Here are some tips before you start, based on my 10 years worth of teaching new students. I teach Reformer Pilates at Wholistics in North Wales PA, but these are the kinds of things that should help newbies at most any Pilates studio.
1. The Clothes Make the Workout. Sort of.
Me, personally, I don't care if you work out in your pajamas. Holes, stains, mismatching socks, lack of pedicures- they don't affect your workout or me. The only thing that bothers me are stinky feet, and there's soap in the bathroom if you find yourself in an unfortunate footwear situation.
What does matter is Range of Motion. Pilates clothes should give, without being baggy- you don't want them to catch on the machine's moving parts.
You can wear tights, yoga pants, even tight shorts or tennis skorts, though be aware that rear zippers can be sharp and you may need to put something between it and the machine.
Tops run the gamut from tight exercise tank tops to the free giveaway tee shirts everybody ends up stashing in drawers. Long sleeves, jackets and fleece tops also make seasonal appearances.
It's also worth noting that we'll do big stretches and leg circle work, so making sure you have real exercise pants, and not footless fashion tights that go transparent at full extension, is a good idea too.
2. Flexible Footwear Only
You'll be doing footwork to stretch and strengthen your all of you, including the 33 odd bones and joints in the feet and ankles. Shoes are designed to immobilize (aka "support") your foot. Pilates and shoes don't play well together.
Plus, eww. Your feet will go the same places you'll sit, lean, and lie on. No bird poop or asphalt dirt or other outside bits on the Pilates machines, please.
3. Arrive Early the First Time
This also gives you a chance to check out the center, find the bathroom, and observe the ease and joy with with other clients sign in and prepare for their classes! What a wonderful place you've found! Such bliss, and so accommodating and supportive!
4. Ask the Stupid Questions
This goes for questions like, "The ill-ee-oh-what??" Or, "When do I breathe again?" But also for, "Where is the ball of my foot?" and, "Isn't this my right hand? Oh, it's not..."
There are no stupid Pilates questions. I have clients that have been doing this for years suddenly realize they just don't remember a what, where, or why. Let's clear it up right now! Plus I LOVE answering questions and getting to expound upon just about anything. Bonus points if I get to pull out my Anatomy textbook. Seriously. Ask your classmates, they'll roll their eyes. But they know where the sciatic nerve goes and what the iliopsoas is...
5. Any Level Can Start Pilates Today
I say this only partially in jest. If your knees or other parts don't let you take 5-6 stairs, you may need more initial help than I can give you. Not to worry, though, Wholistics has a wonderful physical therapist who does both PT and medically-based personal training to get you ready.
Most people start Pilates with our 2-class Introductory Session package, though some prefer private sessions. The Intro sessions allow you to experience our small group or "semi-private" classes. You'll be in a real live Pilates class, and I'll make sure you don't fall off the machine or anything.
But you really will get to try 2 real classes, with all the variety and permutations that entails. (And no matter how uncoordinated or silly you feel, rest assured that no one can see you anyway since we do so much lying down.) After your first class, doing strange movements will be old hat.
Our Pilates clients run the gamut of ages (20's to 80's), activity levels (never exercised to athletes), injuries and recovery stages (just post-rehab to decades-old aches), even interest levels ("my Dr said I have to" to "I've always wanted to do this!") It's easy to fit in, since everybody is there with their own differences.
6. Tell Me If It Hurts
But when your back hurts, when your neck strains, when the knees aren't right, when something hurts in the wrong way, we need to stop that quickly. It's much better for you to end a few reps early, or to take a break, readjust, and return to the set properly, than it is for you to push through with bad form and bad pain.
You're in Pilates to learn, among other things, control and stability. Some days one or both stayed at home in the bathroom cabinet. There are endless modifications for everything, and you don't need to feel that by modifying an exercise you're necessarily making it easier. We'll make it easier for what isn't working right that day, but the rest of you will still work!
7. There's No Prize for Speed
You'll learn precise control, amazing control, of your whole body. Everything from your golf game to lifting a basket onto the conveyor belt at the grocery store will feel different and be executed more strongly. Sitting at work becomes a practice in posture because it's more comfortable that way. Yes, your clothes will fit differently and your body shape will change with Pilates, but the inside of your body will change too and that just feels cool.
Take Pilates at your own speed. Do your moves more slowly till you learn them. Try them faster to challenge your control. Then slower again because that makes it harder. Then try them on lighter springs because that's even more difficult. I tell my students frequently, "The lighter the spring, the more the core."
So there's no prize for rushing through a sequence to just get it done. But you'll love the prize you get for working as much of you as you can, as best you can, on every repetition. Until you experience it for yourself, just take my word for it. Or don't, and ask your classmates! Drop a little question like "So what do you think Pilates is doing for you?" into a quiet moment and see what you get. It's hard to explain but everyone loves trying.
Are you already loving Pilates? Feel free to share your own nuggets of wisdom. Words from Pilates students and devotees really resonate with their experiences.