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How to Make Pilates Moderate Intensity Exercise

Updated: Mar 26

Exercise is self-care. We are born to move, and our brains reward us when we learn new ways to move.

As modern lifestyles became more sedentary, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans give us a target to aim for: at least 150 minutes of "moderate intensity" exercise and two sessions of muscle strengthening activity every week.

A mat Pilates class or a studio session ought to be of moderate intensity, and whether it is depends on a few things within your control:

  • Focus

  • Control

  • Breathing

  • Willingness to learn - to practice Pilates is to learn about your body and its movement habits.

As you become more fit -- from Pilates or a combination of activities and training -- mat Pilates asks more of you. Its mind/body movement strategies use focus, control and precision to improve stamina, strength, and endurance.

Whether a class is "moderate intensity" also depends on your teacher: are they teaching high reps of exercises to create a burn in your muscles but that keeps you in the same position for a long time? Or are they teaching for pace, flow, mobility, and variety -- where you feel a burn and change exercises before the muscles and nervous system is overloaded and shake. In my opinion, we might mistake discomfort and overload for intensity in bodyweight exercise methods like Pilates (and some barre methods that emphasize "shakes").

At Mat Pilates ATX, we teach for flow, mobility, variety, and fun -- which can be intense for our bodies and brains. Our classes follow a traditional pattern of mat Pilates exercises that bend, extend, and twist the spine in different body positions: standing, seated, supine, prone, and side-lying. We break down and play with advanced exercises in the last third of class to explore what our bodies can do.

Here's a few signs you're doing "moderate intensity exercise" as described by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Breathing is faster but you're not out of breath;

  • Sweating lightly after ten minutes of movement;

  • You can talk but you would not be able to sing.

To get more intensity from your mat Pilates workout, here's a few suggestions:

  • Connect your breathing with your movement.

  • Work first for control and then for pace, and as you get stronger, move faster.

  • Link similar exercises together with very short or no breaks; for example, when you are on your back for the Pilates ab series of five, do not collapse in between each exercise.

  • Learn transitions to change your body position between exercises. Pilates transitions may include (and aren't limited to) performing a Pilates roll up and roll down while sitting or lying down; crossing and re-crossing your legs into Z-sits to train ankle and hip mobility; adding a Pilates teaser or a calisthenic style "V-up"; or doing a push up from the ground and lowering down from a plank or on hands and knees.

  • Keep your props within arms reach on the mat. 

These are the ways you sustain moderate intensity movement and create flow in your mat Pilates class and personal practice.

Join our Mat Pilates ATX Group Classes at the Circle C Ranch Community Center in southwest Austin, Texas, and get 2 classes for the price of 1.

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