If your exercise routine has gotten a bit outdated, trying a new type of class can make you feel fresh again. Taking a Pilates class can be a great way to expand your fitness horizons, whether we’re talking about a class done on the mat or a reformer.
Pilates is very versatile, although you can certainly do it in a gym or studio now that most of them are open, it is definitely not necessary. If exercising in person isn’t something you’re comfortable with just yet, or even if you just want to acclimate to the type of exercise before joining a public class, there are plenty of streaming or virtual Pilates options as well.
Regardless of how you attend classes, trying Pilates can be a game-changer, regardless of your fitness history.
“Pilates will meet anyone’s needs to improve their movement gracefully and at the same time make it extremely challenging,” Gabriela Estrade, a certified Pilates instructor and ACE-certified personal trainer based in New Jersey. “You can do so many variations on the same exercises that it stays current.”
Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. A typical Pilates workout tends to last 45 minutes to an hour, Sonja Herbert, Pilates instructor and founder of Black Girl Pilates.
You can do Pilates with or without equipment (more on that below), but no matter what, expect the movements to involve slow, precise movements and breath control.
Pilates movements tend to target your core, although the exercises work on other areas of your body as well. “Pilates is not limited to specific parts of the body,” says Herbert. Yes, many Pilates movements target your core and core, but that doesn’t just refer to your abs. “Although Pilates is specifically defined as an exercise for the core or abdominal muscles, it is important for clients to know that the core includes the entire trunk, which are the abs, hips, inner and outer thighs, and back,” Herbert explains. . And many Pilates instructors combine movements specifically intended to engage areas such as the arms, glutes, and lower legs. So expect a workout that works your whole body.
What Are The Benefits Of Pilates?
“Pilates is a full-body exercise method that will help you do everything better,” says Herbert. “It strengthens and stabilizes your core body, which is your foundation, so you can move efficiently while improving your posture, flexibility, and mobility.”
And if you’re looking for a functional movement, the kind that helps you move better on a day-to-day basis with daily tasks, Pilates can train you in that, too. A 2018 study of 90 people published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation found that participants who practiced Pilates for one hour three times a week for eight weeks improved their scores on a functional movement screen, which measures things like balance, stability, and mobility, more than people who did yoga instead (or who did not exercise at all).
Then there are the benefits for the muscles, especially in the area of endurance. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that people who did one hour of Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks reported significant increases in abdominal resistance, hamstring flexibility, and back muscle endurance. upper body. Researchers theorize that scapular stabilization signals throughout movements (when they tell you to bring your shoulder blades together or lower), combined with increased core strength and endurance, can translate into improvements in the strength of the shoulder blade. The upper part of the body.
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Like other forms of exercise, Pilates has also been found to have a beneficial effect on mental health. A 2018 meta-analysis of eight Pilates studies found that those who practiced Pilates reported a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, as well as an increase in energy. “Pilates is all about the mind-body connection and can be a great introduction to physical and mental endurance,” says Estrade. (Of course, no form of exercise is considered a treatment for mental health conditions, and not all people experience improvement; meeting with a mental health professional is still an important step if you experience anxiety, depression, or other problems.)
Ready to start a Pilates practice? Here are some things to keep in mind for your first class.
1. Pilates may require equipment, but it is not necessary.
There are two types of Pilates: Pilates mat and Pilates reformer. Classes are based on a mat, which is slightly thicker than the standard yoga mat (to cushion pressure points), or on a machine called a reformer, which is a full sliding platform with a fixed foot bar, springs, and pulleys that provide resistance.
Both options focus on the concept of control rather than doing 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 correct muscles. Your goal should be to take your time with the exercises, focus on the task at hand, and connect with your breathing.
“The reformer experience is perhaps the most fun you will have in a Pilates class,” Heather Andersen, founder of New York Pilates. “The machine gives you extra resistance and a slippery surface that challenges your workout. It often feels like it’s flying or gliding. “
There are also some other pieces of Pilates equipment that you might want to know about, although they probably won’t appear in most beginner Pilates mat classes.
