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How To Prepare For Your First Pilates Class

While celebrities may have brought Pilates into the limelight, Joseph Pilates' low-impact workout method is for everyone, including beginners.

Yet as a beginner, the thought of taking your first class can be super intimidating. You may worry that you'll look stupid, won't be as bendy as the other practitioners, or struggle to perform even the most basic moves.

It also doesn't help that Pilates studios are usually full of daunting-looking apparatus. In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a place of torture rather than tone-up (I know I did). However, pilates studios are incredibly welcoming and inclusive. Upon stepping into the studio, you'll likely be welcomed by a friendly receptionist or knowledgeable teacher who will happily answer all your burning questions.

Still, to ease those pre-class nerves, we've created this handy guide for preparing for your first Pilates session. Grab those grip socks and go!

What To Bring To Your Pilates Class

Most studios supply everything you need for Pilates class, including mats. Pilates mats are thicker than yoga mats since Pilates involves lots of lying and rolling on the sensitive spine and joints. Extra thickness, therefore, provides additional cushioning and support.

Here's what we recommend bringing to you first pilates class:

  • Water bottle
  • Small towel
  • Pilates mat, if you prefer to use your own.
  • Pilates socks - as some studios won't allow students to class without grip socks.

What To Wear For Your Pilates Class

Comfort is crucial for a Pilates outfit. We’ve written a dedicated guide on what to wear for Pilates, but here’s a roundup:

  • Form-fitting workout top
  • Comfortable sports bra (opt for low to medium support)
  • Stretchy yet secure leggings or shorts
  • Hair tie
  • Pilates socks

No strict rules apply to what to wear, but there are a few things you should avoid. For example, overly loose or flowy clothes risk dangerously catching on the apparatus. Zips or jewellery can also damage equipment.

In short, your outfit should allow restriction-free, comfortable movement, enabling you to flow effortlessly through your workout.

Which One To Choose As A Beginner: Mat Or Reformer Class?

Pilates classes fall into two camps. Matwork classes are floor-based and generally equipment free (except the odd Pilates ball or Magic Circle). Equipment classes occur on body-friendly Pilates apparatus, including the Reformer, Cadillac, and Wunda Chair. Both class types are entirely suitable for beginners; which one you choose depends on personal preference.

  • Matwork classes are more widely available and generally lower in price. With less equipment, beginners focus solely on mastering the basic moves.
  • Reformer classes are an excellent option for those conscious of existing or past injuries, as equipment offers additional support and stabilisation using the resistance of springs.

The principles of all Pilates classes, whether matwork or Reformer, are the same. If you're unsure which to choose, contact the studio to see if they offer taster sessions for both types. Some studios even offer new clients to attend an initial assessment session before joining classes.

What Exercises To Expect

Pilates offers (literally) top-to-toe, full-body workouts. (Yep, there’s a Pilates toe-strengthening device aptly named the Toe Corrector). Here are a few of the most common moves you’ll likely encounter in your first class:

Reformer Classes: Footwork

Footwork is the foundation of equipment classes. You’ll move against spring resistance whilst lying on the reformer bed as your teacher gives clear prompts to help realign and stabilise your spine and the rest of your body. This is done by changing the placement of your feet on the foot bar, so grip socks are a must-have to stay stable during footwork.

Every class: The Hundred

Matwork Classes: Single Leg Stretch

The Single Leg Stretch is a standard core-strengthening move in any matwork class. It involves lying on your back, lifting one leg, and pulling it towards your chest while extending the other leg simultaneously. It intensely targets abdominals whilst improving flexibility, balance, and stability.

Note: It’s worth looking up ‘Classical Pilates’ on Youtube to see more moves before you start. The order of Pilates exercises may vary in sessions according to individual teachers, but they all use classical movements (or their modifications). Classical sessions demonstrate Pilates perfectly and give a great idea of what to expect.

Pilates Lingo To Be Aware Of

Not understanding what the instructor says is one of the most overwhelming things about attending your first Pilates class. No, they are not speaking a different language but simply using terms you’ve likely never heard before.

