Pilates Practice

Tone your core and build stability...Screen shot 2011-06-03 at 6.26.20 PM

Pilates is a form of exercise, which emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness in order to support efficient, graceful movement. This exercise method corrects postural alignment and facilitates fluidity of movement, thereby enhancing grace and coordination. One of the best things about the Pilates method is that it is effective for a wide range of people. Athletes and dancers love it, as do seniors, women rebounding from pregnancy, and people at various stages of physical rehabilitation.


Screen shot 2011-06-03 at 6.25.29 PMYou can expect: to become stronger, longer, leaner, and more able to do anything with grace and ease.

Level of Effort: Moderate to Difficult

Time Involved: 30+ minutes per session


Getting Started:

  1. Understand the basics of Pilates
  2. Explore Pilates formats and choose one that works for you
  3. Determine your workout schedule
  4. Be sure to warm up and cool down with each workout
  5. Write in your activity journal


What to Consider:



1. Understand the basics of Pilates

Pilates exercises are done as body and mind events and are based around six basic principles: centering, control, flow, breath, precision, and concentration. The principles are applied to all Pilates exercises to help bring your full attention to each movement. This attention to movement accelerates the effectiveness and enables the body to learn more from each exercise than it would if the exercise were done mindlessly. Pilates emphasizes quality over quantity, and as a result exercises do not include a lot of repetitions but focus on doing each exercise fully, with precision, which is thought to yield significant results in a shorter time.

Pilates is similar to Yoga in many of the basic ideas; for instance, breath is very important for optimizing workout results in both disciplines. However, while breathing is central in both disciplines, in yoga, both breathing in and breathing out are done through the nose but in Pilates, one should breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Additionally, while concentration and control are important in both disciplines; precision is more important in Pilates than in yoga. Pilates does not demand poses like yoga does (yoga poses can sometimes be unattainable, and therefore the yoga practitioner has to accept the version of the posture that he or she can comfortably do). With Pilates the best results are received from exercising extreme precision and control over one's movements not the difficulty of a pose completed.


Core Strength

Core strength and torso stability are the foundation of Pilates exercise. Pilates puts an emphasis on the importance of core strength because your midsection (abs, back and sides) is where your body needs the most support. The core muscles are the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back. When the core muscles are strong and doing their job, as they are trained to do in Pilates, they work in tandem with the more superficial muscles of the trunk to support the spine and movement. As you develop your core strength you develop stability throughout your entire torso. This is one of the reasons Pilates helps people overcome back pain. As the trunk is properly stabilized, pressure on the back is relieved and the body is able to move freely and efficiently.


Method & Equipment

Pilates exercises can be done on the floor (using a mat) or on equipment developed specifically for Pilates. Since the equipment is unique you need to go to a studio in order to access it. This workout equipment generally utilizes pulleys, body weight resistance and graduated levels of springs. The reformer is probably the best-known piece of resistance equipment that you will encounter at a Pilates studio.  However, the great thing about Pilates is that you don't need a bunch of expensive, and space-consuming, equipment to get a good workout. A few accessories, like foam bricks and a stability ball can enhance your Pilates practice, but they are not necessary.

  • Pilates exercises done on the floor are known as "Mat Work" - Mat work is a great place to begin. All of the fundamental movements and principles are incorporated in the mat exercises. The mat exercises are adaptable to any fitness level, and it is nice to focus on learning the basics correctly without having to get friendly with new exercise equipment at the same time. The mat exercises will help you quickly gain a lot of strength and confidence in the Pilates method.
  • Exercise equipment in a Pilates studio - Despite unusual names like the Reformer, Cadillac and Wunda chair, all the springs, bars, straps, and pulleys come together as a very refined, body-friendly group of exercise equipment.


Movements & Exercises

Pilates really is a beginner friendly fitness system. Indeed, the adaptability of Pilate's exercises for different body types and fitness levels is one of its primary benefits. Virtually all Pilate's exercises can be modified to meet differing needs. A good instructor, in person or on video, can give you ideas for making modifications to the exercises taught. There are a few basics related to how you use your abdominal muscles, how to position the pelvis and spine, and how to increase your range of motion that are used repeatedly in Pilates exercises. If you understand what you are going for with these moves, you will have a solid foundation for getting maximum benefit from your workout.

The philosophy of Pilates is to concentrate and center one's physical practice around the 'core' of the body. The core is a focus because this is the region of the body where all muscle groups come together -- it's the coordinator of the physical body just like the brain is the coordinator of the mental being. While precision and control are pinnacle to Pilates exercises they should not interfere with the flow from one position to another. In order to achieve optimal results, movements should flow smoothly.

