Pilates: Everything You Need to Know + Exercises

The first time you practice any new fitness class can be a little intimidating. But for some reason, Pilates has an air of “stay away from this if you don’t understand what you’re doing.”

Perhaps it’s the straps and springs. Maybe it’s the exercise styles that you’ve never heard of before.

Pilates offers plenty of perks to your body, no matter your fitness background. You’ll enhance your posture, concentrate on bodily alignment, and receive one heck of a core workout.

Whether you’re using a machine or on the mat, you can achieve the same benefits.

A 2016 study discovered that eight weeks of Pilates classes could help develop abdominal endurance, flexibility, and balance. Plus, Pilates is booming in popularity, with franchises such as Club Pilates popping up around the country.

Here’s everything a Pilates newbie needs to know and understand to enjoy your first class.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a low-impact exercise that strengthens muscles while developing postural arrangement and versatility.

Its movements tend to target the core, although the exercises operate in other sections of your body as well. You can perform Pilates with or without equipment (more on that below).

Regardless, anticipate the moves to include slow, definite movements and breath control. Hence, a typical Pilates workout is 45 minutes to an hour-long.

Mat Classes vs. Reformer Classes

There are two ways to conduct Pilates.

One is using a mat, which is a tad thicker than your regular yoga mat. This is to support pressure points.

Another is a machine called a reformer. It is a sliding platform packed with a stationary foot bar, springs, and pulleys to give you resistance.

Know which one you’re going into before you proceed to your workout. Regardless, both promote control rather than cranking out endless reps or muscle fatigue.

In Pilates, your muscles are working to rise against gravity. If you’re using a reformer, it builds resistance using springs or bands. The goal is to reinforce and isolate the right muscles.

Hence, it would be best to take your time with the exercises, concentrate on the task at hand, and unite to your breath.

Several Pilates-inspired workouts, like SLT, Brooklyn Bodyburn, and Studio MDR, aren’t “classic” but provide the same benefits. These studios employ a next-level reformer called a Megaformer, which is more significant than a regular reformer.

Regardless of what class you prefer, make sure to let your instructor identify you’re a beginner. This way, they’ll be ready to keep an eye on you during the class and provide modifications or form adjustments.

Pilates vs. Yoga

While the styles are different, Pilates and yoga help improve strength, balance, flexibility, posture, and good breathing routine.

Both are also linked with physical and mental health. However, yoga places more importance on relaxation and uses meditation.

Pilates can be done on both apparatus and mats, whereas classic yoga does not need any equipment.

Pilates exercises are performed in a flow of movement without the static postures compared with yoga.

Pilates Equipment You Should Know

Many Pilates mat sessions don’t require any tools other than, yes, a mat, which is usually provided. But other classes can use modified tools in addition to the reformer.

The usual pieces of equipment are the following:

  • Wunda, a low chair with padding and springs
  • Cadillac which looks a little like a bed with canopy support
  • Spine corrector
  • High chair
  • Magic Circle, a ring you frequently use between your legs to produce resistance

You’ll be Sore the Next Day

While you may not be grinding high-intensity exercises like squat jumps or lifting heavy dumbbells, the regular bodyweight routines that Pilates classes offer can be pretty powerful.

Take the signature Pilates Hundred, for instance. A core-focused movement that requires less than two inches of continuous training will make your abs burn. 

An expert instructor should provide you modifications. That way, you can execute each movement with good form (another reason to include yourself as a beginner before class starts).

Devoting your entire focus to even the least movements means that you’ll work the muscles that every exercise aims for. And that indicates you can be dealing with muscle soreness after your workout. 

Don’t worry: While next-day soreness may be at a new level after your first week, your body will get more adapted to the movements with time. Being sore the next day indicates you’re testing your muscles in new ways or working muscle groups that don’t usually get much attention.

Pilates Works for Several Muscle Groups

What’s cool about Pilates is that it’s limited to distinct body parts.

Sure, Pilates flows to concentrate on your core and trunk, but that doesn’t just involve your abs. Keep in mind that the core covers the entire trunk. This includes your abdominals, the hips, the inner and outer thighs, and the back.

So, expect a workout that trains your whole body.