The most common kits are the Wunda, a low chair with padding and springs, the Cadillac (which looks a bit like a bed with a canopy frame and is used in various ways for advanced students), the spine corrector, the high chair. and the Magic Circle, a ring you often wear between your legs to create resistance. “In most classroom settings, you will typically use the reformer, chair, magic circle, spine checker, and a smaller version of the Cadillac called a tower unit,” says Herbert, who advises beginners to take some private lessons, if possible. , to learn how to use the equipment safely before enrolling in a group class.
Regardless of which class you choose, be sure to inform your instructor that you are a beginner. In this way, they will be able to monitor you throughout the class and offer form modifications or adjustments.
2. Many Beginner Classes Will Have The Same Set Of Exercises In Each Class.
There is an established set of Pilates movements that are common in beginner classes, Herbert says. They include:
- The Hundred (a breathing exercise that also targets core strength and stability)
- The Roll-Up (a slow and precise movement that stretches the spine and the back of the body and strengthens the abdominals)
- Leg circles (which strengthen the hips and center stabilizers)
- Rolling Like a Ball (which massages the spine and opens the back)
- Set of 5 (a group of movements that strengthen the abdominal and back muscles)
Then, as you become more familiar with the movements, your Pilates class can build on them, offering progressions to continue challenging your muscles.
“For example, the Pilates Hundred exercise can be enhanced with a ball between the ankles to add more connection to the midline,” says Estrade. “In Rolling Like a Ball, a ring between your ankles can challenge your stability.”
3. You Can Get A Good Introduction To Pilates At Home, 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 simple and authentic, and they can introduce you to studios where you can attend live classes if you feel comfortable later on,” says Estrade.
There are also plenty of applications of fitness you can use for a Pilates workout:
- Peloton ($ 13 per month)
While this app is probably best known for its cycling classes, it also offers Pilates options. “The classes are convenient, well-paced, and easily accessible, making them perfect for those who like all of their exercise activities (cycling, weight training, yoga, HIIT) in one place,” says Estrade.
- 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 beginners to intermediate levels.
- Open ($ 20 per month)
Open offers Pilates classes in addition to breathwork, meditation, and yoga for a comprehensive mind-body routine.
- Obé Fitness ($ 17 per month)
Take a live Pilates class or do one of the hundreds in the on-demand library, where you can sort classes based on your fitness level, class length, and more.
4. You Will Feel Your Muscles Burn During Class And You May Feel Sore The Next Day.
While you may not be squashing high-intensity exercises like squat jumps or lifting heavy weights, the primarily bodyweight routines that Pilates classes offer can be quite intense. Take the aforementioned One Hundred Pilates, for example. A core-focused movement that involves less than two inches of constant movement will set your abs on fire. A good instructor should give you modifications so that you can perform each movement in good form (another reason to introduce yourself as a beginner before class begins).
Dedicating all your focus to even the smallest movements means that you will be working the muscles that each exercise is intended for. And that means you can deal with late-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after your workout.
“Pilates pain is different from the burning you feel when pressing a barbell class or throwing a kettlebell,” says Estrade. “It’s a more subtle pain, where sometimes you find muscles that you didn’t know you had.” For example, the inner thigh muscles can be difficult to hit with other types of exercise, but Pilates tends to isolate them well, so you may experience unexpected pain there.
But if your muscles feel it, don’t worry: while the pain the next day may be on a whole new level after your first week, your body will get more used to the movements over time. Being sore the next day just means you are challenging your muscles in new ways or working muscle groups that generally don’t get much attention; It is not something you should “chase” or the marker of a successful workout.
5. There Is A Bit Of Jargon Involved.
Every workout, from the bar to CrossFit, has its own set of terminology, including Pilates.
“I love the language of Pilates, and a great teacher will use the cues in a way that brings their anatomy and movements to life,” says Estrade. “The connection of hearing the words, visualizing the exercise, and doing it can be transformative and inspiring, and like learning any new language, there is always jargon.”
