Introduction to Pilates

What is Pilates?

Pilates is an exercise system that strengthens muscles, increases flexibility, decreases stress levels, and improves overall health. Pilates was developed in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates, who felt his exercises were a way to connect and develop the mind, body, and spirit. Pilates is a whole-body exercise form that uses the breath to engage the mind with the body. Every exercise performed in Pilates places focus on proper breathing, proper form, and efficient movement patterns. The exercises performed in a Pilates class are relatively safe, low impact, and appropriate for all ages and fitness levels. Along with fitness centers and private studios, you can find Pilates being done in rehabilitation centers and hospitals. If you're not interested in attending classes, there are videos that allow you to practice Pilates in the privacy of your home.

Choosing an Instructor

When researching classes in your area, it's important to seek out a qualified, certified Pilates instructor. Don’t be afraid to ask the instructor about his/her qualifications, training, and experience. In particular, ask whether he/she has worked with clients with special needs, such as someone who has osteoporosis. It's important to find an instructor who meets your individual needs.

Your First Class

Pilates can be performed on a mat or on specially designed equipment. If working on equipment, most likely your first session will be one-on-one with a certified instructor. In this case, the instructor will explain in detail body alignment and breathing specifically for your body and the exercise at hand. In mat classes, the instructor will be supervising a number of participants. They should ask about new participants and should spend time explaining key Pilates principles if there are. Small equipment such as hand weights, resistance tubing, a magic circle, and stability balls, also may be utilized.

What to Wear/Bring

Pilates typically is performed in bare feet or comfortable socks. With regards to clothing, comfort is key. You should wear a somewhat fitted shirt and shorts/pants that allow you to have a full range of motion. Stay away from baggy clothing which may be too revealing in certain positions and will not allow the instructor to see if your alignment and form are correct. Most studios will have all the equipment you need for the class, but call in advance to find out whether mats are provided. You may want to purchase and bring your own mat. It is also important to bring water to stay hydrated before, during, and after the session. Things you may not want to wear during Pilates include dangling jewelry and strong-scented perfumes.

Pilates Exercises

Hundred

Begin by lying on your back with your legs lifted so your knees are over your hips and your shins are parallel to the floor. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle and your arms should be shoulders-width apart and reaching toward the ceiling. Exhale and slightly nod your chin lifting your head, neck, and shoulders and reaching your arms toward the hips. Gaze toward your knees. Start a percussive breathing pattern of five quick inhales through the nose and five quick exhales through the mouth. As you are breathing, press your arms up and down in a percussive manner as if gently slapping the palms on top of water. Repeat this pattern for 10 rounds of breathing (inhale for five and exhale for five). To finish, inhale a deep breath and then exhale while lowering your head, neck, shoulders, and feet toward the floor.

Single Leg Stretch

Begin by lying on your back with your legs lifted so your knees are over your hips and your shins are parallel to the floor. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle and your arms should be shoulders-width apart and reaching toward the ceiling. Exhale and slightly nod your chin, lifting your head, neck and shoulders up and gently clasping both hands behind the right hamstring. Inhale and extend the left leg toward where the ceiling and floor meet. Exhale and bring the left leg in, clasping behind the hamstring with both hands, and extend the right leg. Continue in this manner, alternating legs with each breath for 10 repetitions.

Swimming

Begin by lying face down with your arms overhead, shoulders-width apart, and your legs extended, hips distance apart. Inhale and lift your right leg and left arm, extending them out as far as possible. Exhale and return to the starting position. Inhale and repeat on the other side. Complete 10 repetitions.