Pilates is a fun, amazing workout for people of all ages, genders, and levels of physical fitness. But it can also be intimidating to try Pilates when all you know about it are the fitness models you see on Instagram.
Make no mistake – Pilates is for every body. Whether you’re new to exercise or an athlete looking to take your game to the next level, Pilates will always challenge you in the best way.
So if you’re curious about Pilates, or ready to dip your toes into your first studio class, here’s everything you need to know about Pilates before you start!
What is Pilates?
Pilates is more than 100 years old. It’s a mind-body exercise that focuses on improving muscle tone, flexibility, and strength while also improving injury prevention and recovery.
Pilates uses precise moves and specific breathing exercises to bring awareness to the body and help people develop better control of their bodies.
In general, most Pilates exercise programs are built around developing muscles evenly, strengthening the core muscles, and improving alignment in the body for more effective and efficient movements.
But why does this even matter?
Your muscles, joints, and bones don’t exist in isolation. The body is a system of interconnected parts that work together to help us navigate through the world. When one part of the body is underdeveloped, other parts tend to overcompensate, which can lead to increased risk of injury, chronic pain, and underperformance in sports. This can often manifest in chronic back pain or knee pain.
Pilates is a type of low-impact strength training, which means that it strengthens the muscles without taxing your joints, which is critical for injury recovery and prevention. Over time, Pilates builds a strong foundation for the workouts, sports, adventures, and everyday activities that bring us joy.
With a strong mental component, Pilates also helps build emotional resilience, reduce anxiety, and develop a greater sense of self-confidence.
A Very Brief History of Pilates
Today, Pilates tends to be an exercise overwhelmingly associated with women (specifically, ballet dancers), but there’s nothing “dainty” about it.
Joseph Pilates created Contrology – what would eventually become Pilates – during World War I. And at the time, he wasn’t thinking of ballet dancers at all.
Joseph Pilates was a boxer and self defense trainer before the war. While working in a hospital during the war he helped patients who were going through significant injury recovery. He rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance. It was this innovation that led to his later equipment designs, and eventually to Pilates as we know it today.
But where does the dancer stereotype come in?
Well, when Pilates’ first studio opened, it shared an address with the New York City Ballet. Dancers saw the potential of the practice, and it eventually evolved to support injury recovery and strength building for many of the dancers. From this early development, Pilates grew as a stereotypically female exercise.
But come to an RTR studio today and we’ll show you – there’s nothing easy or “feminine” about Pilates classes. Today, athletes from Tom Brady to Cristiano Ronaldo use Pilates as a cross-training exercise for their fitness routine.
Bottom line: Pilates is a whole-body workout that improves strength, mobility, and core control. These are all amazing things that lead to a healthier you, regardless of age or gender.
Mat Pilates versus Reformer Pilates
The two largest schools of Pilates programs are mat Pilates and reformer Pilates.
Mat Pilates is a type of requirement that requires zero equipment, aside from the mat. It relies on body weight to create low-intensity strength training. In general, mat Pilates is much easier to do from home, especially if you’re a bit intimidated to come to a studio (but if you are intimidated, we promise we don’t bite!).
Reformer Pilates uses a reformer machine that has several types of springs and straps to create a wide range of potential movements with different types of resistance to target specific muscles and prevent any type of fitness plateau. Because the reformer can change weights and resistance levels, the exercise stays challenging no matter your fitness level, which makes it a sustainable option for anyone looking for a long-term workout.
Both mat and reformer Pilates are great options! We’re a little biased towards reformer Pilates (obviously), in part because the reformer creates so many fun exercises and ways to vary a class, so people never get bored in their workout routine.
Classical versus Contemporary Pilates
If you are looking at different Pilates studios, you might also want to consider the type of Pilates class you’re looking for. Most studios practice either “classical” or “modern” Pilates.
Classical Pilates is the practice of the original system created by Joseph Pilates. It generally consists of a specific flow of exercises. It has a very organized and structured flow that generally stays the same from class to class.
Contemporary or Modern Pilates is a kind of fusion between Joseph Pilates’ original exercises, and moves influenced by all of the physical therapies and research on the body that’s developed in the last few decades. It includes a variation of exercise that allows instructors a greater degree of creativity, and every class is a little different.
At RTR Pilates, we practice Contemporary Pilates. We love the original moves, and use the foundations of Pilates to create an efficient, whole-body workout engineered for maximum impact (and we like to switch things up!).
What to Know About Pilates Before Your First Class
With everything in life, from your first time cooking a new recipe to your first date to your first Pilates class, it’s going to be a little awkward at first, and that’s okay! In your first Pilates class, you’ll be moving your body in different ways, and working parts of your body that you are not used to feeling.
Here are a few things that can help you prepare for your first reformer class, so you can come ready to rock the reformer!
1. Tight, high-waisted clothing is best.
Of course, you should always wear what makes you feel comfortable. In Pilates classes, we’re moving our bodies on the reformer through planks, bridges, squats, and all sorts of activities. Tight clothing will help you focus on your moves, and less on pulling up your pants or pulling down your shirt.
2. Grip socks help to prevent slipping.
Grip socks are mandatory! If you have time, pick up a pair before your first class, or you can purchase a pair at the studio. Grip socks help prevent your feet from slipping on the straps, moving carriage, and foot plate. We stock Pilates equipment and outfits, including grip socks, in the retail sections of each studio location.
3. A heavier spring doesn’t necessarily mean that the exercise will be harder.
There are a number of springs on a reformer machine that help determine resistance for specific exercises. In some circumstances, a lighter spring load can actually be more difficult, because it requires your core to compensate for balance. Your instructor can help you adjust your spring levels throughout class to best help you meet your needs.
4. Your body will be sore
Pilates may not have explosive movement like soccer or deadlifts, but you are working so many muscle groups in every reformer class! In most cases, some of your muscles will be underdeveloped when you first come into class. So you may end up shaking, sweaty, and feeling the burn in weird places (who knew your inner thighs could get so sore!).
And if you don’t walk away from your first month of Pilates classes sore, you may be moving through movements too quickly, using incorrect form, or using the wrong spring load. When in doubt, always talk to your instructor if you have any questions!
Learn more about common Pilates mistakes here.
5. It should be fun!
We love Pilates, and we hope you do, too. It can always be intimidating to show up at a new studio and work out in a room full of strangers. Here at RTR, we focus on building a supporting community. We hope you find the joy, strength, and empowerment that comes from Pilates classes, however you build your practice!
Sign up for your first class at RTR Pilates
We’re here to guide you no matter where you are in your Pilates journey. We offer more than 300 classes/week, varying from 6:15am – 7:15pm, across our 5 DMV locations. Start today and get your first month of unlimited classes for just $129!