What to expect from your first Pilates class?

by | Nov 10, 2021

So you are curious about Pilates and have been thinking to take a Pilates Beginners or Pilates Mixed Ability class for a while now? Or perhaps someone has recommended you try Pilates after recovered from injury or because they know you suffer from aches and pains? You probably have heard before about all the benefits of Pilates: increased flexibility, stronger core, better posture, etc. But what does actually happen on a Pilates class?

On the next paragraphs I will outline everything you need to know to make you feel confident and prepared when attending your first Pilates class.

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The first thing that will help you to become more familiar with Pilates are the Pilates principles. There are 6 so called Pilates principles on which Joseph Pilates based his Method: Breathing, Centering, Concentration, Control, Flow and Precision.
Here is a brief description of these principles, you will not need to remember all of them, it’s just to give you a glimpse of what you can expect when you practice Pilates:

Breathing: Joseph Pilates describes Breathing as ‘the first act of life and the last’ On a Pilates class we focus on lateral breathing, that is directing the breath as you inhale to the back and the sides of your lower ribs, and as you exhale the lower ribs return to its original position.

Centering: This is the level of recruitment of the core muscles that you will need to maintain in order to move from a stable centre. With the core muscles we not only refer to the muscles between the lower ribs and hips (mainly abdominals) but we also refer to the deep intrinsic muscles of the back. We use centering as a dimmer switch, sometimes you will need more sometimes less, depending on the requirements of the exercise.

Concentration: It’s basically to bring your full attention to each movement while you are doing any Pilates exercise. This principle sometimes reminds me of the level of attention required for Mindfulness meditation.

Control: The mind directs every movement that your bones and muscles perform. So Pilates not only entails physical training but also a mental training that is essential to the Pilates method.

Flow: All movement during an exercise and between exercises is perform with fluidity and grace. Although each exercise should be performed with control it should also be executed with ease of movement.

Precision or Alignment: It’s the position of every part of the body before you start an exercise and also when performing the exercise. With special focus on the position of the pelvis and the spine, alignment is what is going to allow you to create healthy movement patterns and reap the full benefits of an exercise.

Alignment, Breathing and Centering are very often called the Pilates Fundamentals and refer by Pilates’s teachers as the ABC’s. If you attend to my classes, you will hear a reference of the ABC’S on each exercise. Once you get familiar with the ABC’s you are in a good path to achieve great results with a regular Pilates practice.

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The other important aspect of a Pilates class is to know what neutral pelvis and neutral spine are in different positions. Knowing in your body what neutral is will ensure you are moving on a safe manner and with a correct technique that will prevent injury and other aches. On your first Pilates class or your first 1:1 Pilates session, your Pilates teacher should teach you this concept first.

In Pilates we tend to perform exercises standing, high kneeling, lying on our backs, side-lying, on a 4 point-kneeling and plank, although there are also lots of variations on these. Knowing how to find a neutral pelvis and spine on these positions is key. But do not worry, you will learn these when you attend regularly to your Pilates class.

For example, a neutral pelvis and neutral spine while you are lying on your back, is the correct position that will preserve the natural curves of the spine.
While lying on your back you should feel how the back of the pelvis or your sacrum is in contact with the mat, there should be a small gap under your lower back, and your lower ribs should feel in contact with the mat. This position should feel natural and not forced. If you are not sure if you can find neutral, ask your Pilates instructor.

A good Pilates teacher should be able to tell you if you are in neutral. If you aren’t, she or he should be able to guide you to find your neutral pelvis and spine whether is with verbal or ‘hands on’ corrections.

What actually happens in a Pilates class or 1:1 session?

As any exercise sessions there will be a warm-up section, a main section and a cool down. Depending on the Pilates teacher some of the exercises from the warm-up will prepare the body for the main section.

Generally, the most challenging Pilates exercises will be reserved for the main section. It’s very common that during the main section your Pilates teacher will introduce ‘classical exercises’ or exercises based on the ‘classical mat’. These exercises come from one of the books that Joseph Pilates wrote in 1945 ‘Return to Life through Contrology’ where he presented the 34 exercises that originated his method. These 34 exercises are traditionally known as the ‘classical mat’ by the Pilates world. Most of these exercises are really challenging in different ways at the same time and required a good control of your ABC’s.

One of the things you might want to know is that Pilates exercises have evolved during the years and being influenced by physiotherapists and movement teachers.

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On Pilates equipment needed for your first class: one of the things I wish I knew before my first Pilates class, is that it’s a heavily based mat workout which means, you are going to spend a lot of time on your mat in different positions but still lying on your mat. The first Pilates class I attended I had a very thin yoga mat, and I really struggled as I could feel every bone impacting on the floor. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you. So choose a specific Pilates mat ranging between 8 -14mm. It does not have to be an expensive one.
There will be probably other equipment you will use on a Pilates class, so it would be a good idea to check if your Pilates teacher will provide this for you or you need to do some shopping.

Some of the most common props used on a mat Pilates class or 1:1 sessions are:

o fitness or physio bands
o head pads
o Pilates overball or triadball
o Pilates blocks
o magic circle
o spikey balls or tennis balls
o hand weights or Pilates weights
o foam roller

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The other thing I will recommend is to relax and enjoy your first Pilates class. This is your time, your investment in yourself, and you should enjoy it without worrying too much. Nobody is perfect, including your Pilates instructor, in fact perfect is boring! The more you practice Pilates the more benefits you will get from it, increasing the connection between your body and your mind, and improving your overall sense of wellbeing.

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Last but not less important, if you are based in the UK check that your Pilates instructor has a Level 3 Matwork Pilates qualification which is the UK National Standard. This will ensure she/he has gone through a minimum hours of training required to achieve the relevant skills and knowledge to teach Pilates in a safe way. If you are based somewhere else, it is important to check what are the national standards of the country you live in.

Although Pilates is a safe low impact workout, you want to make sure before you choose a class that you are going to put your body in safe hands.

Sol Pilates teaches regular and online face to face Pilates classes in Amersham, Chesham and Little Chalfont (Buckinghamshire) to check Sol Pilates schedule click here