What is Pilates? 8 things to know before exercising

Pilates is well-known to everyone who has ever been interested in fitness fads. This trend emerged in the United States almost a century ago. It has evolved from a rehabilitation program for athletes and dancers into a way for people of all ages to achieve their ideal physique.

Trying to practice Pilates is worth it – its usefulness has been proven by science, but it is important to consider some features. What – we will tell further.

But first, let’s ensure we’re discussing the same thing.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a type of training that develops the ability to control the state of the body and, along the way, develops flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance. This is a fixed set of exercises developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates – he also gave the direction its name.

Through close work with the breath and the diaphragm, Pilates allows you to:

  • Improve heart function.
  • Increase flexibility.
  • Strengthen muscles and joints.
  • Improve posture and balance.
  • Relieve back pain.
  • Increase muscle control.
What is Pilates? 8 things to know before exercising

Pilates is especially useful as an accompanying workout during sports or physical rehabilitation, including coronavirus infection, severe forms of influenza, and SARS.

Typically, a workout lasts 45 to 60 minutes at a low heart rate but without pauses between exercises. The emphasis is on breath control and movement accuracy. Exercises focus on the core muscles, but other body parts are almost always involved. As a result, the whole body is worked out.

The Science Behind Pilates

Numerous scientific studies support the benefits of Pilates.

So, Pilates is more effective than yoga in developing balance and mobility of the body. In 2018, the results of a study involving 90 people were published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation (Journal of Physical Rehabilitation). Participants who practiced Pilates for 1 hour three times a week for eight weeks achieved more significant functional changes than those who did or did not do yoga.

Another positive effect of Pilates is the development of endurance. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that people who did Pilates for 1 hour twice a week for 12 consecutive weeks reported significant increases in abdominal endurance, hamstring flexibility, and muscular endurance of the upper body. According to the researchers, this is mostly due to the increased mobility of the scapulae, their further stability in the anatomically correct position, and the strengthening of the core muscles.

Like other types of exercise, Pilates also has a beneficial effect on mental health. A 2018 meta-analysis of 8 Pilates studies found that those who practiced Pilates reported a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue and increased energy levels. Of course, no physical exercise can replace a meeting with a psychotherapist, but why not provide mental health prevention?

What is Pilates? 8 things to know before exercising

So, Pilates makes the body stronger and more beautiful – it sounds like the perfect workout. Are you ready to start? A couple more minutes – we have prepared an overview of 8 features that it does not hurt to know about before starting classes.

What do beginners need to know about Pilates?

1. You can do Pilates with or without equipment.

There are two types of Pilates: Mat Pilates and Big Equipment Pilates.

In the first case, the exercises are performed on a special mat. It should be slightly thicker than a standard yoga mat to cushion the pressure.

The second type of Pilates is performed using special equipment that creates additional resistance during exercise and makes it difficult to maintain balance. One of these machines, the reformer, is a retractable platform with a stationary leg bar, springs, and pulleys that make training harder and more intense for the muscles.

What is Pilates? 8 things to know before exercising

Both options emphasize movement control: in Pilates, the muscles work by resisting gravity and, if applicable, springs or bands.

Sometimes additional items are added to the exercises on the rug:

  • low chair with padding and springs for upper body exercises,
  • spine corrector to align the back;
  • fitball – a soft gymnastic ball that is used to complicate balance exercises;
  • a ring that is clamped between the legs to create resistance, etc.

Work out on a mat or equipment, with or without objects – it’s up to you. To develop basic skills, starting with Pilates on the mat, it will be easier to understand the technique and feel your own body. Items can be used to perform more complex exercises. Experienced athletes can alternate training on the mat and the simulators for a deeper study of muscles and balance.

2. Classes will be pretty repetitive at first.

For beginners, a fixed set of basic exercises are important to master to move on. Here are some of them:


  • Position: lying on your back, legs bent at the knees at a right angle, shins parallel to the floor; you can hold your knees with your palms, the body is firmly pressed to the floor and motionless
  • Movement: while exhaling, raise the top of the body (the shoulder blades do not touch the mat), make quick swings with your arms with a small amplitude; try to do five swings for each inhalation and exhalation keeping the body and legs stable.


