So you have heard about Pilates, maybe from a friend, a loved one, a physio or a doctor. Or maybe you were searching for a way to relieve back pain, improve flexibility or build long lean muscles. Pilates, in my experience, can be an intimidating form of exercise to branch out into. For one, the industry is often full of beautiful, long-legged dancers or aspiring models and maybe that's not you? The classes are also full of jargon, like Imprint, Neutral and anatomical references to scapula isolation and anterior tilts to name a few. So for some, if you are not a dancer or aspiring model, or haven't done a university degree in anatomy, it can be rather overwhelming to start the process.
BUT it shouldn't be! Pilates is in fact one of the most inclusive exercise types and can be adapted to almost any age, fitness level, body shape, posture type or injury ( with the right instructor ). So we have looked at some of the most frequently asked questions for new clients and tried to sum up as much of the information you may need to start your own Pilates journey.
First things first,
What is Pilates ?
Pilates is an exercise methodology, devised by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s and originally called “Contrology.” The main focus in any class is to strengthen the body in a systematic program, focusing on the ‘Power House’ or ‘Core’ which includes the various abdominal layers, pelvic floor, hip muscles, back muscles and glutes. While the focus is generally on the central body, it also works periphery in a holistic manner and encompasses all plains of movement ( side lying, prone ( lying on your tummy ), supine ( lying on your back )). It also teaches body awareness and form focus in both Pilates movements but also techniques that can carry through to our daily lives. Thus promoting efficient and safe movement patterns, which can improve posture, decrease risk of injury and enhance other fitness or sporting endeavours.
One of the unique features of Pilates over other exercise methodologies is its, almost, risk free design. Meaning that anyone of any age or body shape can take part in a class, each exercise can be modified to accommodate most sizes, injuries, strengths, weaknesses or postural types.
So on a practical level what can you expect ?
You would need a mat and an instructor ( either online or in a studio setting ). You would be required to lie down on your mat and perform a sequence of exercises done in all plains of motion ( as described above ) which would entail lying on your back, side and tummy. If there was something you aren't able to do ( or not allowed to based on a doctors or physio recommendation ) there would be an appropriate modification for you. Sometimes these modifications would include small props or aids such as a cushion, rolled up towel or more formal equipment such as an arc barrel or spine corrector.
Question 1 - How do I find the right instructor
Sometimes this isn't a question a new client would ask, but it always should be. Pilates is a very specific and form focused type of exercise, meaning that it can be the perfect way to strengthen the body as efficiently and safely as possible OR it could lead to injury if done incorrectly. Since the growth in its popularity, Pilates courses available online have exploded. While this is great for the industry by bringing awareness and accessibility to this unique form of movement, it also means that anyone can complete a one week Udemy course and call themselves a Pilates instructor.
Pilates courses should be intensive and anatomy focused. It is not merely learning about the various exercises in the routines but rather on learning about human movement and anatomy to ensure the safest experience for any client. It is important to ask your potential instructor where they did their training and if they have received a formal certification. Look for institutions such as STOTT Pilates from Merrithew or BASI Pilates. You can also ask for recommendations or read instructor or studio testimonials to see what others are saying about the studio / instructor you are scoping out.
Many instructors would have also completed other courses or workshops, focusing on specialist areas such as pre-/post natal, injury rehabilitation or athletic conditioning. Think carefully about why you want to embark on a Pilates journey and then try to find an instructor who matches your unique goals. Are you looking for rehabilitation and injury support? Or maybe you want to condition for a specific sport such as Golf? Or perhaps you are looking for a pre-natal class to help you navigate your pregnancy?
Question 2 - How often should I be doing classes ?
Like anything in life, with Pilates you get out what you put in. This is exaggerated by the fact that Pilates is a relatively low impact form of exercise and utilises micro-movements to isolate muscles and develop the body synergistically, this means that consistent practice is necessary to gain the benefits of Pilates. Ideally one should start with one or two Pilates classes per week and gradually increase to two to three sessions per week.
Joseph Pilates has quoted accurately: “In 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 you will see the difference, and in 30 you’ll have a whole new body.”
The progress you make with Pilates as opposed to other exercise forms may be slightly slower but once you start to see the benefits you will be a convert.
Question 3 - Can I do Pilates if I am a complete beginner or I've never exercised before ?
