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The In’s and out’s of Pilates, what you need to know to get started

By Janice Barron


I LOVE Pilates, and came to Pilates through a horseback riding injury.  I was a jumper and a dressage rider, and dislocated my shoulder in a jumping accident.  I was extremely fit, and after my accident, 6 months of physical therapy 2-3 times a week was not providing me with the tools I needed to be able to get back to my riding level.

I had read about Pilates being a good exercise for riders, and I started with watching videos, and practicing some of the classes on my own.  I became so interested, that I started taking group classes.  I saw more progress in my strength and mobility in 2 months of Pilates, than the 6 months of Physical Therapy I had been doing.  I was able to start doing planks again, was able to ride without neck and arm pain, and was able to take NSAIDs only occasionally, as opposed to daily.

I eventually became a Pilates Instructor, and LOVE to share the benefits of Pilates with anyone who will listen!


If you have never tried Pilates, NOW is the best time to start!

You don’t have to be a high level athlete or a celebrity to reap the benefits of Pilates, you just need yourself, and a class with a great instructor to get started.


Who should be doing Pilates?

Anyone who wants to learn to move more freely and easily, anyone who wants to get better performance in their current sport, anyone who has had previous injuries and needs to follow specific guidelines for their injury, anyone who wants to feel stronger, leaner, more focused, and more balanced.

Pilates has benefits for all ages and all levels of physical fitness.


What is Pilates?

Pilates is a method of movement and exercise founded by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s.  Joseph created all of the exercises and equipment associated with his method, initially called “Contrology”, it encourages the use of the mind to control muscles, focusing attention on core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.

Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara worked in New York after emigrating to the United States, and worked extensively in the dance community, training dancers and helping to rehabilitate their injuries, focusing on flexibility, strength and stamina.  Eventually, Pilates became the mainstream exercise method that you see today, with the same focus on length, strength, posture and breathing as in the original format.  


There are two types of Pilates classes:  Mat and Reformer.  


What is the difference?

With MAT Pilates, you do a repertoire of exercises on an exercise mat.

–these are body weight exercises (you are your own resistance), and small pieces of equipment can be utilized (squishy balls, weighted balls, magic circle, etc) as props to enhance exercises.


Mat exercises focus on building up abdominal strength and control, breathing, using the correct muscles to perform the exercise, and learning to pay attention to what your body is doing.


Mat exercises can be done standing, lying down on the mat, or in various other positions based on the exercise.


Mat exercises have great names like: quadruped swimming, rolling like a ball, and teaser, just to name a few!


With REFORMER Pilates, you perform a repertoire of exercises on a piece of equipment called a Reformer.

–the Reformer is a piece of equipment that you lie, sit, or stand on, with springs for resistance, and straps for arm and leg work.


Reformer exercises focus on alignment, strength, balance, breathing, and abdominal strength and control.


Some Reformer exercises you may do:  Bend and Stretch, Arms pulling Straps, Elephant, and more.


So, how do you get started?

It doesn’t matter if you start with Mat or Reformer, but, if you want to get the best foundation before you start a group class, then you will want to invest in a package of Private lessons. 

6-8 Private lessons will give you the confidence to join a class if that is your goal.

Your first few lessons will be about learning the basic positions and terminology, and you will quickly progress to learning several different exercises, and how to breathe during the movements.  

You can opt to just stay with private lessons, if you like to have that individual attention, are focused on preparing for a specific event, or if your personality/learning style is best suited to individual instruction.

Otherwise, you should now have the foundation on which to build your Pilates journey in a group class.


If you already know that you like the group dynamic, are ready to just jump in and learn as you go, then sIgn up for a Beginner or All Levels class.  Make sure you let the instructor know that you are new to all of this, and they will happily guide you and give you a little extra attention to make sure that you are getting the most out of the class.

Don’t expect to understand everything at first – Pilates has a learning curve, but soon you will feel like you have always been part of the group!



How do you find a good instructor?

Ask around!  See if friends have recommendations.  Call the facility you are interested in and see if you can drop in to a class, or take a private lesson, and see how you feel about the instructor.  You can always look up instructors on professional sites, but a lot of instructors don’t put their names on those lists.



How much does Pilates cost?

Pilates private lessons are on the same cost level as regular Personal Training, so expect to pay anywhere from $45-$90 a lesson.  Lessons are typically 25 minutes or 50 minutes long, and the price reflects the time interval (more for 50 minute sessions).


–you can typically bring that cost down if you share lessons with a friend (both training at the same time), or if you join a Small Group


–if you are going to a Pilates Studio, Reformer classes are typically $20 – $30 each


–if you are a member of a gym with Reformer classes, you will typically pay a monthly fee or a per class fee for those classes on top of your membership dues. Usually anywhere from $15-$35 a class, depending on how many you purchase at a time


–Mat classes are usually a little less if you are going to a Pilates Studio, and are sometimes included with other free classes in a gym membership (like Yoga, Cycling, etc)


So don’t wait any longer to try Pilates!  Commit to some private lessons or a group class, and start feeling stronger, longer, and more connected in your body- and meet some great people with amazing stories of their Pilates journey along the way.


See you in class – Janice

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