  • A good example of this is the exercise called the one-hundred. In this exercise, one lies on his/her stomach and makes movements with their arms and legs while keeping the core of the body firmly rooted, unmoving, on the ground. This requires precision of movement, but the best results will be obtained from a smooth flow from one position to the other; jerking the arms up and down from the lower to the higher position has less of an effect than flowing, controlled movements will produce.


2. Explore Pilates formats and choose one that works for you.

The first decision you will want to make when getting started with Pilates is how you are going to learn the method. You can choose to go to a studio/gym or learn on your own at home.

→ Studio options:

  • Private lesson
  • Duets
  • Group class


→ On your own:

  • Videos or DVDs
  • Books
  • Internet resources

Taking a class or some individual sessions first is recommended to ensure you learn proper form.


Studio and Personal Instruction Options
  • Private Lessons - Privates are the luxury way to study Pilates and very worthwhile if you can afford them. Pilates is a very exacting method of exercise and getting started with the help of one-on-one attention is optimal. Most Pilates studios offer private lessons and there are also many instructors who offer private instruction in their homes, and some will come to your home. Even if you plan to take group classes it is highly recommended that you start out with a few privates, and take refresher privates as you can. The average cost for a private lesson is $55 - $75. Private instruction from highly experienced Pilates instructors can run quite a bit more.
  • Duets - Duets are the next best thing to private instruction and seem to be somewhat unique to the Pilates world. As the name implies, doing a duet means that you are taking a private class with just two people. Often friends make this kind of arrangement, but your studio may be willing to set up a duet partner for you. It is best to do duets with someone close to your own level. Duets are usually seen as a shared private, and the cost is close to the same as a private but split between two people.
  • Group Classes - Many gyms and health centers offer regular Pilates classes. This can be ideal for the beginner who wants an instructor to actively look at their technique so that they can be sure to learn how to perform the moves correctly. This can be an excellent and affordable way to do Pilates. Group classes are usually around $25 for a class using the reformer and $12 - $15 for mat work classes.


What to expect from a class and how to prepare:

Walking into a Pilates studio for the first time can be daunting. A quick glance around will reveal a variety of odd-looking contraptions that you will rightly assume are "Pilates machines", but you may not so readily imagine how your body could actually engage with them. Not to worry, Pilates is a very professional, client centered practice. No matter what studio you visit, a friendly and knowledgeable staff person should soon greet you.

  • Find a class and instructor you like: Most studios allow you to attend class on a drop in (pay by the class) basis. This is highly recommend for your first session or two. This will allow you to try out the studio and the instructors before you commit to one. Make sure that your instructor is a certified Pilates instructor. A full Pilates certification, especially those that include equipment, take quite a bit of education, so make sure that your instructor did more than just a weekend workshop for their certificate. Some Pilate mat certifications are weekend intensives but the instructor should have put in a lot of time as a Pilates student before teaching.
  • What to bring: You won't need to bring much with you to the Pilates studio. The studio usually provides any equipment that might be needed for the workout. That said, many people like to work out on their own mat, so if you are going to do mat exercise you may want to get your own mat. Pilates mats are available in many stores and online. Your studio might also sell them. Pilates mats are often made a little thicker than a yoga mat. Check with your instructor about what mat they recommend. Though you probably won't be guzzling water, as some do during aerobic workouts, you will still want to have a water bottle available and make sure that you are well hydrated before you start.
  • What to wear: There are a few things to consider when you dress for a Pilates workout. First, make sure your clothes give enough to let you move and stretch fully. Your instructor will need to be able to see your body well enough to see the alignment of you bones and how your muscles are engaging, so while loose is OK, baggy is not. You will also want to avoid baggy clothes because some Pilates exercises could be a bit revealing if your clothes are too loose. Pilates is usually done barefoot, so no fancy footwear is needed. There are many wonderful lines of workout clothing available now. There are entire lines of clothing made just for Pilates. These can be fun for you to explore if fashion is your thing, but it is not necessary to buy special Pilates workout clothes to do Pilates. Keep it simple and see what you feel comfortable with as you go along. You will also want to avoid excess accessories while your working out. Long necklaces, belts, dangling bracelets and such could not only be distracting, but could be dangerous if they got caught up in the equipment. Similarly, hair needs to be out of the face and tied back if it is long. One other note: Many people are sensitive to perfumes and strongly scented deodorants so more studios are requesting that clients refrain from wearing strong scents in the studio.


On Your Own Options

DVD's and Videos - There are many Pilates DVDs available, which can be done in the comfort and privacy of your own home. In addition to a DVD or two, you can purchase a Pilates mat (yoga mat), as well as some basic accessories to enhance your practice. Exercising with Pilates kits and Pilates DVDs at home can give you just as much core strength as attending a class. If you want to get the most out of Pilates, start with true Pilates and move into hybrids like Pilates on the ball, or Pilates and yoga, once you understand the basics of the Pilates method.