Absolutely! Pilates can be done by anyone, as long as you have the right instructor and find the right class for you.
If you don't have any major injuries or conditions that need to be specifically addressed you should be able to slot into a beginner class. Many studios or instructors require new clients to go through a fundamentals or beginner introductory class either one on one or a workshop specifically designed for first time clients. This is because, as mentioned before, there is a lot of jargon involved with a class. In addition to this, Pilates is very form specific and requires careful attention to how each movement is performed. Even strong athletic clients would have to start off with one or two fundamental sessions before jumping into a regular class setting.
Once the basic principles have been learned, then the instructor will assess how quickly each client progresses from beginner to advanced levels. It’s important to note that consistency is key and regular practice will allow for greater body awareness and a deeper understanding of the basic principles that make Pilates such an effective form of exercise.
According to Heathline “A good teacher will gear the exercises to where you are, making them safe, effective, and appropriately challenging.
Question 4 - What do I need to have for my first class
The only piece of equipment that is completely necessary for any class is a mat of some kind. If you are doing online sessions it's important to have a mat at home, look for one that is non-slip and thick enough to provide support, especially when on a hard surface.
In terms of clothing it's important to wear something comfortable and stretchy but also slightly form fitting, just so your instructor can assess your alignment and offer corrections where necessary. Pilates is done barefoot, so don't worry about grabbing expensive workout shoes. Once you learn to love Pilates, there are great options of grip socks, which are ideal for colder weather or for clients who may not want to be barefoot. They can also help with grip in certain exercises, and more specifically on different equipment.
It can be beneficial to also have a small towel on hand, that can be used as a prop for certain exercises. For example it can be rolled up underneath one's head as a head cushion, or placed under the lower back for proprioceptive feedback during roll ups or similar exercises.
Water is also an optional extra, especially on warmer days or for more rigorous classes. Hydration is important no matter the type of movement we are engaged in.
Finally, some classes may require some small props such as Pilates balls, rings, light weights and leg weights, generally if you are doing in person classes these will be provided. If you are doing online classes many of these props are inexpensive and can be bought online from places like Sportsmans Warehouse or similar stores. They can also be substituted by everyday household objects like tin cans for weights and a towel for a band etc.
Question 5 - How do I start online ?
Our number one rule at Inspired Movement is that everyone needs to complete some form of beginner or foundation session or workshop. It is important for everyone starting out a Pilates journey that they understand and can master the basic principles and fundamental movements before progressing to a group class. So to start online one could choose to wait for a beginners online workshop which we hold every 2-3 months, or alternatively book for a one-on-one session where an instructor will go through the basic principles with you. Once the basics have been mastered, then you are welcome to join a live online class, we recommend starting with one that is appropriate for your level, ie. beginner, intermediate or advanced. Once a few live online classes have been completed, if desired the client can move onto videos on demand, provided that your instructor has given you the go-ahead in terms of form, alignment and injury assessment.
To get the most out of any Pilates programme one needs consistent practice as well as good instruction. I always recommend that clients do a live class every so often to “check-in” regarding form, to ensure that you are getting all of the moves correct.
Online classes can be booked through our website. Our live online class platform is Google Meet and it requires an internet connection and a device ( ie. laptop, tablet or mobile phone ). We do require that your video is on so that the instructor can correct form and alignment to reduce the risk of injury and to ensure you get the most out of each session.
The videos on demand are run through Vimeo, and require an internet connection, however, the videos can also be downloaded to be done in your own time, once downloaded they do not require an internet connection to be viewed. Each video is password protected and requires monthly payments in order to access the videos.
Question 6 - What are the different types of Pilates
Pilates classes can be categorised into two main categories, apparatus classes such as reformer, cadillac and barrels or mat based classes. Aside from the equipment ( or lack of equipment) used, there are also various styles of Pilates teaching. Pilates instruction can be split again into two main categories; Classical and Contemporary. Classical follows the sequence and essential movements as set out by Joseph Pilates originally, in his teachings. Contemporary classes can take the form of multiple schools of teaching but in essence they have been inspired by Joe’s original teaching but modernised with the help of physiotherapists, movement specialists and other disciplines.
For more information on the basics of Pilates watch our short summarised video on the 5 Basic Principles by Lisa Came who is a contemporary teacher who trained with STOTT - Merrithew Health & Fitness.
We hope to see you at our next beginners workshop soon.