To avoid mid-flow panic, here is some common Pilates vocabulary you should know before your first class.

  • Neutral spine - You will probably hear your Pilates instructor say this more than once. When they tell you to ‘find a neutral spine’ while lying on your back, they are referring to a position where all three curves of the spine are in alignment. This position creates minimal stress on the spine and creates stability and strength.
  • Abduction & Adduction - Abduction refers to movement away from the centre, such as reaching your arms to the side. Adduction is moving towards your centre, such as bringing your arms by your sides. You might hear these terms in hip exercises; in this case, it refers to moving your legs away or closer to your body.
  • Parallel Stance - This is a neutral standing position where all joints stack on top of each other. If you’re familiar with yoga, this is Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
  • Powerhouse - This is the area from the lower ribs to the pubic bone, which acts as a stabilising centre of the body and houses the spine-stabilising muscles.
  • The 4 S’s - These are Strength, Stamina, Stretch and Stability, four key components that every Pilates move incorporates.
  • The 6 Pilates principles - These are Breath, Concentration, Control, Precision, Center & Flow.

Will I Feel Sore After My Pilates Class?

Like any new exercise, it is common to feel muscle soreness a day or two after your first few Pilates classes. While this may feel discouraging, know that this is entirely normal and is because you are working muscles you don’t usually work or using them in a different way from usual.

In fact, feeling sore the day after a Pilates class is a good thing, as it shows you worked hard and your muscles are becoming stronger. In order to get stronger, our muscles need to repair and recover, which is what happens with muscle soreness, officially called Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

Still, there are some ways you can reduce muscle soreness after Pilates. These include getting a massage, foam rolling (a self-massage technique) or applying hot or cold compresses onto the sore muscles.

Pilates Etiquette - Do’s & Don'ts

DO have fun. Don’t expect to know it all immediately. Pilates takes months or even years to master, but it is so worth the work. Enjoy the ride!

DO mention injuries. Offer any relevant details so your teacher can conduct your class safely. It’s surprising how many beginners omit essential information, such as back pain, on their intake forms.

DO ask questions. Questions help you learn! Just choose the right time to ask. If a class is mid-flow, it might be wise to wait until the end of the session.

DO clean down equipment after use. Your teacher will explain how to clean the apparatus for the next class.

DON’T be a no-show. Studios often have waiting lists and can lose money if people don’t show up for class. Of course, cancellations happen, but let your studio know if you can’t attend.

DON’T force your body into an exercise. If you feel ANY pain, skip a move and tell your teacher.

DON’T forget socks. Pilates socks are essential for stability, safety, and hygiene, particularly in Reformer classes. Remember those grip socks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Pilates suitable for beginners?

Yes. Pilates is for everyone! Teachers can modify Pilates exercise programs around many factors, such as age, pregnancy, ability, or injury. Many studios also run classes specifically for beginners, which can be less intimidating than joining all-level sessions.

What do you wear to Pilates?

Comfortable workout gear and high-quality grip socks. The ideal Pilates outfit is form-fitting yet functional. Uncomfortably tight clothes hinder movement. Baggy clothing presents a snag risk and stops teachers from seeing your outline, meaning it’s harder to spot your form and offer modifications.

What should you do after a Pilates class?

Although Pilates is low-impact, it’s challenging. A high-protein snack and plenty of water are recommended within 30 minutes after class. Also, try to retain the excellent posture you’ve just worked on - there’s no use immediately heading home to slump over a desk!

How often should you practise Pilates?

2-3 times a week is ideal for beginner pilates practitioners. If you're on a budget, many teachers will happily provide recommendations for home practice alongside your in-studio sessions; You may eventually wish to build it up to the 'ideal' four sessions a week. If you do - stock up on Pilates socks!

Final Thoughts

Like all new things, getting started with Pilates can feel intimidating and scary. But remember that even the most seasoned teacher was once a beginner! Following the steps in this guide will help you familiarise yourself with Pilates and its principles beforehand. Thanks to this preparation, you’ll be fully set to step into the studio to start working on that core of steel!

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