Preparing for Your First Pilates Class

Group of pilates students doing tricep dips on reformers during class in fitness studio

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It can be daunting to walk into a Pilates studio for the first time. A quick glance around will reveal a variety of intimidating, even scary-looking, contraptions. You might find yourself wondering how your body could possibly engage with them.

Rest assured that Pilates—a form of exercise that focuses on building core strength—is suitable for all fitness levels. It's also a professional, client-centered practice. A friendly and knowledgeable staff person should greet you at any studio you visit.

To get answers to your questions, most Pilates studios will allow you to attend class on a drop-in (pay by the class) basis. Your instructor will explain things to you, but it helps to be prepared for what to expect.

What to Bring to a Pilates Class

You won’t need to bring much with you to a class, as Pilates studios usually provide equipment for the workout. The exception would be a mat if you would prefer to use your own rather than a shared one from class.

Pilates mats are often made a little thicker than a standard yoga mat to provide more cushioning and padding. Ask your instructor for recommendations.

You may also want to bring a water bottle with you. You probably won’t be drinking as much water as you would during an aerobic workout, but you'll still want to have water available and make sure that you're well-hydrated before class starts.

What to Wear

Most Pilates studios are casual, but the norms vary. Keep your attire simple (at least at first) while you figure out what works best for you. Here are some tips to help you dress for Pilates success:

  • Avoid tie-backs and belts. Tie-back tops can be uncomfortable when you're lying on your back. Ties, belts, drawstrings, and tassels can get caught in the springs of Pilates equipment and cause an injury.
  • Eschew embellishments. Choose workout wear that's free of metal or plastic adornments. Zippers, buckles, clasps, buttons, or other trimmings can severely damage the upholstered Pilates equipment. Repairs are costly and can cause downtime for the studio.
  • Go fresh-faced. Makeup can stain the surfaces of the Pilates equipment.
  • Opt for unscented products. Studios often request that clients refrain from wearing strong scents. Many people are sensitive to perfumes and strongly scented deodorants, lotions, and sprays.
  • Remove accessories or jewelry. Long necklaces, belts, and dangling bracelets can be distracting as well as dangerous if they get caught up in the equipment.
  • Skip shoes. Pilates is usually done barefoot—no fancy footwear needed. If you prefer to wear socks, buy a pair with grippy bottoms to ensure your feet don't slip.
  • Tame your mane. If your hair is long, make sure it's tied back out of your face.
  • Think form-fitting, not baggy. Choose workout clothing that's stretchy but not baggy. Your instructor needs to see the alignment of your bones and how your muscles are engaging. Clothing with seams and stitching that follow the center line and sidelines of your body can also help you and your instructors assess your alignment and symmetry during class.

Keep modesty in mind, too. Some Pilates exercises end with your legs in the air or your torso inverted. Loose clothing could ride up or fall down to be revealing.

Simple and streamlined options rule in Pilates, but you can still have fun with your workout attire. Clothing for Pilates and yoga is essentially the same. The explosion in popularity of both disciplines has brought about a revolution in stylish exercise clothing.

Whatever your body type, it's easier than ever to find fashionable, functional clothes that help you perform your best and look good doing it. 

Mat Work and Equipment

Pilates workouts are based either on Pilates mat work (which is done on the floor with a minimum of equipment) or on Pilates apparatus (i.e., those aforementioned contraptions).

If you're a Pilates beginner, mat work is a great place to start. The fundamental movements and Pilates exercise principles are incorporated into the mat exercises.

Mat exercises will help you gain strength and confidence in the Pilates method.

In addition to being adaptable to any fitness level, Pilates mat exercises let you focus on learning the basics correctly without having to master new exercise equipment at the same time.

Despite unusual names like the Reformer, Cadillac, and Wunda chair, the springs, bars, straps, and pulleys come together as a refined, body-friendly group of exercise equipment.

Etiquette for Pilates Classes—Dos and Don'ts

  • Do arrive on time. Being on time a sign of respect for the instructor and other students. Arriving late interrupts the flow of a class and your body won't get the full benefit of the sequence the teacher is building. 
  • Don't be a no-show. If you signed up for a class, the spot will be held for you until the very last minute, so call if you're going to miss it. If the studio knows you aren't coming, they might be able to fill your place (and they won't worry about you).
  • Do warm up before class. If you have time before class, a warm-up is the best way to use it. Start with Pilates fundamentals and Pilates warm-ups.
  • Don't intrude on the class before yours. If a class is going on when you arrive, be respectful. Don't talk to others or chat on the phone. Hold off on your warm-up until the class before yours ends. If you can find a quiet corner to do your own thing, that's fine. Helping yourself to an empty reformer when a class is in progress is a no-no. 
  • Do let your instructor know about injuries or bodily changes. Instructors will check in with students before class to see how they're feeling. If you have a concern, don't wait to be asked. Before class starts, politely approach the instructor and let them know if you have a minor worry or a more significant issue like surgery, pregnancy, neck pain, or back pain.
  • Don't use class time as chat time. Think twice about talking during class, since it can take you (and others) out of the moment and cause you to lose concentration on the exercise. Before and after class are great times to chat with friends and share insights about Pilates.
  • Do ask appropriate questions. Asking questions helps you learn, but use your judgment about when to ask them. If you're in a large class that has a workout flow going, it might be best to wait until the class is over. 
  • Don't do exercises that hurt your body. If an instructor asks you to do something that doesn't feel right, request a modification. Remember: you are responsible for your body.
  • Do find out how you should leave the Pilates equipment. If you move a piece of equipment or take a magic circle from its place, put it back where you found it. Studios usually prefer you do this to ensure equipment will be available for the next class. Don't forget to wipe down the equipment with the towels and spray provided. 

Pilates studios are usually welcoming environments where people from all walks of life can enjoy the benefits of Pilates together.

A Word From Verywell

When planning to go to your first Pilates class, you'll likely be excited and even a bit intimidated. Knowing the basics and what to expect helps you plan ahead and feel more prepared. Each studio offers a different atmosphere. If you find one studio isn't to your liking, try another until you find the right fit.

1 Source
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  1. Kloubec J. Pilates: how does it work and who needs it?. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 20

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.