The Ultimate Guide to A Pilates Workout

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If you find yourself thinking about how your current fitness regime is starting to get a little bit boring, trying out a new style can be the perfect addition of freshness to help get you back on track again. Taking a Pilates class might just be the thing you need! 

Due to its versatile nature, you can do a Pilates workout in both a gym or a studio (now that most are operational again) or even at home! Regardless of the way you attend a class, doing Pilates is often considered to be a game-changer for your regular workout routine - regardless of what your fitness background is. 

Gabriela Estrade, a certified Pilates instructor and personal trainer from New Jersey talks about how Pilates meets everybody’s needs in order to help improve their movement in a graceful way while challenging the practitioner such that many different variations of the same exercises keep the routine fresh. 

What is Pilates, anyway?

A form of low-impact exercise, Pilates aims to strengthen muscles while simultaneously improving the alignment of our posture as well as flexibility. A Pilates instructor, Sonja Herbert, says that a typical workout can last anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. 

Pilates can be done with or without the help of equipment, but expect slow, precise movements that require you to pay attention to your breathwork. Although the moves in Pilates primarily target your core, they also work other areas of your body - such as the entire trunk, including the abdominals, the hips, the inner and outer thighs, as well as the back. Some instructors even incorporate movements that specifically engage other areas of your body like your arms, lower legs and glutes. Ultimately, you can expect a full-body workout if you opt for Pilates.

What are the benefits of Pilates?

Being a full-body exercise, Pilates ultimately helps you do everything better. It stabilizes and strengthens the core of your body - which is your foundation - so that you move efficiently and improve your flexibility, mobility and posture. 

In 2018, a small study conducted on 90 people was published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. It found that participants who did a Pilates workout for at least an hour, thrice a week, for eight weeks were able to significantly improve their scores on a functional movement screen. This screen is known to measure things like balance, stability as well as mobility. Their scores were better than those who did yoga instead, or, for instance, did not partake in any form of physical exercise at all.

Additionally, your muscles are benefited in terms of increased endurance. Pilates reportedly is known to significantly increase hamstring flexibility, as well as abdominal and upper-body muscular endurance.

Like all other forms of exercise, Pilates has been found to have a beneficial effect on mental health. Studies reveal that those who practice Pilates report a reduction in symptoms of depression, fatigue and anxiety, and an increase in energy. More than anything else, Pilates is all about the mind-body connection.

Things to keep in mind for your first Pilates class

1. Pilates can require equipment, but it doesn’t need to.

You can partake in two types of Pilate workouts - either mat Pilates or reformer Pilates. 

Mat Pilates involve using a mat that is slightly thicker than a standard yoga mat to help cushion the pressure points. Reformer Pilates uses the help of a machine known as the reformer - which consists of a sliding platform, a stationary foot bar, and some springs and pulleys that provide resistance. 

However, both options help you focus on the concept of control - rather than making you complete an extreme amount of reps or achieving muscle exhaustion. Pilates help the right muscle groups strengthen as they work to lift against gravity or the resistance of bands and springs.

A few other pieces of Pilates equipment you may want to be aware of include:

  • The Wunda - a low chair with springs and padding
  • The Cadillac - which is like a little bed with a canopy frame
  • The Magic Circle - a ring used between your legs to create resistance
  • The Spine Corrector
  • The High Chair

You probably will not encounter most of these pieces of equipment in a beginner Pilates mat class, and once you’re in an advanced batch, it helps to let your instructor know which ones you’re comfortable with. That way, they will keep an eye on you throughout the class and help you make adjustments to your form as needed.

2. Many beginner classes will feature the same group of exercises in each class.

There is a set of established Pilates moves that frequent beginner classes, including :

  • The Hundred
  • The Roll-Up 
  • Leg circles 
  • Rolling Like a Ball
  • Series of 5

As you progress and familiarise yourself with the moves, your classes will build on them, offering progressions that continue challenging your muscles. 

3. You can get a good Pilates introduction at home, virtually.

If you find yourself being more at ease trying out a new exercise from the comfort of your home instead of having to do it in a public class, there are several options available for you online to help get you started with the workout virtually. You can either look up how-tos/tutorials on YouTube or download applications offered by studios that offer live classes. The benefit that comes with the second option is that there will probably be an instructor who will help guide you through the process and offer corrections for your posture.

4. You'll feel your muscles burn during class, and you might be sore the next day.

While Pilates workouts may not involve high-intensity exercises such as squat jumps, planks, or lifting heavy weights, the classes that offer routines that mainly require you to utilize your own body weight can potentially get quite intense. 

