale, feel the connection of the muscles of the lower back as they contract and work to arch your back into spinal extension.

Pilates images: use your “tailbone paintbrush” to paint a vertical line on the wall behind you.  Make it as long as possible!

If you think of the Cat / Cow as a two dimensional movement, the next exercise works in three dimensions …



Cow: spinal muscles contracting to create spinal extension… inhale!!!


Hip Circles

Similar to the Cat / Cow, in benefits, Hip Circles adds in sideways (lateral) movement, expanding our repertoire of spinal articulation and muscular control.

Unlike the Cat / Cow, don’t move the shoulders.  Feel the connections around your centre that allow you to move the pelvis.

Do you feel that each of the halves of the circle are equal or is one side more tight than the other?

Try to create perfect circles!  There is far more than meets the eye with these exercises, keep practising and look out for insight as to how your body is working.

Pilates images: use your tailbone paintbrush to paint enormous circles on the wall behind you.

Tail Wag

This introduces lateral flexion (side bending).  As well as mobilising the spine, it helps to mobilise the femur in the pelvis – a joint that can often become compacted: runners, cyclist and desk workers – take note!

As you bend your spine, try to look at as much of your foot as you can.  Try to connect the contraction on one side to the stretch of the other.


Sitting: Breathing in Pilates

Breathing is a Fundamental of Pilates.  Breathing, combined with Deep Abdominal Activation makes Pilates utterly distinct from every other conditioning discipline out there.

Remember that pearl fishers and free divers have the ability to hold (control) their breath for ten minutes!  While you might not want to go pearl fishing in the near future – the ability if there and we want to expand on what we can do with our bodies.

Kathy’s Accordion

Is a percussive breathing that comes from the diaphragm.  It helps us to learn to control breath and expand the lungs as we inhale and force the air out with energy on the exhale.

The order of the breaths is: 1 in and 1 out; 2 in and 2 out; 3 in and 3 out; 4 in and 4 out; 5 in and 5 out followed by one long and focveful exhalation with five little pulses following the ryhthm that we created with the percussive breaths.

Don’t be shy: learn to breathe 🙂


Roll Down to Supine: a first transition

Pilates flows.  Each exercise flows from one to another.  There’s no start and no stop.  From when we first step onto the mat to when we step off at the end, each exercise flows seamlessly from one the next.  That’s why dome people say that there’s only one exercise in the Matwork!

Roll Ups and Roll Downs feature heavily in Pilates, so start practising them right from the get go!  Pull in your abdominal muscles so that they don’t balloon out as you roll down!  That’s the challenge!

Try to feel how the abdominals create the spinal curve.


Supine: finding “neutral”

Pelvic Rocking

Pelvic Rocking is used to find a neutral spinal position – this is the position in which the spine works best.  Awareness of the relationship between our lower spine and pelvis (lumbo-pelvic area) is essential for a proper practice of Pilates: it gives us a starting position for many other exercises: “Marching” and “Toe Taps” and the rationale for many exercises for example”Feet in Straps”.  It allows the hamstrings and spinal muscles to work in opposition.

The Principle of “Centering” comes into play here.  Concentrate our shoulder blade position and on the connections in and around the pelvis (abdominals, glutes, hamstrings, spinals) and try to get the maximum range of movement but there and only there!  Remember that Joe Pilates called this “Contrology”!

Bridging / Pelvic Curl

This exercise is designed to increase spinal strength, mobility and flexibility.  It can provide stretches of the hip flexors and quadriceps, provided that the trunk alignment is observed, particularly that the thoracic cage doesn’t lift up and out.  In this way it helps to create awareness of thoracic / pelvic integration – that is, “integration if the trunk”.


Keep both side of the pelvis at the same height – I like to call exercises like this ” anti-rotation” exercises.  It requiresd great concontrol, so concentrate!

Roll-up to sitting

This exercise is a preparation for exercises that will ask us to roll up from lying.  One example is the second exercise in the traditional Pilates series: The Roll Up.

When you get to the “stuck part” resist all temptation to allow your abdominals to balloon out.  The easiest variation to start off with is using your fingers to “crawl up” your thighs, rather like crabs or spiders!

If you have great difficulty with this, omit it for a while and concentrate on the “abdominal curls” to get stronger.


The objective here is to hold the pelvis steady in neutral position as the legs move.  Feel the connections in the abdominals and spinals.  Try placing the sides of your hands under the sides of the hips and see if you can march without changing the pressure on the hands.

