7 Pilates Mistakes Newbies Make and How to Avoid Them

We share 7 common Pilates mistakes we see from beginners and how to avoid them through key Pilates principles.

So you’re finally heeding the advice of your friends (and potentially physician) regarding the countless, scientifically backed benefits of a Pilates practice: increased flexibility, endurance, and improved posture, just to name a few). While Pilates may seem intimidating at first, we’re here to explain the key principles to follow and mistakes to avoid. Whether you’re on the Reformer, Mat, or other Pilates apparatus, we want you to enjoy your first Pilates class while avoiding injury.

Mistake #1: Showing Up Unprepared for Class

What should you bring to Pilates classes? If you are taking a Reformer class, you may be required to wear sticky socks with rubber grips on the bottom. Check with your studio's policies – you may have to purchase them at the studio if you do not bring your own. If you’re taking a Mat class, you likely will not need socks.

What should you wear to class? Your ability to focus on the exercises and your teacher’s ability to see what you’re doing rely heavily on what you wear. Think of the last time you were in a business meeting in an uncomfortable outfit – you probably were not able to focus on the subject matter at hand. Dress for Pilates in clothes that are comfortable, but not too baggy, as your teacher will be looking for your pelvic and spine alignment. Opt for yoga, or even better, Pilates pants. Avoid zippers, pockets, or anything that might get caught in equipment.

Mistake #2: Moving Too Fast through Pilates Exercises

Joseph Pilates originally called his method Contrology, the study of control, so maintaining your teacher’s intended pace with control is key. More often than not, you will likely move slower than you might like, or than you think you should move based on other exercise modalities. The turtle wins the Pilates race. Avoid using momentum and know that moving at a stable, slower pace requires your stabilizing muscles to fire, and that is what makes Pilates so good, and so difficult!

Mistake #3: Breathing without Intention

Most often in Pilates, you will be breathing within the diaphragm and ribcage with as little movement in the abdominals as possible. The focus should be on using the breath to expand the ribcage laterally (outward and sideways) rather than vertically.

A good way to get a feel for Pilates breathing is by placing your hands on each side of your ribcage. As you inhale, visualize your ribcage gliding apart. As you exhale, visualize your ribcage knitting back together. Alternatively, imagine you have a heavy weight right on top of your torso (like an x-ray mat you would wear at the dentist), so that when you breathe, your chest is only able to expand outward, not upward. The nuances of Pilates breathing may be hard to execute at first, so make sure you are breathing as you learn the repertoire and the lateral breathing will come in time.

Mistake #4: Craning the Head, Especially during Core Mat Pilates Work

In Mat Pilates, you will likely be asked to lift your upper chest and back off the Mat, requiring you to keep your head lifted too.

To avoid stressing the neck, gaze slightly forward and up, with your chin in a position where it could hold an orange between your chin and chest. This chest lift position is repeated throughout Pilates. It's normal if you initially have trouble holding your head up. You will eventually gain enough strength to execute these forward flexion exercises without neck strain. Take breaks or use a small pillow if you feel discomfort.

Mistake #5: Tensing the Shoulders

When you’re focusing on strengthening muscles in the body, your shoulders are often the first to tense up in response, bunching up at the ears and closing the upper torso inward. Remember that laterally-expansive, ribcage breathing? Visualize your shoulder blades gliding down the back to lengthen the neck. In most exercises, thinking of rolling your shoulders up, down, and then back helps put them in the ideal place for movement.

Mistake #6: Mistaking Abdominal Strength for Abdominal Stability

While most exercises start from the feet up (generally because you’re standing), Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates all start from the center outward. Pilates teachers often refer to your abdominals and core as the second spine.

Abdominal strength and abdominal stability are not necessarily the same thing. You can gain abdominal strength by doing a thousand crunches per day, but that abdominal strength will not necessarily ensure that your torso is in proper alignment with your pelvis in a standing position. Your abs could be nice and strong, but totally off center, which ends up taxing your spine and lower back! Pilates' focus on deep abdominals will create stability and strength.

Mistake #7: Over-Tucking the Pelvis Instead of Lifting

In class, you will probably hear cues like “tuck the tailbone under” and “scoop the abdominals." While these cues can be hard to follow at first, they are important in executing proper form of the exercises. Essentially, you do not want to compromise your back when you engage your abdominals, so be sure you aren’t sinking down in your spine when you pull in your abdominals or tuck the tailbone. Keep your back long; some teachers call this a lifted C-curve, but the “lifted” part will become second nature to you.

To ensure your pelvis is “tucking” correctly without compensating the integrity of the rest of your core, use the B-Line Method (often referred to as the bikini line or belt line). With your fingertips, find the place 2-3 inches below your belly button. Now, keeping the ribcage in direct alignment over the hipbones, engage your core to pull away from your fingertips. When in doubt, lift, don’t tuck!

The Studio is a Safe Space

When in doubt, always ask. Your teacher is there to guide you! Be patient with yourself. Pilates is a very specific method of muscle isolations and extensions that sometimes feel like tongue twisters for the body. You may find it helpful to familiarize yourself with the common Pilates terms or arriving at class 15-25 minutes early to voice your concerns with the teacher.

Were these tips helpful? Let us know in the comments below!


Alexandra L
Helpful article reminding me how it was to be a beginner.  I will be more sensitive to new students.  Thank you
Artículo refrescante y mantenerlo vivo con los nuevos estudiantes.👀
Gamze D
Very well written aricle
Terri M
Thank you!!  A great reminder and good cues to offer my clients.  

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