For example, the Pilates Hundred is a core-focused move. It involves less than two inches of constant movement that literally makes your abs burn. A well-read instructor will know to provide you feedback and modifications such that you are able to perform all the movements in the most efficient way possible using your best form. It helps to introduce yourself as a beginner (if so) before your class is scheduled to start.

Having to dedicate your entire focus to even the tiniest of movements entails that you will work all the muscles that the exercise is intended for. It also means that you might be needing to deal with a case of delayed-onset muscle soreness (also known as DOMS) after your workout. It helps to know that the soreness from Pilates is slightly different from the burn you get from doing the pulsing movements in a barre class, or when you throw a kettlebell. It’s more of a subtle soreness, where you find slight pain in muscles you didn’t know existed. 

For example, most workouts aren’t able to correctly target your inner thigh muscles, but Pilates workouts often isolate them, so you can expect some soreness there. But if you aren’t feeling any, don’t worry. It is not something you should chase, as it is definitely not the marker of a successful workout. 

5. There’s some lingo involved.

All kinds of workouts - from barre, strength and conditioning, aerobics to CrossFit - have their own sets of terminology. Obviously, Pilates is not excluded from the list. 

Know that the powerhouse refers to the centre of your body, which is where all the power required to execute the movements is generated. Peeling through your spine refers to the slow movement that you can feel between each vertebra. Some instructional phrases that you are also quite likely to hear include cradling your head in your hands - which allows your cervical spine to get support in your arms. Tucking your chin towards your chest helps initiate all your deep abdominal muscles, thereby relieving your head and neck of any pressure. Lastly, sliding your shoulder blades down is an instruction meant to help lengthen your lower back through the opening up of your shoulder blades. 

6. The right clothes can make you more comfortable.

If you have always preferred wearing baggy, loose-fitting workout wear, try and switch it out for some relatively more body-hugging alternatives for when you do your Pilates workouts. The main reason for this is that no loose piece of clothing should get snagged on the equipment, which can be highly dangerous. Additionally, form-fitting clothes help your instructor observe and correct your form. Try wearing leggings instead of shorts, as the latter has a tendency to ride up during moves such as when you lie down and move your legs above you. 

Coming to footwear, you can opt to either be barefoot or wear socks for your workout session. Usually, studios have their own preferred protocol, so find out about that by either making a call or looking it up on their website and make sure to adhere to it.

7. Pilates should be a part of a well-rounded workout routine.

Despite the fact that your studio or mobile application is offering you unlimited classes for the first week, don’t try and attend all 7 days. Your body needs that one day or two to help your muscles recover from the stress and fatigue that the Pilates movements exert on them. 

Additionally, resist the urge to make Pilates the only exercise you practice - however much in love you are with it. Indulge in some cross-training basics (such as taking the time to run, or weight train) in addition to your Pilates workout. 

If you are someone who runs marathons, stretches and lengthening from Pilates is best to help with the break-day recovery and also towards injury prevention. For the same reasons, it also becomes the perfect companion to free-weight training. You can add pilates exercises to the warmups in order to prep your muscles for what’s to come in the strength sessions, and also include them as finishers to properly burn out the muscles afterwards.

8. It’s important to guard against injury, especially when you’re just getting started.

Usually, some extent of soreness isn’t serious, so it shouldn’t be something that you need to worry about. But, overdoing it especially if you are new to the Pilates workout in general can quite possibly put a large amount of stress on your muscles, making them prone to injury if you don’t give them time to recover before your next session. 

Strain that causes sharp pain in your lower back and radiates down to your butt and thighs is a common injury caused by incorrect form during a Pilates workout. You may also feel pain and reduced mobility in your shoulder joints, which is a result of repetitive movement. Regardless of the injury, if you feel pain or hampered mobility that persists for a few days, consider going to see a doctor or physical therapist.

While it is impossible to completely prevent injury in any type of exercise, there are several ways you can stay on the safer side. For example, instead of going ahead with an advanced class, start with a beginner class that will help you acquaint yourself with the basic Pilates movements. Additionally, moving slowly and focussing on the mind-body connection will help you gain insights regarding your own body. Lastly, you can try taking a private lesson - especially if it is your first time using the reformer machine - so that you can feel comfortable and confident. Also, don’t forget, like any kind of exercise, a good round of warm-ups helps everything move in the right direction.


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