By Sabine Fischer
Pilates continues to be a favourite exercise regime not only among Hollywood stars and athletes but also among people like you and me.
What makes Pilates so popular is because the practice helps you become more aware of your body. Pilates improves muscle tone, balances musculature, supports beautiful posture, and teaches you to move with ease and grace. All of these things will make you look and feel very fit.
Perhaps you’ve been thinking about taking up Pilates for a while and now the moment has come to get serious. You want to start Pilates and stick to it on a regular basis.
Here are my top 10 tips for you for a smooth start to become a Pilates enthusiast.
- Get approval
Before you embark on a new exercise regime make sure to get medical approval especially if you’re recovering from injury or illness, suffering from chronic pain or very recently had a baby.
- Find a good teacher
You want to find a teacher that suits you best. A good Pilates teacher is able to explain the basics clearly and has a thorough understanding of the technique. Someone who is always friendly and approachable and generally interested in you.
Don’t be shy and ask about the teacher’s training and certification. You want to make sure you found someone who has gone through a proper teacher training which can take up to 2 years and not just a weekend. Also, a good instructor is always keen on expanding her knowledge by attending further teacher training workshops, reading relevant literature, getting the latest research etc.
- Get the basics right
For an absolute beginner I recommend to start with a few private one-to-one sessions. Maybe you find a teacher who does house-calls; that way you can exercise in the comfort of your home.
With private tuition you ensure to get the basics right as good technique is crucial.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to go down the private route make sure you find an appropriate beginner’s class. Also, tell your teacher if there’s something you never quite understand (e.g. the breathing technique, core stability or neutral position of the spine) or if there’s a certain exercise you struggle with. Your teacher will then be able to give you more specific instructions or will even make some time before or after class to explain your issues on a one-to-one basis.
- Information is key
If you have an injury or a physical condition that might affect your ability to exercise (e.g. slipped disc, pregnancy, shoulder/knee problem, feeling physically tired on that specific day etc) please let your Pilates teacher know. You may feel that those issues are private and/or not worth mentioning but your teacher needs to know in order to guide you through a Pilates session safely. Your instructor can provide modifications of the exercises to avoid putting stress on the affected area.
- Stick to it
Whether it’s Pilates once a week or every day – it’s the routine that makes the difference. Make a commitment and stick to it.
Rather than do ‘pay-as-you-go’ and only drop in once a month, sign up for a course and attend regularly. That’s the only way to improve and see results.
- Choose the perfect mat
Very often in a Pilates class mats are provided. But of course you can bring your own like most people bring their own mat to yoga class.
And, you will need a mat at home for your home work out.
Compared to a yoga mat the Pilates mat is about twice as thick and non-sticky. The reason for the thickness is to give you good protection of the spine as many exercises are done lying on the mat and you will appreciate the extra padding especially during the rolling exercises.
The size of the mat is roughly the same as a yoga mat – 180 cm x 60 cm and a least 10mm thick.
For easy storage and transport consider a mat you can roll up. You should be able to get a good mat for around £25.
- What to wear
Bearing in mind that during a Pilates class you are in constant move from one position into the other; from the back to the tummy into kneeling and from sitting up to standing and down again. That calls for firm-fitting and stretchy comfortable clothes. You don’t want a t-shirt rolling all the way up, revealing your midriff (or possibly even more) and pants sliding down your bottom.
Pilates involves a lot of abdominal work and your teacher needs to be able to see how you engage your core and initiate the movement.
Don’t wear anything with zips, buttons and clasps etc. as you don’t want anything digging into your skin. Big jewellery and hoods may also get in the way during exercise.
Wearing socks (best with non-slip soles) or doing Pilates bare feet is a personal preference.
- Music on or off?
Opinions are divided about using music in a Pilates class or not. I always use music in a group setting as I find it helps creating a calm atmosphere and in some cases helps with the flow of the movements.
It is different with private sessions. I rarely use music in a private session as the work is more intense and I completely focus on the client and expect the client to completely focus and listen to their body.
Should you prefer music while doing Pilates choose some calm, soothing music without lyrics – or at least in a language you don’t understand. Your goal is to focus on the movements and not listening to the lyrics of the song.
Avoid music with a strong beat as it is very tempting to choreograph the movements to keep the tempo. You want to find your own natural flow for each of the movements.
- Do your home work
After the first couple of private sessions very often the client asks me for some homework. I’m always happy to provide a little exercise sheet with detailed instructions tailored to the client’s needs.
Of course, a Pilates book or DVD can be a useful addition to your class practice, too. But make sure you learn the basic principles from an instructor first. This basic knowledge will also help you to choose a good Pilates DVD or book.
- It is not a competition
In a Pilates group session it may happen that you start looking at the person next to you and think ‘she’s so much slimmer than me’ or ‘I’d wish I’d be as flexible as her’… Should that ever happen remind yourself that Pilates is not a competition; it’s about you and your body.
As soon as you lose the focus on your own body you lose your centre and you stop paying attention on how your body feels, on your form, on your breathing and most of all on your concentration.
I don’t mean that you can never look over at your friends and smile and enjoy the moment, but there’s a difference between having fun in class and competing with your neighbour on the mat.
But enough said… I hope that these tips have been helpful and, most of all, that you enjoy Pilates!
About Sabine Fischer
Sabine Fischer is a Pilates Institute certified Pilates instructor teaching classes in Hampstead/London; she is also available for private sessions. For more information visit her website http://www.santispilates.com or contact Sabine via firstname.lastname@example.org.