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By now you’ve probably heard of Pilates — it has become a household name.
Still, Pilates is much more than what pop culture touts. Yes, it’s a great workout and fantastic for your core, and it helps you maximize your strength.
What’s more, Pilates is a method that supports your body’s structure by balancing strength, mobility, and flexibility (1, 2, 3, 4,
Pilates is for everybody, regardless of your age, size, race, gender, or ability. With over 600 exercises and variations, Pilates can be modified to suit every level. It’s effective for absolute beginners and professional athletes alike.
If you’re curious, new to the method, and wondering where to start, read on for more.
Originally called “Contrology”, this full-body exercise method was created in the early 20th century by Joseph H. Pilates.
Mr. Pilates trained and healed a number of people from all walks of life, including a number of performers. A small group of mostly performers became the gatekeepers, known as the “Elders.” Through them, the Pilates method grew, eventually becoming a household name (6).
Pilates is comprised of matwork and exercises on specialized — and often spring-loaded — equipment, such as the Reformer, Tower (or Cadillac), and Stability Chair. It’s a sought-after method recommended by doctors and employed by physical therapists.
It benefits people of all ages and skill levels because it’s a low impact exercise method that aligns the body, creating strength through muscular balance and neuromuscular fine-tuning.
Pilates can be both restorative and powerful. While it’s not a heart-pumping cardio exercise, you can break a sweat while feeling your muscles work in a new way. It’s known for working the smaller, deeper, and often underused stabilizing muscles that support the joints.
As a result, the challenge you feel from Pilates may be a bit different than what you’re used to feeling in the weight room or when pushing yourself hard in a spin class. Still, there’s tremendous benefit to be had when you start Pilates.
Pilates’ long list of benefits includes improved posture, core strength, flexibility, and balance, as well as decreased back pain and stress.
A good consistent practice is meant to provide ease and power. It helps you get through your daily activities with less pain and more freedom and vitality.
Yes, Pilates is good for beginners.
A considerable amount of marketing for Pilates highlights its more acrobatic exercises or showcases dancers on machines doing the splits. Don’t let that intimidate you.
Pilates exercises work in a progressive manner, from beginner to advanced.
Even high performing athletes start with the basics. Many advanced practitioners prefer to do a beginner workout to solidify their foundation.
A good teacher will gear the exercises to where you are, making them safe, effective, and appropriately challenging.
It’s important to listen to your body, do as much as you can, and continue to be consistent to progress further.
When starting a Pilates practice, it’s important to understand that it’s a journey. With consistency, your understanding of its concepts will deepen.
Pilates works the whole body; while you’re stabilizing one body part, another is moving. Some movements or ranges of motion may need to be smaller at first and increase over time as you become stronger.
Control and precision are two principles of the method. Always choose quality over quantity — and you’ll reap more beneficial effects on your body and life.
The breath, another important principle, is essential to Pilates exercises. Pilates breathing increases your lung capacity and is the precursor to movement (
Pilates breathing focuses on breathing three-dimensionally through the rib cage and diaphragm to allow for deeper core engagement. Your core encompasses muscles of the lower back, abdominals, glutes, hips, inner thighs, and the pelvic floor.
When engaging the core muscles during Pilates exercises, aim for a supple activation versus bracing or gripping. Think of your trunk as wrapping and lifting as opposed to “sucking in your belly.”
Don’t be alarmed if your instructor uses cues that seem a little strange at first. Pilates is a unique exercise, and it can often feel like learning a foreign language when you’re getting started.
Try to approach the movements with a spirit of exploration, and you may be surprised at what you discover.
All you really need to start a Pilates practice is your body, a small towel, and a mat or soft surface (preferably something like a carpet, not a bed — that’s too soft!).
Generally, a yoga mat is too thin, and with Pilates’ rolling exercises it could be uncomfortable. If your budget allows, invest in a thicker, softer mat. Alternatively, you can place a thick towel or blanket over your mat.
Some teachers and classes may use additional props or equipment. Props are meant to support, add variety, or increase the difficulty level.
Small props can include the magic circle, light weights (or canned food or water bottles), a mini ball, therabands, and even the Swiss ball.
If you had to choose one thing to focus on or master in the beginning, it would be your breath.
Your breath adds vitality, working in sync with and serving as the key to efficient core engagement. It’s the foundation of every exercise.
A consistent Pilates practice of three times per week is ideal. Twice is sufficient, and a daily practice is possible and nontaxing on the body. Aim to find a rhythm that works for you.
Your body is different from moment to moment. As your self-awareness increases, you’ll be more in tune with what your body needs.
Every workout will and should be different. On the occasion that you feel tired, pace yourself. If appropriate, strive to do some, if not all, of the exercises to feel invigorated again.
Always consult your healthcare practitioner when embarking on a fitness program.
There are specific Pilates programs for various populations, such as people who are pregnant, older adults, and those with lower back injuries or low bone density.
If you feel pain while exercising, stop and reassess. With experience and increased body awareness, you may learn to modify or skip a movement.
If possible, work individually with a qualified Pilates instructor. Even a few sessions to solidify a foundation and learn modifications specific to your body is beneficial.
There are many possibilities for continued growth with Pilates, both online and in-person.
Numerous sources of both on-demand and live Pilates classes are available online. Healthline even offers 22-minute long Pilates workouts as part of our Fit It In video series.
If you’re curious about getting on the Pilates machines, check out local studios in your area. Almost all studios offer one-on-one sessions and group classes.
Matwork- and Reformer-based exercises are Pilates’ most well known and popular aspects. Many studios offer Reformer-based group classes at a higher cost than matwork-based ones, but they’re less expensive than one-on-one sessions.
Some studios have other specialized equipment classes involving the Chair or Tower or may offer a mix or circuit class.
When looking for an instructor, you’ll want to check out their credentials, as well as meet them or attend a trial class to find out whether their approach resonates with you.
In general, you’ll want a Pilates instructor with substantial education and much more than weekend workshop training.
Pilates has numerous benefits and is a great workout for everybody.
A beginner workout not only builds a strong foundation from which to grow, but it immediately builds strength and self-awareness.
Pilates exercises can be broken down or modified to meet you at any stage of your life. A consistent practice supports and enhances your lifestyle by allowing you to move with ease, vigor, and renewed vitality.