  • Position: lying on your back, legs straight, arms extended back.
  • Movement: While inhaling, stretch your arms forward; as you exhale, “close the navel to the spine,” pulling the abdominal muscles from the bottom up, and twist the body up and forward, starting from the neck and shoulders; Raise your torso slowly, lifting vertebra by vertebra off the floor. Rounding your back, pull your body forward. Breathe in. As you exhale, tighten your buttocks, twist your tailbone forward, and slowly lower yourself to the floor, vertebra by vertebra, to the starting position.

Leg circles:

  • Position: Lying on your back, lift one leg and lock it vertically. The toe should stretch towards the ceiling, and the heel should turn slightly inward (hip supination). Stretch your torso, and relax your shoulders and upper back. Put your hands along the body or behind the head; You can rest them on the floor for extra stability. Kneel with the other leg.
  • Movement: begin an in-and-down circle with your foot, as if you were painting a circle on the ceiling with your thumb; the leg should be taut along its whole length and extended behind the toe.
What is Pilates? 8 things to know before exercising

Back rolls:

  • Position: Sitting on the floor, bend your knees and clasp your knees with your palms, keeping your shoulders as far away from your ears as possible. Find your balance by raising your feet off the floor. Point your elbows to the sides.
  • Movement: Round the back, extending the coccyx forward and bringing the navel closer to the spine. The chin touches the chest. Start the roll, keeping the body in the starting position. When moving, attempt to circle your back further. Roll to the edge of your shoulder blades and return to the starting position. During the roll, do not overlap with your legs.

As you master these basics of Pilates, the basic exercises will get more difficult. For example, you can keep your legs straight in a hundred, increasing the load on the press and lower back.

3. Your muscles will burn during a workout and hurt the next day, but this is normal.

Although in Pilates, you work with your weight, at a low amplitude and without increasing the heart rate, the exercises are quite intense. When you focus on each movement, you are targeting the muscles that each exercise is designed for. For example, in a hundred, you keep your abdominal muscles in tension for a long time, so they start to burn at some point. And after a workout, sometimes there is delayed soreness in muscle groups that you might not have suspected – for example, the deep muscles of the core.

If any muscles are sore after a workout, don’t worry: soreness means you’re tensing your muscles in a new way or exercising muscles that weren’t used before. Over time, the body will get used to it, and it will become easier to tolerate the exercises. Do not overdo it: muscle soreness is not an indicator of a successful workout.

4. Pilates has its language

Each training technique has its terms, and Pilates is no exception. Many phrases and movement names in Pilates are based on anatomy. For example, “shoulder blades down” means that you need to move your shoulder blades to lengthen your back by opening your shoulders, and “head girth” means supporting the cervical region with your hands during back exercises. Don’t worry if you don’t understand something first; feel free to ask questions.

5. Proper clothing = comfortable workout

Tight clothing is welcome in Pilates: this way, the instructor sees your movements better, and nothing interferes with you. So a top and leggings made of skin-friendly material will be a great solution. As for shoes, you can train barefoot or in socks. Among socks, it is better to choose models with rubber inserts on the sole so as not to slip on a rug or simulator.

What is Pilates? 8 things to know before exercising

6. Pilates every day – you can, but be careful

Insufficiently experienced athletes are not recommended to do Pilates daily: the body needs rest from difficult exercises. Imagine your muscles being stretched, strengthened, and realigned simultaneously—not a bad job, right? The ideal option is to combine Pilates with other workouts such as running, weight training, or swimming. Many athletes add Pilates to their core workouts to prepare their muscles for work, improve coordination and balance, and reduce the risk of injury.

7. Pilates is best done with a trainer.

We have already written that mild or moderate soreness during or after a workout is not a cause for concern. But overdoing it with Pilates can lead to excessive strain on the muscles. If you feel pain or difficulty moving for a day after your workout, you should stop Pilates and see a doctor or physical therapist.

What is Pilates? 8 things to know before exercising

And it is better to avoid such situations. Get started with Pilates with basic movements or beginner workouts with a trainer. Perform each movement slowly, with concentration, and watch your breath. Finally, even if you want to do Pilates on your own, take a few basic lessons with a trainer to feel more confident and improve your technique.

8. You can do Pilates at home

Under epidemiological restrictions, Pilates is convenient because it is available on a home mat. You can easily find pre-recorded Pilates video lessons or dedicated online fitness apps (Peloton, Centr, Obé Fitness, and more). If you choose this training format, be careful: Pilates does not involve the simplest exercises, and without the supervision of a certified specialist, you can easily harm yourself.

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