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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Whitney Hughes

How to Begin a Pilates Practice

“Movement heals.” Joseph Pilates

When people ask me what I do, I no longer say “I teach Pilates.” The word Pilates is enough to make people grimace and look for the nearest escape route. Trust me; I understand. Getting started with Pilates can feel overwhelming - there are so many different exercises and positions to learn. Where does a person begin?

In this blog, I’ll answer some of the most common questions people have asked me about Pilates. Whether you're wondering what equipment you need, how to find the right class for you, or if you are fit enough to begin, read on to learn more and gain the confidence you need to try your first (or next) Pilates session.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a movement practice created by Joseph Pilates, a German wrestler and self-defense master, in the early 20th century. He called his original system of mat exercises Contrology. According to Joseph Pilates, “Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.”

During World War I, Joseph Pilates found himself in an internment camp and taught “Contrology” to all of the citizens in the camp, keeping them healthy while the Spanish Flu claimed the lives of many. Later, Joseph Pilates taught his system of exercises to veterans returning from war. Before they were able to walk, Joseph Pilates attached springs and straps to their hospital beds to help them rehabilitate with movement. From his creative efforts, the first piece of Pilates equipment (the Cadillac) was born.

In 1925, Joseph Pilates and his wife, Clara, immigrated to the United States and opened a studio in New York City. Their system of movement was embraced by the dance community because of the emphasis it placed on the flexibility of the spine, the strength of the core, and the stability of the pelvis. Today, Pilates is practiced by all types of people. It has been used as a complement to physical therapy to help people recover from surgery and heal injuries. It has also been used to help athletes improve their performance and endurance as well as help bring physical fitness into the lives of many.

Do I need the equipment I see in the Pilates studio to get a good workout?

Emerging from an initial series of exercises performed exclusively on the mat, Joseph Pilates created more equipment over time to assist the body in the proper execution of movement. In fact, the primary purpose of the equipment is to offer feedback to the body so that students can feel the activation of different muscles as they execute an exercise. In a classical Pilates studio, you will likely find many pieces of equipment like the Cadillac, Tower, Reformer, Chair, Ladder Barrel, Barrels, Spine Corrector, Ped-a-Pull and more.

While the equipment can be helpful in offering specific feedback to the muscles to gain more integrity in movement, the most challenging of the Pilates work is to execute each movement on the mat. Proper form and execution of the Matwork require a level of fitness that is gained over time with patient and persistent practice.

Most classical Pilates teachers will begin by teaching the fundamentals of the Matwork, progress their students to the Level 1 work, then to Level 2, 3 and beyond. As students gain strength and stamina, more exercises are added to challenge the physical fitness of the entire body.

What fitness level do I need to be at to begin Pilates?

Remember, in his early years as a teacher, Joseph Pilates used Contrology to rehabilitate veterans who could not walk. This means that Pilates is for everyone at any fitness level. The only requirement to begin a Pilates practice is the will and desire to find a teacher and begin. So, whatever your fitness level, you are ready to begin a Pilates practice. A good teacher will help you feel confident in starting exactly where you are and then challenge you to get stronger as your body is ready.

What should I look for in a Pilates teacher?

It is important to find a teacher who is able to meet your needs and has experience teaching in a way that will help you.

Be sure to choose an instructor who is properly certified. To find a qualified instructor near you, visit and click on “Find an NCPT.” Simply type in your zip code and you will see a list of qualified instructors in your area.

A good rule of thumb is to interview up to three instructors before making a choice. It is important that you like your teacher and that they inspire you to learn and get stronger. Trust your instincts here. If you have a bad feeling about a teacher or class, that is a clear sign to keep looking.

How often do I need to practice Pilates to see a difference?

Joseph Pilates believed that his students achieved optimal physical fitness when they practiced for at least ten minutes per session four times a week for three months. Unlike other forms of exercise, Pilates does not work the muscles to fatigue, allowing a person to practice every single day if they choose.

One of Joseph Pilates famous quotes is:

"In 10 sessions, you will feel the difference. In 20 sessions, you will see the difference. In 30 sessions, others will see the difference in you."

Consistency is key to noticing changes in your body.

What are the benefits of Pilates?

With patient and persistent practice, dedicated students will notice these benefits:

  • mental vigor

  • improved self-awareness

  • suppleness in the muscles

  • natural grace in walking and movement

  • muscular power

  • increased energy

  • better sleep

  • deep breathing

  • reduced stress

  • physical vitality

  • strength in the deep abdominals

  • flexibility

I know that there is Pilates and there is Yoga, but what’s the difference?

While Pilates and yoga are both mind/body practices, there are some significant differences in the ways they are applied to the body. While yoga is focused on creating a union of the mind, body and spirit through postures, breath work and mindfulness, Pilates is focused on improving a person’s physical fitness using six principles: centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.

What are some of your favorite Pilates videos for people just starting out?

To begin your Pilates practice with a good introduction to the Matwork, try these classes in the PeaceFull Living on-demand library:

What are some of your favorite Pilates videos for advancing students?

For students advancing through their practice, challenge your stamina and fitness level with one of these classes:

Roberta Hughes has been practicing yoga since 1992; a yoga teacher since 1998; and a Pilates practitioner and student since 2010, with a philosophy centered on proper training and body awareness. Reach out through to connect with Roberta further.

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