What You Need to Know About Pilates Beginner Classes

There are an organized set of Pilates moves that are common in beginner classes, Herbert says. They incorporate:

  • The Hundred (a breathing exercise that also targets core strength and endurance)
  • The roll-up (a slow, careful movement that stretches the spine and the back of the body and strengthens the abdominals)
  • Leg circles (which extend the hips and core stabilizers)
  • Rolling like a ball (which strokes the spine and opens up the back)
  • Series of 5 (a group of moves that extend the abdominals and back muscles)

Wear Form-Fitting Clothes and Socks

You may fancy wearing loose-fitting workout wear. But you’ll need something body-hugging for Pilates.

Use capris or leggings with a tank top or fitted long-sleeved shirt. As for footwear, you can either be barefoot or wear socks for your session.

Most studios have their own recommended rules. Find it on the studio’s website, or ask the front desk when you check-in for your session.

If you’re going to go for socks, get yourself a pair with rubber detailing on the soles, so you don’t slide on the mat or machine.

A barefoot or socks-only approach will also help you navigate in and out of the straps on a regular reformer with comfort.

Every Studio has Different Lingo

Every workout from barre to CrossFit has its collection of language, Pilates included.

For Pilates, know that your “powerhouse” applies to the center of your body, where all your power comes from to move.

“Peel through your spine” indicates slow movement from vertebra to vertebra. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it with time.

In the meantime, look to regulars who catch on to the instructions instantly.

The best approach to do this? Put yourself in the center of the room. Whether it’s on a reformer or a mat, setting yourself in the center provides you an optimal view of all the activity.

Pilates Should be Part of a Well-rounded Fitness Plan

Even if a studio allows unlimited classes for the first week, don’t plan on jumping into a class every day. Your body requires a day or two to recover from fatiguing resistance exercises such as Pilates.

Pilates stretches, strengthens, and adjusts your body simultaneously. Thus, you can use it to complement your fitness plan.

Doing so will help you lift heavier weights, run faster, swim with better form, or even produce that elusive arm stability in yoga.

Can Pilates Help Me Lose Weight?

Pilates is grouped as a muscle-strengthening exercise, which can help you keep a healthy weight. Classes can range in intensity: they can be gentle or active and offer a solid workout.

If you want to drop weight, you’re advised to link Pilates with a healthy diet and aerobic exercises, such as swimming, walking, and cycling.

Is it Good for People With Pre-existing Conditions?

You can do your Pilates routine depending on what suits you. So it can be a magnificent addition to your aerobic exercise, even if you have health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Just remember to check with your doctor first.

If you have diabetes, you may require to make some modifications to your treatment plan. That’s because supplementing muscle mass helps your body produce better use of glucose.

Your doctor can tell you what modifications you need to make. Inform your instructor that you have diabetes, especially if you have any complications like diabetic retinopathy. That’s because you may need to avoid specific Pilates moves.

If you have arthritis, a strength-training program such as Pilates is an essential part of your exercise plan. Study shows that a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training can help restraint symptoms, keep balance, retain joint flexibility, and help you get to and keep excellent body weight.

If you have possessed a fresh back or knee injury, put off Pilates until your doctor clears you. Pilates reinforces the thigh muscles (quadriceps), and this may help stop arthritis and knee injuries. It may also help prevent greater damage if you have arthritis.

Inquire your doctor if Pilates would be a great choice if you have chronic low back pain. It will help strengthen your weak core muscles that may be uniting to your pain. For the best outcomes, seek out a Pilates instructor who has at least several years of practice working with people with low back pain.

If you are pregnant, check first with your doctor. They will probably let you proceed in Pilates if you are already doing it, as long as your pregnancy is progressing. There may be some adjustments needed as your belly grows.

For example, after your first trimester, you shouldn’t exercise while lying flat on your back because this lessens your baby’s blood flow. There are also special Pilates programs for pregnant women that you can attempt.

Pilates Exercises to Work Your Core

To help you obtain the core-strengthening perks of Pilates, we’ve rounded up some of the method’s most useful moves.

They’re all traditional mat Pilates exercises. So all Pilates lovers will appreciate them, and people new to it can quickly learn them.

Another plus: None of these moves need equipment so that you can do them pretty much everywhere.

Choosing a few of the moves to perform as a warm-up before an intensive workout. Then, combine the rest of the exercises throughout your workout to keep targeting and engaging your core.

You can also select a few you like and do them a couple of times to produce a standalone core routine.

If you’re fresh to these exercises, try executing a move for 30 seconds, working your way up to a minute.


