By Trina Altman • Edited by Amanda Altman
When I teach mat classes, I want my students to have the experience of the equipment, so they can build strength in all directions. While the mat-based exercises are excellent for interacting with the floor and building strength and control throughout your “pushing” muscles with bodyweight only, it’s difficult to access your “pulling” muscles. After all, there’s no form of external resistance to pull against.
When we use the apparatus, we’re able to strengthen our pushing and pulling muscles by using the resistance of the springs. I’ve adapted several equipment-based exercises to the mat, using a blanket to introduce more opportunities for pulling.
While a resistance band can also be used to create more pulling action, I like the blanket because you can mimic the experience of gliding on the Reformer carriage or using the push-through bar on the Cadillac. It can also be helpful to use a Magic Circle and a ball for many of these exercises to provide more closed-chain feedback to the outer hips and inner thighs.
Many of these movements require more strength and control than the equipment versions, so they’re a fun challenge for your students who are proficient on the equipment. Beginners should look to the modifications throughout. But no matter where you’re at in your practice, you’ll uncover (get it?) new ways to build strength, increase stability, boost mobility and more. Talk about a blanket statement.
Props: a folded blanket or towel; Magic Circle; 8–10-inch Pilates ball
Breath: Breathe deeply and naturally, or use the traditional Pilates breath of inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, where you exhale on the exertion.
• Perform this routine in conjunction with your regular Pilates practice, about 1–3 times a week, for optimal results.
• Note that these exercises may not be appropriate for someone who has a lot of joint instability or weakness, or is recovering from an injury. If you’re unsure whether an exercise is appropriate, consult a medical professional.
• You might be surprised to find that the blanket version of these exercises is more challenging than the equipment version. If you’re trying these for the first time, start with a smaller range of motion.
• Still find them too difficult? Go back to the equipment versions, which will help prepare your body for these blanket variations.
Do this if… you want to strengthen the core connection between your ribs and pelvis, or if you have difficulty extending your legs without flaring your ribs.
Why it works
• Teaches how to fully extend the legs without hyperextending the knees.
• Mobilizes the hips while promoting stability in the lumbar spine (lower back) and pelvis.
• Brings awareness to the relationship between the ribs and pelvis while strengthening the hamstrings.
Setup: Lie on your back with your legs extended, the ball between your feet and the blanket under your heels. Press your palms into the ground.
1. Bend your knees to pull the blanket toward your sit bones.
2. Once your heels are close to your pelvis, extend your legs to return to the starting position. Do 10 reps.
Tips: Be mindful of keeping your ribs and pelvis steady as you move your legs. Squeeze the ball to increase the connection from your inner thighs to your deep core. This will also help keep your legs parallel.
Modification: If you feel discomfort in your neck or lower back, or you have difficulty keeping your ribs heavy on the mat, place a small pillow or folded towel under your head to minimize hyperextension.
Do this if… you struggle to get in and out of a chair without using your hands, or you want to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.
Why it works:
• Works on hip extension.
• Pressing into the Magic Circle helps engage the lateral hip stabilizers for better knee tracking while walking and squatting.
• Promotes balance between the front and back of the leg.
Setup: Lie on your back with the blanket under your torso, the Magic Circle around your outer thighs and your palms pressing into the blanket. Lift your hips to a Bridge position.
1. Push your feet and then heels into the ground to extend your legs while sliding your torso backward.
2. Dig your heels into the ground and bend your knees to drag your torso toward your heels.
3. Lower your pelvis to the blanket, keeping your heels planted. Do 8–10 reps.
Tips: Push your thighs into the sides of the Circle to increase your gluteus medius (outer thigh) activation.
Modification: If you’re having difficulty moving the blanket out and in, decrease your range of motion and/or don’t lift your hips as high.
Neutral-Spine Knee-Stretch Slides
Do this if… you struggle to keep your lower back or shoulders from collapsing in Plank, or if you want to strengthen your abdominals and hip flexors.
Why it works:
• Helps you differentiate leg movement from spinal movement.
• Promotes balance and coordination between the hip flexors and abdominals.
• Improves shoulder strength and stability.
Setup: Come onto all fours with the blanket under your knees.
1. Slide the blanket back, coming into a kneeling Plank.
2. Slide your knees back in. Do 6–8 reps.
Tips: Keep your head, ribs and pelvis in one long line throughout. Be mindful not to collapse in your lower back or drop your head.
Modification: For those with wrist discomfort, perform the exercise on your elbows with your forearms on two yoga blocks or a Sitting Box.
Advanced: Perform the exercise with your toes tucked under on the blanket and your knees hovering off the ground.