A Beginner's Guide to Pilates

Get Answers to the Most Commonly Asked Questions

Contrary to popular belief, sushi does not mean “raw fish,” bats are not blind and lightning can strike the same place twice – in fact, it hits the Empire State Building about 100 times per year.

The world is filled with misconceptions and myths about history, science, animals – you name it.  And Pilates is no exception.  Some believe Pilates is just for women or that only the fit and flexible can try it.  Others assume Pilates is just like yoga or that it requires special equipment.

Let’s dispel some of these myths. 

First of all, Pilates was created by a man – Joseph Pilates – and many men, including professional athletes, practice this form of exercise to maintain core strength, flexibility and function. 

Second, while Pilates and yoga both promote a strong mind-body connection and focus on increasing strength and flexibility, they use different exercises and different approaches when it comes to breathing and movement.

Finally, Pilates isn’t exclusive to super-fit millennials – it’s for everyone!  No matter what age, gender or fitness level you are, you can adapt Pilates to meet your fitness goals.

To find out the real scoop about this workout method, here are more of the basics.

What is Pilates? 

Joseph Pilates, a German physical trainer, developed his system of exercise – originally called “Contrology” -- in the early 20th century.  While it started as more of a niche conditioning routine for dancers, Pilates has evolved into the mainstream as a form of physical conditioning for clients of all ages and fitness levels.

A gentle, low-impact workout, Pilates strengthens your core -- your deep abdominal, back and pelvic floor muscles – and balances your musculature by targeting major and minor muscle groups.  Unlike traditional weight-bearing workouts that build bulky muscles, Pilates combines strengthening with concentric (shortening while loaded) and eccentric (elongating while loaded) muscle activation to help you build long, lean muscles. 

It’s all about mindful movement.  Pilates helps you become more aware of how your body moves by focusing on proper breathing, spinal and pelvic alignment, and smooth, flowing movements.

You can perform Pilates on an exercise mat, where you use your own body weight to create resistance, or on equipment, such as the Reformer, where pulleys and springs create the resistance.  Because it’s flexible, instructors can modify exercises to meet a wide range of levels – from beginner to advanced. 

 What are the benefits of doing Pilates?

1. Gain Balanced Strength – Pilates exercises target your core, and a strong core supports your frame, gives you better posture and helps you move more efficiently while decompressing your spine.  Because Pilates exercises target muscle groups evenly, you don’t overwork one group and neglect another.  This improves movement efficiency and reduces the chance of injury or chronic back pain.

2. Improve Flexibility & Mobility – Pilates exercises strengthen and lengthen muscles simultaneously, improving flexibility and increasing the range of motion for your joints.  The combination of lengthening and strengthening helps you maintain alignment and prevent injury.

3. Boost Sports Performance – More and more athletes – both amateur and pro – use Pilates to help them run faster, jump higher and improve the precision of their movements.  The combination of a strong core; strong, lean muscles; and a balanced musculature work together to increase your agility, power and range of motion; prevent injury; and boost performance.

4. Prevent Injury/Recover from Injury – The way we sit, walk and run can often overwork some muscle groups while weakening others, leading to joint pain, lower back pain, shoulder and neck tightness, and more.  Pilates is designed to address these issues by focusing on pelvic and spinal alignment, and building a balanced musculature.  And since exercises can be modified to offer a more gentle, low-impact workout, Pilates can be very helpful to pain sufferers and those who are working through physical therapy programs.    

5. Focus Your Mind – Since Pilates focuses on proper breathing, spinal and pelvic alignment, and flowing movements, you focus your mind on how your body moves.  Keen body awareness helps you learn to better control your body’s movements, awakening your mind and reducing stress.

Find more detail about the benefits of Pilates in Five Ways Pilates Can Make a Difference for You in 2017.

What’s the difference between doing Pilates on a mat versus equipment?

Classical mat repertoire encompasses about 50 different exercises.  You use your own body weight for resistance, firing core muscles to hold positions.  In general, mat classes cost less than equipment classes, accommodate small- to medium-size groups, and with proper form, can be done anywhere.

Equipment classes make use of hundreds of exercises.  The Reformer, which resembles a small bed frame, uses a system of pulleys and springs to create resistance and provide support.  Equipment classes are more expensive and accommodate a smaller class size than mat workouts.  Since classes are smaller, you tend to get more individualized instruction.  To start, they generally require a few private sessions to learn equipment use and safety.  Other Pilates equipment includes the Chair, Cadillac, Tower and CoreAlign systems.

When will I start to see results from my Pilates workouts?

It depends on your goals.  Do you want to relieve back pain, improve your tennis game or participate in a triathlon?  Those are very different goals that require different levels of commitment. 

Joseph Pilates once said, In 10 sessions you'll feel the difference, in 20 you'll see the difference and in 30 you'll have a new body.”

So much depends on your budget and availability.  As a general rule, however, you should practice Pilates one to three times per week to build strength, improve flexibility and learn to maintain proper form. 

Can I do Pilates at home?

Absolutely.  Once you learn proper form and alignment by attending classes taught by an experienced, certified instructor, you can perform a wide variety of mat exercises at home.  Good at-home workouts can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and should target a variety of muscle groups, including the core, arms, legs, shoulders and back muscles.  In fact, a balanced, full-body workout incorporates exercises involving all spine positions.  At-home workouts also can incorporate props to help create resistance, including bands, light weights and exercise circles.

And, while you’re enjoying your at-home workout, you can rest assured that contrary to popular belief, you can’t catch warts by holding a toad, and the gene for red hair is NOT, in fact, going extinct.