  • Lie face up and bring both knees in toward your chest.
  • Place your hands on the back of your head, keeping your elbows wide. Curl your head up.
  • Bring your left shoulder toward your right knee as you extend your left leg. Then bring your right shoulder toward your left knee as you extend your right leg.
  • Continue alternating sides.

One Hundred

  • Lie face up.
  • Lift both legs toward the ceiling and lower them halfway so that they’re at an angle.
  • Curl your head up, reaching your arms long alongside your body, palms down.
  • Pump your arms up and down as you inhale for five counts and exhale for five counts.
  • Repeat this breathing pattern ten times while holding the position.

Leg Circle

  • Lie face up with your arms by your sides, palms down.
  • Bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor. Extend your right leg up so that it’s perpendicular to the floor.
  • Circle your right leg out to the side, down toward the ground, and return to your starting position. Make the circle as big as you can while still keeping your lower back on the floor.
  • Reverse the circle.
  • Complete all reps, one on a leg, and then repeat on the other.

Single-Leg Stretch

  • Lie face up.
  • Bring both knees in toward your chest, place your hands on your shins, and curl your head up off the floor.
  • Extend one leg out at a time, alternating sides.
  • Keep your lower back on the floor and your core engaged throughout.


  • Lie face up. Bend your knees over your hips and lift your feet off the mat.
  • Extend your legs as you reach your arms toward your feet and lift your head and shoulders off the mat. Try to create a V shape with your torso and legs.
  • Hold for five breaths, and then roll onto your back, bend your knees again.

Scissor Kick

  • Lie face up.
  • Extend your right leg up so that it’s perpendicular to the floor. Bring your hands behind your right leg, pulling it in toward your face, and curl your head up. Lift your left leg off the floor a few inches.
  • Switch legs, pull your left leg toward you and let your right leg hover above the floor.
  • Continue switching your legs.

Double Leg Stretch

  • Lie face up and bring both knees in toward your chest. Curl your head up and place your hands on your knees.
  • Extend both legs out in front of you as you reach both of your arms overhead. Try to get your legs as straight as you can while still keeping your lower back on the floor.
  • Circle your arms out and around back to your knees as you pull your knees back in toward your chest.

Plank Leg Lift

  • Start in a high plank with your hands directly under your shoulders.
  • Alternate lifting one leg off the floor as high as you can but not past shoulder height.
  • Keep your core, butt, and quads engaged to avoid rocking your hips.


  • Lie face up with your arms extended out to your sides. Bend your knees over your hips and lift your feet off the mat.
  • Let both knees fall to the right; keeping your lower back on the floor.
  • Return to the starting position, and then repeat on the other side.

Hip Dip

  • Start in a side plank with your right hand directly underneath your right shoulder and your left foot stacked on top of the right.
  • Dip your hips down toward the ground, and then lift them back up.
  • Repeat ten times before switching to the left side.

Slow Motion Mountain Climber

  • Start in a high plank with your hands directly under your shoulders.
  • Bring one knee in toward your chest at a time.
  • Keep your core, butt, and quads engaged to avoid rocking your hips.

Plank Rock

  • Start in a high plank with your hands directly under your shoulders.
  • Rock your whole body forward a couple of inches toward your hands and then back toward your heels.
  • Keep your core, butt, and quads engaged the entire time.

The Roll-Up

  • Use your abdominals to roll up and down with control. 
  • Do not rely on momentum or letting your legs lift off the mat. 
  • Pilates is about power, and this is where you build that control.

Rolling Like a Ball

  • Stay on your curve for the whole exercise. 
  • Initiate the rollback with the abs and not by falling back or using momentum.


  • Keep your hips anchored and level as you twist to the side. 
  • Use opposition when reaching forward so that you also reach back at the same time.

Final Thoughts

Pilates can be taught in a studio with an apparatus or an open space with mats and small tools. Both mat and apparatus pilates can be practiced privately or in small groups, with most classes lasting 60 minutes.

Ideally, apparatus classes should be taught on a 1-to-1 basis, while the mat work must have 12 participants at most. This is to guarantee that personal attention can be provided.

Group apparatus classes are standard, but a level of experience in using the apparatus is desirable before joining a group class.

When choosing a Pilates teacher, you should consider their experience, quality of training, character, and rapport. Veteran teachers will generally have experienced a minimum of 450 teacher training hours for many months or years.

 If you’ve wanted to join any Pilates sessions, but something has been holding you back, now’s your chance to sign up for your first one.