Everything You Need To Know Before You Start Pilates


Have you wanted to try Pilates but just the pictures scare you off?  I mean, the machines can look a little intimidating.  Here’s a Pilates cheat sheet to help you choose the right class.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a method of exercising the whole body developed by Joseph Pilates.  You can read more about it here. What I really want to zone in on is the three different styles of Pilates that are popular right now.  There are Pilates Mat classes, classical Pilates classes done on original Pilates equipment (in a class setting and also one on one) and “power” style Pilates classes that are typically done on a newer style of equipment.

Mat classes are primarily classic exercises that Mr. Pilates developed.  Yes, they have been modernized and props have been added.  A mat class IS different than a yoga class.  In fact, Pilates and yoga are very different. A traditional mat class is done on a mat.  The exercises tend to focus on the abdominal and core muscles.  Your arms, legs and back muscles will get some action but not nearly as much as the core.  Mat classes are great to compliment other forms of exercising like cycling and running.  Mat classes can be very vigorous, so don’t think that it’s a beginner’s style workout.

Classic Reformer or other traditional equipment Pilates sessions are my favorite.  They are either done in a class setting (6 Reformers) or one on one.  You will be performing traditional exercises on the equipment and get a full body workout.  There is a flow to the class and you virtually never do the same routine twice.

“Power” style Pilates classes have become increasingly popular in the last 5 years.  The Reformer has been redesigned to compliment the new style.  It is typically held in a class setting (up to 12 students in a class)  and moves at a faster pace than your classical Pilates class.  The exercises vary greatly from the exercises that Mr. Pilates developed.  If you are used to taking classic Pilates and think you can hop in here and know what to do, don’t.  It is different than what you know.  Pilates purists view this new style of Pilates far from what Mr. Pilates developed and aren’t fans.  Me?  I’m a Pilates purist but believe that if you find a style of exercise that you like and YOU DO IT…that’s what matters!  Just move!

Choosing a Studio

I’m going to turn my focus to traditional Pilates because that is what I know, love and teach.  When choosing a studio, you should look for one that is close to you, that you can afford, is well-equipped, clean and that employs instructors that are trained and certified.  There is no governing body that requires instructors to be certified but your instructor should have completed a Pilates training program that has anywhere from 200-450 hours of training, observation and practice.  Ideally, they should have completed a 450 hour program.  Above that, you can look for an instructor that has been certified by the Pilates Method Alliance.  If there was going to be a governing agency, this would be it.   If you are joining a Pilates program and you have a health issue, you should look for a Pilates instructor that specializes in that area.  You can find instructors with special training in pre-natal, cancer, seniors, physical therapy, etc.

What Class Should You Take First ?

You can take a mat class without hesitation.  Mat classes are easy to modify for all levels.  When it comes to Pilates equipment style classes, my recommendation is to take at least one or two privates before you jump into a Reformer “class”.  You need some knowledge on how this equipment works.  Reformers classes were not popular when I started Pilates.  I am a big believer in private lessons.  Mostly because it allows me to zone in on exactly what your goals are and develop routines to achieve them.  If cost is a factor, then take a couple of privates and move into the class setting.  Once you decide on what you will do, you should plan on taking a class 2-3 times per week for maximum benefit.  Once a week?  Nope.  You’d be better off doing something else.

How Much Will This Cost? 

A mat class can average $15-20 depending on the studio.  A private session can cost $65-$125 depending on where you live and the qualifications of the instructor.  Some studios offer an introductory price on your first private session, so ask for it!  You can take semi-private lessons for $45-55 per session.  Most Reformer classes can average $20-35 depending on how many sessions you buy.  The more you buy, the lower the pricing.

What Should You Wear? 

Your instructor needs to see your body and how it moves.  A tighter fitting top and tighter fitting pants will allow this and help you move freely on the equipment.  Looser tops get in the way or hang open.  You might not feel comfortable like that.  Most studios prefer you have bare feet or if you need sock to feel comfortable, you will want gripping style socks.  Refrain from wearing any jewelry that might scratch the equipment.  I also recommend that you not wear any lotion on your skin that is exposed or on your feet.  This will make you slippery!

How Will You Feel? 

Unlike an indoor cycling class or going for a run, you aren’t going to be winded or out of breath!  This isn’t an aerobic style of exercise.  You will feel the burn in your legs, your arms and your core as you are doing the exercises but it is tolerable.  Soreness can develop 24-48 hours after class.  Make sure to keep moving.  Sitting around because you are sore will just make it hurt more!

Why Should You Do Pilates?

Pilates is an excellent, non-impact form of exercise that will tone the body, keep your spine supple and youthful and work your core.  Like I said earlier, it is the perfect compliment to other forms of exercise (cycling, running, swimming).

You are now armed with all that you need to know to try a class!  Let me know how it goes!


7 Responses
  • Bob Lowe
    May 27, 2016

    Thank you for the post. I really like the idea to start out with a mat class. I like that you are able to easily modify the class to your level. I think that would really help you to ease into doing Pilates. That last thing you want to do it start out super hard and never want to go back.

    • Cassie Piasecki
      June 6, 2016

      That is so true, Bob! Mat classes are a great way to ease back into or to begin your Pilates journey. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment!

  • Shana
    July 12, 2016

    I think your post is amazing from beginning to end! I am starting my very first Pilates class next week and wasn’t sure what to expect or how to go into it. Reading your post really inspired me. As a mom of two and recently just giving birth, I am looking forward to getting back into shape. Focusing on my core is what I am looking for, so starting out on a mat class sounds great. I have always been fit and thin but somehow after my second beautiful boy my body is having trouble getting back to the shape I used to be. I think it is wise in doing research making sure it fits in your schedule, working with a buddy, and knowing your instructor is trained and certified. I think this is going to be a great journey I am about to embark on! You motivate me! Thank you for your post!

    • Cassie Piasecki
      August 1, 2016

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Shawna!!! Please let me know how you like Pilates!!!

  • Rachel
    September 18, 2017

    What if I want to do Pilates at home and cannot physically go to a class? I’m afraid I can’t sign up for or pay for online classes either.

    • Cassie Piasecki
      September 24, 2017

      Check YouTube for free Pilates Mat videos. There are a lot!

  • Steven Kotler
    April 22, 2018

    Thanks for sharing this article. All points that you have covered are very informative and correct. I think these point would really help in doing pilates.

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