What to expect when taking a Pilates class for the first time

Trying an exercise class like Pilates for the first time naturally raises questions: What am I wearing? Is this workout right for me? Will I understand what is happening? Knowing what to expect when taking a Pilates class for the first time can help you feel more confident. (Also, kudos for trying something new!) And it’s a fantastic form of exercise that suits a variety of fitness backgrounds. Pilates is extremely adaptable, and modifications are easy to make to make the practice work for most people, says Patricia Sabulis, a certified yoga instructor, NASM/ACE-approved Mat Pilates instructor, and Lululemon Studio instructor.

Ready to sign up? Find out what the experts want Pilates beginners to know before taking their first class.

Find out which type of Pilates you are enrolled in

There are a few things you need to think about before joining a class, says Alycea Ungaro, a licensed physical therapist and certified Pilates teacher. You want to decide between trying Pilates using only a mat, which can be done virtually or in person, or Pilates using equipment, which requires going to a studio.

You may have heard of Reformer Pilates, which involves using a machine with springs that add resistance, but there are other types of equipment as well. It’s helpful to think of Pilates as a system, says Ungaro. Pilates can involve a variety of other equipment—a chair, spine corrector, and tower are some items you might see in class descriptions. In general, Reformer Pilates and mat classes may be more commonly available, depending on where you live. So how do you choose? It really comes down to personal preference and your comfort level to learn how to use a machine.

Beginners may find that the Reformer makes some moves a little easier because the springs help relieve some of the weight. I find the Reformer can be intimidating at first, so I think starting with basic movements on the mat is the most accessible way, Sabulis says. Mat Pilates helps the practitioner establish a basic body awareness to which he can then add resistance on the reformer or other apparatus.

Whichever one you go to, do your research to make sure you sign up for an introductory session first. Typically, you can choose between one-on-one training or a group class (both can be done virtually or in person), depending on how much personal instruction you want.

You may hear unfamiliar slang

It may seem like you need to learn a new language when you’re in a practice class and the instructor throws out a bunch of words you’ve never heard before. In Pilates, there are some commonly used terms that may be new to you, which will generally be covered in an introduction. Sure, says Ungaro. (Another good reason not to jump right into an advanced class!)

Here are some terms you’re likely to hear:

The power station: This refers to the center of your body. You can think of it as a rectangle drawn shoulder to shoulder, side to side, Sabulis explains.

Pilates position: Ungaro describes this as a slightly turned position with heels together and toes apart.

The hundred: This is an exercise done in the boat position, depending on the level of the class you’re in, that engages your core and involves pumping your arms at 100 beats, says Jennifer McNeely, a certified Pilates instructor who is part of the Mindbody & ClassPass Wellness Council.

Instructions can be highly verbal

Depending on the class, Pilates instructors may not demonstrate the movements when giving instructions, Ungaro says. You have to listen very carefully and then translate the words into motion, he says. If you’re in a group class, don’t feel uncomfortable checking out what others are doing for guidance, he advises.

Pilates is not just training

Pilates incorporates a lot that can help you in your daily life: posture, balance, breathing, body awareness and alignment, says Ungaro. And you can walk away from your very first session noticing improvements in each of these areas, especially alignment.

You learn in your first session how to sit properly, says Ungaro. Rather than trying to get the hardest workout possible, focus on doing the movements with intention because Pilates is all about building a foundation that allows you to move comfortably in everything you do. The purpose of Pilates is to improve in life, it is to be able to climb a mountain. Pilates is about using all the things you use in class in your real life, he says.

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