For Pilates, know that your power refers to the center of your body, where all your power to execute the movement comes from. Peeling through the spine means slow movement from vertebra to vertebra. You are also likely to hear certain instructional phrases. “Cradling the head in the hands” allows the cervical spine to rest on the arms. “Put your chin to your chest” helps you start your deep abdominal muscles and take your head and neck out of the equation. And finally, “Slide your shoulder blades down” will help you lengthen your back by opening your shoulders.
Don’t worry about all these new phrases though – you’ll get used to them over time.
6. The Right Clothes Can Make You Feel More Comfortable.
Even if you normally prefer baggy workout clothes, you may want to try more body-hugging options for Pilates classes. “This way, the instructor can better see your movements and your clothes don’t get caught in springs or other equipment,” Carrie Samper, national manager of Pilates training at Equinox. Capris or leggings may be a better option than shorts, which can arise during movements where you are lying down and moving your legs over you, she says.
As for footwear, you can go barefoot or wear socks for your session. Most studies have their own suggested protocol. Find it on the studio website, ask at the front desk when you check-in for your class, or call ahead to find out before you arrive.
If you are opting for socks, look for a pair with rubber accents on the soles so they won’t slip on the carpet or in the machine. A barefoot or sock-only approach will also help you navigate in and out of the straps on a standard reformer with ease.
7. Pilates Should Be Part Of A Complete Exercise Routine.
Even if a studio offers unlimited classes for the first week, or you have unlimited access to them in their app, don’t plan on attending one class every day. It takes your body a day or two to recover from strenuous resistance exercises like Pilates.
“Pilates stretches, strengthens, and aligns your body at the same time,” says Samper. That said, it also complements any other fitness effort because it prepares your body to move better in every way. Adding it to your routine will help you lift heavier weights, run faster, swim in better shape, or even achieve that elusive arm balance in yoga. “
However, don’t overdo it with Pilates; Even if you do fall in love with it, resist the urge to make it your only exercise. Cross-training (like taking time to run or weight training, in addition to Pilates) is important, no matter what exercise modality you consider your primary type.
“If you’re a marathon runner, Pilates stretching and lengthening will help you with recovery and injury prevention during the day off,” says Estrade. “For the same reasons, it can be the perfect complement to free weight training.”
For example, Estrade adds Pilates exercises to his warm-ups to prepare his muscles for what’s to come in his strength session and includes them as finishers to really help burn the muscles afterward. “I’ve seen how core strengthening and the controlled, reflective movements of Pilates help with all of that,” he says.
8. It Is Important To Protect Yourself From Injury, Especially When You Are Just Starting.
Mild or moderate pain is not serious, nor is it something to worry about, but you may be able to injure yourself with Pilates. Going overboard with Pilates, especially if you’re new to exercise in general, can overload your muscles, especially if you don’t give them enough recovery time before your next class.
Lower back tension (think, a sharp or sharp pain in your lower back, which can radiate to your butt and thighs) can be a common Pilates injury, especially if your form isn’t adequate. during movements. You may also experience rotator cuff tendinopathy, where you may feel pain and reduced mobility in your shoulder joint while moving, which can be the result of repetitive movements, Estrade says. Whatever the injury, if you experience pain or impaired mobility that persists after a day or two of simple DOMS, you should take a break from your Pilates routine and consider seeing a doctor or physical therapist.
While no one can 100% prevent injury from any type of exercise, there are a few ways you can protect yourself when starting Pilates. For example, start with a beginner class that will help you learn the basic movements of Pilates, says Estrade. It also encourages you to slow down and focus on the mind-body connection, which can help you better understand your own body. Finally, consider taking a private lesson (especially if it’s your first time taking a reformer) to help you feel more comfortable and confident. And of course, as with any type of exercise, a proper warm-up is key.
“The basics of exercise still apply: start small and go slow,” says Estrade.