If you’ve ever watched a pilates class in action, you most likely were amazed by the different contraptions and difficult-looking movements.
Pilates can look intimidating to beginners, but these classes are great for people of any fitness level.
It’s also a terrific workout choice for just about anyone, men and women!
If you’re getting ready for your first Pilates class, there are a few things you should know ahead of time so you can have a successful first workout.
First, it’s more important in Pilates than almost any other fitness class to dress properly. Form-fitting (but comfortable) clothes are key so you and the instructor can see and correct any misalignments in your body and form.
You might also want to brush up on the history of Pilates and a few new vocabulary words so you’re not lost in class. Other than that, just remember to take things slow and don’t put too much pressure on your first class.
Let’s dive into some more tips with the help of some pro Pilates instructors.
What is Pilates?
More than just a fitness-craze, Pilates has a fascinating history dating back to the early 1900s.
The creator Joseph Pilates initially developed this workout regime to help injured soldiers in World War I rehabilitate from their devastating injuries.
Joseph Pilates based his work on three core principles:
- Focusing on the breath
- Whole-body health
- Whole-body commitment
He created several useful pieces of equipment to develop an effective full-body workout for those with limited mobility.
One of the most notable pieces of equipment is known as the Cadillac.
Much of this equipment created by Joseph Pilates has been slightly modified but is still seen in Pilates studios around the world today. While Joseph Pilates focused on a workout regime utilizing equipment, an equipment-free alternative has been introduced into the world of Pilates.
Mat vs reformer pilates
For those looking to join a Pilates class for the first time, I would recommend starting with a class that only uses a mat–called Mat Pilates.
These Pilates classes utilize movements that don’t require any specialized equipment, and the learning curve is significantly less than reformer Pilates.
With just a simple mat, you can do all of the movements of the class.
When searching for a mat for these classes, choose a mat specifically designed for Pilates. Unlike a yoga mat, these mats are thicker and offer more cushioning from the hard floor.
In reformer Pilates, you use a machine called a reformer that slides up and down while doing the movements in class.
These classes are harder to come by and have a steeper learning curve than the mat version.
Gyms that do offer these classes often charge a premium for them since machines can be limited and individual training is necessary to safely use the reformer.
Who is Pilates best for?
With so many benefits to Pilates, it can make an excellent workout for anyone looking to improve their overall physical fitness.
If you are looking to lose weight, Pilates can be a great way to shed those extra pounds.
In a study published in 2017, researchers found that only eight weeks of consistent Pilates classes helped to reduce body fat, lower BMI, and reduce the circumference of the abdomen and hips.
However, the benefits of Pilates are usually better suited for those looking to be toned and not gain any excess muscle.
The movements performed in Pilates will not significantly increase lean body mass the way exercise like lifting weights would do.
(For more on this, check out the results you can expect from a month of Pilates workouts.)
Improving Posture and Spine Health
Another excellent benefit — one that’s pretty unique to Pilates — is improving your posture and strengthening your supporting muscles.
Joseph Pilates was passionate about improving spine health and stressed its importance, with one of his famous quotes:
“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
After a long day sitting at the office, your posture can start to slouch, and your neck will lean forward.
With the help of Pilates movements, you can strengthen all of the right muscles to improve your posture and start feeling more flexible.
What to expect & expert tips for your first Pilates class
To help you get started on the right foot, I spoke to several Pilates instructors to get insights into what beginners should know before attending their first class.
Each of these tips and tricks will set you up for success and help you quickly find your groove when you go to a Pilates class.
1. Dress properly
When going to your first Pilates class, you should dress the part.
When asked what a beginner should wear to their Pilates classes, Pilates instructor Katie Donnelly shared a unique insight by saying:
“Wear form-fitting clothes…especially if it’s a virtual class. Comprehensively certified Pilates teachers are trained to see the smallest misalignment in your body. Have that work to your advantage by making sure they can clearly see you.”
Like many other fitness classes like yoga or indoor cycling, you should wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t limit your body’s movements.
