6 Things to Know Before You Take a Pilates Class

If your fitness routine has been feeling a little stale, trying a new kind of class can make it feel fresh again. Taking a Pilates class might be a good way to expand your fitness horizons, whether we’re talking about a class done on the mat or on a reformer.

Pilates is very versatile—while you certainly can do it in a gym or studio now that most are opened back up, you definitely don’t need to. If in-person exercise isn’t something you feel comfortable with quite yet, or even if you just want to acclimate yourself to the exercise type before joining a public class, there are plenty of streaming or virtual Pilates options too.

Regardless of which way you attend the classes, trying Pilates can be a workout game changer, no matter your fitness background.

What Is Pilates Anyway?

Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility.

You can do Pilates with or without equipment (more on that below), but no matter what, expect the moves to involve slow, precise movements and breath control.

1. Pilates can require equipment but it doesn’t have to.

There are two types of Pilates: mat Pilates and reformer Pilates. Classes are either based on a mat, which is a tad thicker than your standard yoga mat (to cushion pressure points) or a machine called a reformer, which is a sliding platform complete with stationary foot bar, springs, and pulleys that provide resistance.

Both options focus on the concept of control rather than cranking out endless reps or achieving muscle exhaustion. In Pilates, your muscles are working to lift against gravity and (in the case of the reformer) the resistance of the springs or bands, with the ultimate goal of strengthening and isolating the right muscles. Your goal should be to take your time with the exercises, focus on the task at hand, and connect to your breath.

2. Many beginner classes to advanced will feature the same exercises

There is an established set of Pilates moves that are common in beginner classes. They include:

  • The Hundred (a breathing exercise that also targets core strength and stability
  • The Roll-Up (a slow, precise move that stretches the spine and the back of the body and strengthens the abdominals)
  • Leg circles (which strengthen the hips and core stabilizers)
  • Rolling Like a Ball (which massages the spine and opens up the back)
  • Series of 5 (a group of moves that strengthen the abdominals and back muscles)

Then as you get familiar with the moves, your Pilates class can build on them, offering progressions to continue to challenge your muscles.

3. You can get an intro to Pilates… virtually…

If you feel more comfortable trying out a new exercise modality in the comfort of your home rather than acclimating yourself in a public, in-person class, you can get started with Pilates virtually.

Virtual classes can be very ground-level and authentic, and can introduce you to studios where you can attend live classes if you feel comfortable later on.

There are also a bunch of fitness apps you can use for a Pilates workout:

  • Peloton ($13 per month)
    While this app is probably most known for its cycling classes, it also offers Pilates options. “The classes are convenient, well-paced, and easy to access, making them perfect for those who like all their exercise activities—cycling, weight training, yoga, HIIT—in one place,” Estrade says.
  • Centr ($10 per month) 
    This app, created by actor Chris Hemsworth, has a four-week yoga and Pilates program called Centr Align (taught by yoga expert Tahl Rinsky and Pilates instructor Sylvia Roberts) that is suitable for beginner to intermediate levels.
  • Open ($20 per month)
    Open offers Pilates classes in addition to breath work, meditation, and yoga for an all-encompassing mind and body routine.
  • Obé Fitness ($17 per month)

4. There’s a new vocabulary

Every workout from barre to CrossFit has its own set of terminology, Pilates included.

For Pilates, know that your powerhouse refers to the center of your body, where all of your power comes from to execute movement. Peel through your spine means slow movement from vertebra to vertebra. You’re also likely to hear certain instructional phrases. “Cradle your head in your hands” allows your cervical spine to be supported in your arms. “Tuck your chin toward your chest” helps you to initiate your deep abdominal muscles and take your head and neck out of the equation. And finally, “Slide your shoulder blades down,” will help lengthen your back by opening up your shoulders.

5. Wear comfortable clothes

Even if you typically prefer loose-fitting workout wear, you may want to try more body-hugging options for Pilates classes. This way, the instructor can see your movements better. Capris or leggings may be a better option than shorts, which can ride up during the moves where you’re lying down and moving your legs above you.

As for footwear, you can either be barefoot or wear socks for your session. Most studios have their own suggested protocol.

6. Pilates should be part of the routine – mix it up

Even if a studio offers unlimited classes for the first week—or if you have unlimited access to them on your app—don’t plan on hopping into a class every day. Your body needs a day or two to recover from fatiguing resistance exercise such as Pilates.

Pilates stretches, strengthens, and aligns your body all at the same time, and complements every other fitness endeavor because it prepares your body to move better in every way. Adding it into your routine will help you lift heavier weights, run faster, swim with better form, or even achieve that elusive arm balance in yoga.

Just don’t go overboard with Pilates, though—even if you fall in love with it, resist the urge to make it your only exercise. Cross-training (like taking the time to run or weight train, in addition to Pilates) is important, no matter which exercise modality you consider your main type.

Leave a Comment