Pilates for Beginners Guide

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Pilates for Beginners

Pilates is a system of exercise and movement that is designed to increase strength, flexibility, and balance. Pilates integrates breath and movement with proper body mechanics to increase greater physical and mental awareness of how the body moves and feels. Most Pilates exercises focus on the pelvis and trunk, using both stability and mobility to train the body. You can practice Pilates on a Mat using your own body and sometimes with small props. You may also practice on specialized Pilates Reformer, Wunda Chair, Tower and Cadillac. Pilates classes can occur in one-on-one private sessions or in group settings. Pilates is for all bodies and all ages. Part of the beauty of Pilates is that it can be modified to fit the needs and abilities of each individual who practices it.

Programs to Guide Your Practice

Practice with Pilates programs designed for beginners that will help you build a strong foundation and a new routine.

The Benefits of Pilates

Practicing Pilates has countless benefits, which includes improved flexibility, better posture, improved coordination and balance, increased lung capacity, enhanced concentration, increased body awareness, stress management, and injury prevention and rehabilitation. Oftentimes, a Pilates practice improves muscle strength and tone primarily in the core muscles, as well as shoulders, arms, legs, and feet. Additionally, Pilates can be practiced anywhere and is suitable for every body of every age. The six Core Principles of Pilates include: Breathing, Concentration, Centering, Control, Precision, and Flow.

Brief History of Pilates

Pilates was developed by Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Born in Germany in 1883, Joseph Pilates suffered from asthma and a number of ailments as a child. He spent his early years working as a circus performer and a boxer. Studying a wide range of exercise and movement methods, including the Greek philosophy of mind, body, and spirit, Joseph Pilates was inspired to develop a movement system to strengthen his own body. While imprisoned at an English internment camp during World War I, he began training others in his system called The Art of Contrology. In 1926, Joseph Pilates immigrated to the United States where he met his wife Clara. Together, they opened a studio in New York City, where they taught until his death in 1967. Six of his former students were given Clara’s blessing to teach what then became Pilates. Those individuals are known as The Elders. You can learn more about the history of Pilates with our Pilates Legacy Project.

The Pilates Powerhouse with Erin Wilson

Erin Wilson explains the powerhouse muscles, how to use them, and ways to get the most out of your workout. She brings you down to the Mat for a series of exercises to help you hone into the dynamic energy of your powerhouse.

Mat Pilates

Mat Pilates is a great introduction to Pilates for beginners. Because you only need a Mat, Mat Pilates is accessible for an at-home practice. When done with focus and precision, Mat Pilates can be an incredible full-body workout. The majority of Mat Pilates practiced and taught includes an ordered set of specific Pilates exercises, often referred to as the Classical Mat Series. Beginner and advanced exercises are included in the Classical protocol, allowing a progression to occur as the body gains balance, strength, and flexibility. Similarly, an advanced student can return to beginner exercises to refresh basic skills or enhance understanding for a vigorously challenging workout.

Reformer Pilates

Reformer Pilates is practiced with a machine that uses a system of springs. A Reformer is made up of a frame and platform bed that is generally 7 feet in length and about 2.5 feet wide. The Reformer includes a set of risers with pulleys and ropes attached, a footbar, and a sliding carriage with a headrest and shoulder blocks that attaches to the springs and gear system. A Reformer’s springs vary in light and heavy resistance. Oftentimes, the lighter the resistance, the more difficult it is to perform an exercise, as the body itself further controls the movement of the Reformer. Using a Reformer offers support with more difficult exercises via the springs, which allows a beginner to practice exercises they are not strong enough to perform with just their bodies on the Mat. Reformer work is as appropriate and accessible for the beginner as the advanced student. Reformer instruction by a trained Pilates teacher is most often available in a dedicated Pilates studio, private sessions, or in specialty gyms.

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Tips for Beginners

The first step in your Pilates journey is making the conscious effort to start your practice. You don’t need to be any more fit, flexible, muscular, thin, or younger to begin Pilates! The next step is deciding if you want to begin with Mat or Apparatus (most likely Reformer) Pilates. This decision may depend on a variety of factors, including your budget, accessibility, injuries, or chronic health issues. If you live near a Pilates studio, ask to drop in and watch a class or and speak to a teacher. You should feel comfortable asking questions and sharing any of your hesitations about starting Pilates to help guide you in the right direction. Pilates teachers undergo over 450 hours of training and pursue continuing education annually. Their job is to study bodies and teach those bodies how to move with precision and control. You can also explore Pilates from your own home by practicing with online classes.

Two Types of Pilates to Consider: Classical and Contemporary (Non-Classical)

Classical Pilates sticks closely to Joseph Pilates’ original exercises in the order they were performed. It is most often taught with the pelvis in an imprinted (posterior tilted) position. This means the lower back is pressed to the floor during most exercises.

Non-Classical or Contemporary Pilates, is also based on the work of Joseph Pilates, but exercises have been modified or adjusted to take into account modern research, biomechanics, and physical therapy and rehabilitation. Contemporary Pilates is generally practiced with a neutral spine – the spine’s position when standing upright with healthy posture. With a neutral spine, there is a small space at the lower back just above the hip bones.

While there are many varieties within Classical and Contemporary Pilates, the most important thing is to understand your options and choose whichever form fits your individual practice. Listen to your instincts and don’t be afraid to ask questions. However you decide to practice, whether it be at home on the Mat or in-person on the Reformer, is ultimately up to you and your goals. The Pilates community is made up of individuals who love to teach and practice Pilates and want everyone to have access to it!

Beginner Pilates Frequently Asked Questions

How often should a beginner practice Pilates?

A beginner to Pilates should try to practice Pilates at least twice a week, although many people find three times a week to be more effective. You can practice Pilates daily and there are many exercises and modifications you can use to avoid over-training.

Is Pilates safe for seniors?

Joseph Pilates believed age was not measured in years, but in the flexibility of your spine. The great news is that although you cannot turn back time, you can start today to increase your flexibility, strength, and improve your balance with Pilates. Pilates is safe for everyone at every age. In fact, Pilates can even be practiced sitting upright in a chair.

How is Pilates different than yoga?

Pilates and yoga are both mind, body, and spirit practices. After that, comparing them is a bit like comparing fruits and vegetables. Both movement practices are both good for you, but their components are different. Pilates is often described more as functional training, as it includes dynamic movement and isometric contractions of muscles throughout each exercise.

How can Pilates complement a workout routine?

Yes, Pilates improves balance, strength, and flexibility. This means it can and should be a part of any physical training program or sport you already participate in. From running marathons to playing golf, Pilates will complement your existing exercise routine and even allow you to improve your form, respiratory capabilities, and efficiency.

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