More than just feeling comfortable, wearing properly-fitted clothing will also help the teacher see any mistakes you are making.
This can help maximize your workout and prevent any potential injury.
Along with wearing comfortable clothing, Katie also mentioned, “Don’t forget your grippy socks. Pilates is always done without shoes.”
Like yoga, Pilates classes will use a mat that can become slippery if you are using your bare feet or regular socks.
Purchase socks designed for Pilates that have grips on the bottom. These socks will reduce the chance of slipping, keeping you stable and safe on your Pilates mat.
2. Develop the correct mindset
There was a common theme repeated over and over by the Pilates experts we spoke with: Pilates is a practice.
Pilates instructor Jacqueline Hinton added to this by saying:
“You will always and forever be learning and growing in how you use your mind and body. Try not to overthink exercises or cues that your instructor gives you.”
Your Pilates practice should always focus on your personal growth and how you are improving personally.
You may not be great at a particular movement during your first few classes, but soon you will notice what was once difficult is now suddenly easier.
3. Remember the six principles
Since the days of Joseph Pilates developing this exercise regime, the practice has always followed the six core principles.
These principles will most likely be mentioned by your instructor throughout the class when performing each movement.
These six principles of Pilates are:
With these in mind, you should do each Pilates movement slowly and with control.
The creator Joseph Pilates emphasized the importance of controlling your breathing throughout the exercises.
If you catch yourself taking rapid and shallow breaths, slow things down and breathe fully into your diaphragm. While you may not be able to breathe like this for difficult portions of the class, it should always be something you aim to come back to.
4. Prepare for full-body soreness
If you haven’t taken a Pilates class before, your body may be in for a bit of a shock.
Pilates can be quite different from what you are used to doing, so expect muscle soreness. If you are wondering which muscles Pilates will work, the simple answer is everything.
Professional Pilates instructor Katie Donnelly clarified a common misconception about what muscles get activated during a Pilates class:
“When most people hear ‘Pilates’, they think ‘core’. But your core is much more than your six-pack – it’s every muscle that contributes to stabilizing the spine and pelvis.
“This includes your back, glutes, inner and outer thighs, and all four sets of abdominals.”
While your core muscles will be the class’s main focus, you will also be getting a total body workout.
To prepare yourself for the inevitable soreness, take some time to stretch after class and stay hydrated.
An important thing to remember is while this soreness can happen, it is a sign that your body is adapting and you can expect some fantastic results if you stick with it.
5. Expect to hear new terms in class
Like most group classes, there will be some terms that are specific for Pilates that you’ve never heard before. These terms will differ from each studio and gym, so you won’t quite know the lingo until you take that first class.
However, there are a few universal terms that you will hear in each Pilates class, no matter the instructor.
Some terms to remember are:
- Neutral Spine: When a Pilates instructor tells you to keep a neutral spine, this means that you should keep a natural posture without any excess bending or leaning of your body. You should not be actively pushing your back to the floor or extending the spine’s natural curvature.
- Dorsiflexion: This term describes the movement of your feet. When instructed to dorsiflex your feet, you should be pulling your toes backward towards your shins.
- Powerhouse: Originally named by Joseph Pilates, the powerhouse refers to the center muscles of your body. Muscles like the abdominals, pelvic floor, hip muscles, and back extensors.
Any good instructor will clue you in and make sure beginners are following along, but you’ll get a leg up if you study some of these terms ahead of time.
Pilates is a great workout that comes with an interesting history behind it.
With a focus on personal development, you can start at any stage in your fitness journey and jump right into a Pilates class.
Be sure to attend your first class with an open mind and a willingness to learn the various movements.
You may not feel confident in your abilities in your first few classes, but you will steadily build up your abilities with each class!
Before you go, check out the pros and cons of Pilates as your main workout. If you’re not totally sure about getting started with Pilates, check out how you can prepare for your first yoga class or first spin class instead.
Hope this helps!