Beginner DVDs

  • Beginner Pilates with Maggie Rhoades: Beginner Pilates DVD from 2006 which features routines of different lengths so that you can get in a quick Pilates workout even if you only have 10 minutes.
  • Pilates Beginning Workout with Ana Caban: A beginners' DVD that focuses on Pilates exercises done on the mat. This workout allows you to begin Pilates practice with an absolute minimal investment in equipment.
  • Pilates Workout for Dummies with Michelle Dozois: A good option for beginners with all the exercises and philosophy behind it clearly explained.
  • 10 Minute Solution Results Pilates with Lara Hudson: Short 2006 DVD (50 minutes) that is geared towards getting the most effective workout in the least amount of time

Intermediate DVDs

  • Pilates Intermediate Mat Workout with Ana Caban: Once you've mastered her beginning workout, this DVD is a great way to kick things up a notch and tone your body even further.
  • Intermediate Matwork, Stott Pilates with Moira Merrithew: An intermediate, mat-based Pilates workout; this one is a little expensive as DVDs go, but it's a long DVD (2.5 hours) with lots of options.
  • Pilates Weight Loss with Karen Garcia: Pilates DVD from 2004 that features workouts of different lengths that are sorted based on the different goals of each workout. There are more than just weight-loss Pilates routines on this one, so the versatility makes it a great buy.
  • Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners with Brooke Siler: Shorter DVD (50 minutes) that is perfect for beginners looking to lose some weight through taking up Pilates
  • Crunch Super Slim Down with Ellen Barrett: Crunch videos almost always have a high user rating, this one included. This video is a yoga/Pilates blend aimed to burn fat and tone muscles. As with all Crunch workouts, it's always an enjoyable home workout.
  • Maintenance Pilates for Weight Loss with Ana Caban: Burn fat and shed pounds without hitting the treadmill or lifting a single weight.

Advanced DVDs

  • Advanced 'More than Mat' Pilates with Sara Picot & Kristine Bishop: Designed for those experienced with Pilates, this Pilates DVD takes exercises created for Pilates machines and adapts them for working out on the mat. For advanced practice, this DVD brings you a step closer to the original form of Pilates, without having to access or purchase the equipment.
  • Advanced New York Style Pilates with Jonathan Urla & Caitie McCarthy: A fast-moving DVD for a great Pilates workout
  • Advanced Pilates with Kathi Casey: Another quick workout, this advanced routine packs a lot of Pilates into 30 minutes. Ideal for the advanced student who knows how and why to do each exercise, and just needs a routine to follow.
  • Pilates Complete Sculpt & Tone with Meghan White: Tone your body with Pilates exercises designed to sculpt your muscles for a long, lean, beautiful body.


In addition to all the Pilates DVDs on the market, don't forget that you can find free Pilates exercises online as well. For beginners, it is sometimes more helpful to see someone demonstrate the exercise in motion instead of just seeing a picture of one part of the exercise, which is what makes Pilates DVDs a great choice for beginners.


3. Determine your workout schedule

Based on the format of class you have chosen determine your program schedule. This is a good time to think about your goals and availability. If you are working with private instruction or at home you will more control over session length and timeframe. If you have chosen a group class or duets think about the length of each class and the times offered. Then determine when you will attend class or perform your session and schedule it in your calendar.

Frequency and Duration - Determine how long each session will be and how many times per week you will perform Pilates. Pilates is a toning system so the general rule is to tone and train your muscles two to three times per week in order to develop strength in your core. Sessions should be performed on alternating days, with a day in-between workouts for the muscles to repair themselves. But, in the end how you set up your program is up to you and will depend on your goals and fitness level.

Schedule your workouts on your calendar  - now that the elements are determined, schedule your workout. If you set aside the days and times you will perform your practice you are more likely to stick to it. Remember the idea is to make it a habit, so schedule at least 2 weeks of sessions and don't miss or change them and you are on your way.


4. Be sure to warm-up and cool-down with each workout


5. Write in your activity journal

Track your activity, duration, intensity and how you felt before and after the activity. Learn More...



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Benefits of Pilates

  • Strengthen and tone muscles
  • Reduce back pain
  • You may notice the mental calm that good practice can bring.


Pilates Recommendations

  • Familiarize yourself with target heart rate and perceived exertion scales in order to monitor your exercise intensity. Learn more...
  • Promote yourself to the next level of class when you are ready. A lot of people will hang out in a class that no longer challenges them, waiting for the instructor to suggest that they move up. Don't assume that your instructor will do this. She/He might think you are coming to that class because of the time or location.


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