Imagine helium balloons are attached to your knee joints so that they just float up.

Imagine you have a bowl of hot soup on your abdomen and don’t spill it as the legs move.

Toe Taps

This is a more difficult variation of “Marching”. Hollow the abdominals and reach one foot toward the floor without changing what happens to the back of your body.  Be aware of abdominal bulging as the leg lifts back up.

Spine Twist Supine

Things to watch for:

  • Keep the pelvis in neutral as you rotate it.
  • Keep the diagonally opposite shoulder from lifting off the mat.
  • Work from the centre, keeping both knees together!  Reduce the range of motion if you need to.

Roll Downs: the tricky part.

As we’ve done before, sit up, find your sit bones and roll down as you exhale to just before the point where you think you’re going to fall.  Roll up and down above that point to promote spinal articulation and abdominal strength!  Keep the abdominals hollowed out throughout and the feet grounded to the floor!


Roll Down to Supine

Hamstring Stretch

Maintain your pelvis in neutral and see how your spinal muscles (multifidi and transverso spinalis) work in opposition with your hamstrings (triceps).  Hold the stretch for between 45 – 90 seconds.

Rolling Like a Ball

The smaller the ball you can make, the more difficult the exercise!  Try to keep the distance between your heels and pelvis, head and knees constant throughout.  Resist the temptation to throw you head back to initiate the movement, use instead, your abdominals to tip your pelvis backwards as we’ve done in previous exercises such as Pelvic Rocking.#

Single Leg Stretch

Scoop in the abdominals, imprint your spine (for beginners and intermediate levels) and stretch one leg out and one leg in on the exhale.


Roll up to … Sitting

Adductor Stretch

Push your knees in a downward direction as you try to find your sit bones.  Stretch the inside of your legs.  You’ll need the increased flexibility to help you sit up with a straight spine or the next exercises.

Spine Stretch Forward

Lengthen your legs through your heels as you stretch you spine over your legs.  If you are very open at the hips, resist the temptation to hinge over your legs, rather, use your abdominals to keep your pelvis upright and on your sit bones.

Spine stretch side

Sit upright and stretch up rather than sideways.  Breath into the stretch.



Quadriceps Stretch & Rocking Prep.

If you can’t reach your feet, try a theraband or a belt looped over your feet.  Push your pelvis into the mat for an increased stretch.  If you can, do both sides at the same time.

Single Leg Kicks

Engage your abdominals to protect your lower spine.  It’s very counter-intuitive to hollow out the abdominals when we’re in a prone position, but with practice, it becomes easier.

The best form has glute engagement to lift the legs slightly off the mat and the knees stay together.

Baby Swan

Again, don’t forget about your abdominals!

The upper thoracic extension is powered by the depression of the shoulder blades.  Feel the connection of the shoulder blades moving down you spine as well as your abdominals.


Side Lying

Pelvic Pushes

This is an excellent way to help us find neutral pelvic position for the side series.  Notice how it helps breathing!

Side Leg Lifts

I like to think of these as “leg closes” as I actively squeeze my glutes to connect my legs together, rather than leg lifts.



Piriformis stretch

Roll up as much as you can and pull the knee that you are holding towards you and the other knee away from you to get the biggest stretch you can.  Hold it for 45 – 90 seconds each side.

Seal Puppy

A wonderful spinal massage!  I love how this exercise shows that Pilates is not necessarily meant to be slow!  Remember Rolling Like a Ball?  All the exercises build up on each other!


Transition to standing

The ability to get up from the floor to standing is correlated to life expectancy!  So, practice this transition!  See the “Sit Rise Test” here.


Transition to All Fours

Roll down (yes, again) from standing and walk forward with your hands until you’re on all fours.


All Fours

Sternum drops

Imagine you have a suitcase handle on the your upper back and it is being lifted up toward the ceiling.
Keep the elbows straight and focus on sending the spine between the shoulder blades up toward the ceiling.

Knees Off

This is a preparation for the Plank Position which we’ll use for the Push Up on the Mat, the Long Stretch Series and Jackrabbit on the Reformer.  It’s important so daily practice is called for :-).

Knees Off w/Sternum Drops

An extension of the Knees Off.

Finish with a roll up to standing



I hope you enjoyed this video and explanation as much I did making it!

The List of Exercises


Here’s a pdf listing all the exercises in the video:

Matwork A v1

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