Preparing for Your First Pilates Class

Pilates reformer class

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Walking into a Pilates studio for the first time can be daunting. A quick glance around will reveal a variety of contraptions that look intimidating, if not downright scary. How, you may be wondering, can your body actually 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 very professional, client-centered practice. No matter what studio you visit, a friendly and knowledgeable staff person should greet you. To help answer the question "So what really happens here?", most studios allow you to attend class on a drop-in (pay by the class) basis. Your instructor should be willing to explain things to you, but it helps to be prepared for what to expect.

What to Bring to a Pilates Class

Pilates studios usually provide equipment for the workout, so you won’t need to bring much with you to a class. The exception might be a mat since many people prefer to work out on their own. Pilates mats are often made a little thicker than a standard yoga mat, to provide more cushioning and padding. Check with your instructor about what mat they recommend. You may also want to bring a water bottle to class. Though you probably won’t be drinking as much water as during an aerobic workout, you'll still want to have water available and make sure you're well-hydrated before you start.

What to Wear

Most Pilates studios are casual, but the norms can vary. Keep your attire simple, at least at first, while you figure out what works best for you. These tips can help ensure you're dressed for Pilates success:

  • Skip shoes: Pilates is usually done barefoot, so no fancy footwear is needed. If you prefer to wear socks, buy a pair with grippy bottoms so your feet don't slip on the equipment.
  • Think form-fitting, not baggy: Choose workout clothing that's stretchy but not baggy. This way, your instructor can 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, and loose clothing could ride up or fall down to be revealing.
  • 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: Zippers, buckles, clasps, buttons, or other trimmings can severely damage the upholstered Pilates equipment. Repairs are costly and can cause downtime for the studio. Choose workout wear that's free of metal or plastic adornments.
  • 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.
  • Manage your mane: Hair needs to be out of your face and tied back if it's long.
  • Opt for unscented products: Many people are sensitive to perfumes and strongly scented deodorants, lotions, and other toiletries, so studios often request that clients refrain from wearing strong scents.
  • Go fresh-faced: Makeup can stain the surfaces of the Pilates equipment.

Despite the fact that simple and streamlined options rule in Pilates, you can still have fun with your workout attire. Clothing for Pilates and yoga is essentially the same, and the explosion of popularity of both disciplines has brought about a revolution in stylish exercise clothing. Whatever your body type or needs, 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).

Mat work is a great place to begin. All of the fundamental movements and Pilates exercise principles are incorporated into the mat exercises.

Besides being adaptable to any fitness level, the mat exercises allow you to focus on learning the basics correctly without having to master 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.

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.

Etiquette for Pilates Classes—Dos and Don'ts

  • Do arrive on time. Not only is being on time a sign of respect for the instructor and other students, arriving late interrupts the flow of a class—so your body won't get the full benefit of the sequence the teacher is building. 
  • Don't be a no-show. Whatever the reason, call if you're going to miss your class. If you signed up for a class, that spot is being held for you until the very last minute. 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. If you're unsure about what to do, start with Pilates fundamentals and Pilates warm-ups.
  • Don't intrude on the class before yours. If a class is going on, be respectful. Don't talk to others or on the phone within hearing of the students. Hold off on your warm-up until the class ends. If you can find a quiet corner to do your own thing, that's usually fine. But helping yourself to an empty reformer and doing what you want on it when a class is in progress is a no-no. 
  • Do let your instructor know about injuries or changes in your body. Instructors will check in with students before class and ask how they're feeling and if there's anything special going on. But don't wait to be asked. Politely approach the instructor before class and let her know what's up, whether it's a seemingly minor worry or a more significant issue like surgery, pregnancy, neck pain, or back pain.
  • Don't use class time as chat time. Before and after class are great times to chat with friends and share insights about Pilates. But 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.
  • Do ask appropriate questions. Just use your judgment as to when to ask them. If you're in a large class that has a workout flow going, for instance, it might be best to wait until the class is over. 
  • Don't do exercises that hurt your body. You are responsible for your body. If an instructor asks you to do something that doesn't feel right, request a modification.
  • Do find out how you should leave the Pilates equipment. Usually a studio will want you to return equipment to where you found it for the next class, so if you move a piece of equipment or take a magic circle from its place, put it back. Wipe the equipment off when you're finished with the towels and spray provided. 

Pilates studios are usually welcoming environments where all kinds of people are taking advantage of the benefits of Pilates for different reasons.

A Word From Verywell

You may be excited or a little intimidated when planning to go to your first Pilates class. By knowing the basics of what to expect, you'll be prepared. If you find one studio isn't to your liking, try another to find the right fit—each one can have a different atmosphere.

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