Beginners Guide To Pilates

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Want to improve your strength? Mobility? Flexibility? Endurance? Balance? Manage Pain? Pilates has your back.. LITERALLY 😉 Pilates is an exercise program that addresses all of these things.  So, if you are thinking about trying Pilates for the first time, you will want to read further as we discuss all you might want to know about this exercise program. 

Pilates Explained

As mentioned above, Pilates is a system of movement that helps you improve flexibility, mobility, strength, balance, endurance, and breathing. Pilates uses breath and movement to help you create a better mind-body connection.  Core awareness, alignment, & control are key factors in pilates.  A good Pilates class should be whole body & move you throughout all movement planes (front to back, side to side, and twisting).  Pilates can be done on a mat with or without small equipment or you might use Pilates equipment like the reformer, chair, barrel, or cadillac/tower.   Large equipment is more likely to be used in a private setting. 

The History of Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1880–1967) invented this unique exercise system.  As a child, Joseph had asthma and various other ailments which made it hard for him to move and exercise. He studied a wide range of movements and exercises eager to find ones that he could do safely. Pilates was a German expatriate who first made his mark in England during WWI by developing a series of exercises and innovative equipment to help prisoners of war regain strength and mobility. The reformer was initially created for soldiers that were bed ridden but needed to work on gaining strength. 

After the war Pilates immigrated to New York, where the local professional dance community discovered that his conditioning technique, called ‘Contrology’ helped prevent injury and improve strength while maintaining muscle tone. 

Check out this video of Joseph in action with his students back in the 1950s!

Mat Pilates  vs  Equipment Pilates

If you are new to Pilates, mat can be a great place to start! It requires minimal investment, can be done just about anywhere and can help you create good strength and awareness. Believe it or not mat was the last version of Pilates Joseph Pilates created. His focus initially was with equipment. 

Mat Pilates often uses small pieces of equipment to offer more resistance, support, instability, or just better feedback. Below is a list of small pieces of equipment you will often use in a Mat class as well as links to purchase if you are interested.

  1. Pilates Ring ($15-25)
  2. Light/Medium Resistance Band ($15)
  3. Pilates Ball ($10-$15)
  4. Fitness Ball ($20-$30)
  5. 36” Foam Roller ($20-$50) don’t get super hard one
  6. Slider ($10) paper plates also work
  7. Yoga Block ($10-$14)

Now don’t go thinking you need to buy all of this upfront if you are just starting out. I generally recommend if someone is new to buy a Pilates Ball or Foam Roller and a Resistance Band. It’s about a $25-$40 investment and of course you will need a mat. 

Another nice thing about Mat Pilates is it is relatively easy to modify exercises whether you are new to the class or you are nursing an injury. A good instructor should be able to offer different levels of exercises to suit any body! 

Reformer Pilates is practiced with a Reformer machine, which is a machine that utilizes a spring system.  A Reformer is made up of a frame and a platform bed, a set of risers with ropes attached, and a sliding carriage that attaches to the springs.  The carriage has a headrest and shoulder support.  What the springs do is offer heavy to light resistance as you move through the exercises.  The body must control the movement of the Reformer, which depending on the resistance can become challenging. Sometimes having more resistance is harder and sometimes it makes the exercise easier as it offers more support. It all depends on the exercise. 

The Reformer machine provides support with more difficult exercises, so a beginner can build up their strength and try more advanced moves in a safe way.  Again, Reformer work is appropriate for beginners, just like mat pilates classes.  To try a Reformer class, you would have to go in person, so that a knowledgeable instructor can help you with the machine and exercises.   The biggest downfall with reformer is the cost associated with it. The machines cost as much as $8000 so classes cost a lot more and most people will not purchase one for their home… 

To sum up the benefits of Mat vs. Reformer:

Mat PROS:

  • Cost Effective
  • Can be done anywhere
  • You can modify fairly easily

Mat CONS:

  • You rely on your own body/awareness to complete exercises which for some is challenging as a beginner

Reformer PROS:

  • The reformer can help with better alignment as the shoulder pads and straps help put you in correct position
  • You can adjust the resistance to change the difficulty of exercise 

Reformer CONS:

  • Cost- reformer classes are generally at least double that of mat
  • Sometimes people begin to rely too much on the reformer putting them in correct alignment so they don’t improve after a point. 

Find An Experienced Teacher

If you are interested in trying pilates, your first step is to find the right teacher.  An experienced Pilates instructor can help you get so much from the practice.  Try a few pilates classes with different teachers so that you can find an instructor that sticks.  It’s ok to try a few before deciding, but you will want to make sure that the teacher you like is certified and trained.  So, do not be afraid to ask a teacher you like what their credentials are, and aim for an instructor that has at least 450 hours of training completed.  You can also ask for recommendations from family members and friends.  Take the time to read online reviews too.  The great thing about COVID is that so many instructors have moved to teaching online. So you can access great instructors from all over the world! Check out my online Pilates series HERE

Make a Commitment to Pilates

If you really want to see results from your Pilates practice you have to make it a regular part of your daily routine.  It is suggested that in order to reap all of the benefits from a pilates practice, the student should do it at least three times a week.  It may be tempting to stop once you start to feel better, but if you do, the benefits may also stop.  If you use pilates as a supplement to your workout routine, it is still suggested that you practice a couple of times a week.  So, one could say that in order for pilates to have an effect, you will have to make a commitment to it.  Even a 20 minute “movement break” can have great benefits if done consistently.

Pilates is YOUR Practice!

Pilates is meant to help you connect more with your body so you are, over time, able to “control” certain movement patterns which creates better movement strategies that are better for your joints and muscles.  Just like anything, Pilates takes time to master. I have been practicing for 15 years and am still learning new things about my body and it’s abilities all the time. There are still plenty of moves that I feel don’t serve my body so I take modifications or opt out all together. You are never required to do ANYTHING! Everyone’s body is different so give yourself permission to modify whenever you need to. You might find yourself in “uncomfortable” positions because change doesn’t happen in the comfort zone, it happens when we challenge ourselves. So always try to get a little uncomfortable during a class. Laugh at yourself! Try new things! Sometimes you will pleasantly surprise yourself with how much you are capable of.

NEXT STEPS:

Join me for my “Pilates for Beginners” series. This series is geared to towards new comers that want to learn the basics to get more out of their practice. This is also a great review for someone who has been practicing for awhile. Sometimes we forget the basics!

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