New to Pilates? Here’s everything you need to know before trying this full-body strengthening workout
Nervous about signing up for your first Pilates class? It’s really not as scary as you think. In fact, the whole program was designed back in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, a physical trainer who developed the low-impact exercise to strengthen muscles and improve postural alignment and flexibility.
But what is Pilates?
Pilates moves tend to target the core, although the exercises work other areas of your body as well — they also help to support the joints, spine and pelvis. So, anyone who suffers with back pain, Pilates is an excellent way to improve your back strength. Pilates can make a big difference by focusing on just a few selected movements and working often, a little at a time.
But it’s not just designed for those who suffer with pain or long-term injuries (although it really is great for post-injury rehabilitation), Pilates can be tailored to all fitness levels, ages, as well as pregnant and post-natal women. It’s low impact and joint-friendly, and if you want to up the ante, it can even be made into a decent cardio session to burn a few extra calories.
Keen to get started? We spoke to fitness guru and personal trainer Jess Neill, from JN Fit, to find out everything you need to know. Get ready to roll out your mat and strike a Pilates pose…
Is Pilates similar to yoga?It’s a common misconception that Pilates is similar to yoga; and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga is a practice based on spirituality; designed to connect the mind, body and spirit through movement and breathing which dates back to ancient India. Pilates was designed as a specific physical system of movements by an anatomist in the early 20th Century, to help prevent injuries and rehabilitate people with injuries.
Do I need to be fit to start?No! The beauty of Pilates is that absolutely anyone can do it. A good instructor will be able to structure a class so that there are movement levels even the most beginner person can perform (or will make it clear before you sign up if the class is for advanced levels).
For anyone with knee or back issues, the gentle and low impact nature of Pilates means that most movements will feel manageable (and could even help reduce symptoms). It can be a challenging workout even for advanced athletes. In fact, many athletic facilities have their athletes engage in Pilates for joint health nowadays, and most physiotherapists use Pilates movements to help their patients recover from surgeries and accidents.
Reformer vs. MatThe two most common forms of Pilates are mat and reformer. Both classes essentially follow the same structure and types of movements, but a reformer class includes a machine that provides various levels of resistance to the movements, whereas mat, you have to provide the resistance yourself.
Where to startEven if you have a decent level of fitness to start with, I suggest starting with at least a few level 1 mat classes (I have one on my website for free). These classes use nothing but bodyweight to perform the movements. They’re gentle, slow and more descriptive than other classes. It’s important to take the time to learn the fundamentals, breathing, bracing and pelvic floor activation before jumping in to a more challenging class. The whole point of Pilates is to coordinate the muscles of your core, diaphragm and pelvic floor to work in harmony with the rest of your body as it moves, and in my experience, even the strongest people need more practice of these things.
What to expect in a classMost Pilates classes run through series of exercises that focus on one muscle group at a time. These begin at a basic level, working through the breathing techniques and core work, and then slowly morph into harder versions of the same kind. This is great because it means everyone can work up to the level that feels safe for them, and eventually will feel themselves progressing to the harder movements. You can expect to see significant strength changes in just weeks with consistent practice!
Now you're a Pilates pro, you can book into your first Pilates exercise class. Or if you're still feeling a bit nervous, try our at-home workouts to ease yourself into it. We've also got some great back pain and bodyweight workouts for you to try too. Enjoy!