Preparing for Your First Pilates Class

Including What to Wear, Bring and Expect

Walking into a Pilates studio for the first time can be daunting. A quick glance around will reveal a variety of odd-looking contraptions that you will rightly assume are "Pilates machines", but you may not so readily imagine how your body could actually engage with them.

Not to worry, Pilates is a very professional, client-centered practice. No matter what studio you visit, a friendly and knowledgeable staff person should soon greet you.

“So what really happens here?” you wonder.

Mat Work and/or Equipment

Pilates workouts are based either on the Pilates mat work, which is done on the floor with a minimum of equipment, or on Pilates apparatus i.e. those weird looking contraptions.

The mat work is a great place to begin. All of the fundamental movements and Pilates exercise principles are incorporated in the mat exercises. The mat exercises are adaptable to any fitness level, and it is nice to focus on learning the basics correctly without having to get friendly with new exercise equipment at the same time. The mat exercises will help you quickly gain a lot of strength and confidence in the Pilates method.

When you are ready though, you will have a lot of fun with the exercise equipment in a Pilates studio. Despite unusual names like the Reformer, Cadillac and Wunda chair, all the springs, bars, straps, and pulleys come together as a very refined, body-friendly group of exercise equipment.

What to Bring to a Pilates Class

You won’t need to bring much with you to the Pilates studio. The studio usually provides any equipment that might be needed for the workout. That said, many people like to work out on their own mat, so if you are going to do mat exercise you may want to get your own mat.

Pilates mats are available in many stores and online. Your studio might also sell them. Pilates mats are often made a little thicker than a yoga mat. Check with your instructor about what mat they recommend. Though you probably won’t be guzzling water, as some do during aerobic workouts, you will still want to have a water bottle available and make sure that you are well hydrated before you start. 

What to Wear to Class

There are a few things to consider when you dress for a Pilates workout. First, make sure your clothes give enough to let you move and stretch fully. Your instructor will need to be able to see your body well enough to see the alignment of you bones and how your muscles are engaging, so while loose is OK, baggy is not. You will also want to avoid baggy clothes because some Pilates exercises could be a bit revealing if your clothes are too loose. Pilates is usually done barefoot, so no fancy footwear is needed.

There are many wonderful lines of workout clothing available now. There are entire lines of clothing made just for Pilates. These can be fun for you to explore if fashion is your thing, but it is not necessary to buy special Pilates workout clothes to do Pilates.

My advice is to keep it simple and see what you feel comfortable with as you go along.

You will also want to avoid excess accessories while you're working out. Long necklaces, belts, dangling bracelets and such could not only be distracting, but could be dangerous if they got caught up in the equipment. Similarly, hair needs to be out of the face and tied back if it is long. One other note: Many people are sensitive to perfumes and strongly scented deodorants so more studios are requesting that clients refrain from wearing strong scents in the studio.

Before you sign up for Pilates Classes

Most studios allow you to attend class on a drop in (pay by the class) basis.

I highly recommend that you do this for your first session or two. You may also want to take a quick look at the glossary of terms here. Your instructor should be willing to explain things to you, but if you've seen a term once before you will be that much ahead. How to Find Pilates Classes...

Etiquette for Pilates Classes - Dos and Don'ts

Do Arrive On Time

It is important to be at class on time. Arriving late interrupts the flow of a class, and it means that your body won't get the full benefit of the sequence the teacher is building. Being on time is a sign of respect for the instructor and other students.

Don't Be a "No Show"

Please call if you are going to miss your class. Even if something comes up at the last minute and you are embarrassed, or you forgot class and remembered too late to go, call. If you are signed up for a class, that spot is being held for you until the very last minute. If the studio knows you aren't coming, they might be able to fill your place, and they won't worry about you.

Do Warm Up Before Class

Some of us need more warm up than others, though everybody appreciates some warm up. It would be nice if we had time in all of our classes to warm up properly, but I see warm up skipped a lot. If you have time before class, warm up is the best way to use it. If you are unsure about what to do, start with these exercises:
Pilates Fundamentals
Pilates Warm Ups

Don't Intrude On the Class Before Yours

If a class is going on, be respectful. That means not holding prolonged conversations within hearing of the students. It also means that you might have to hold off on your warm up until the class ends. Studios are set up differently. If you can find a quiet corner to do your own thing in, that is usually fine. It is usually not good to help yourself to an empty reformer and start doing what you want when a class is in progress. Depend on your common sense.

Do Let Your Instructor Know About Injuries or Changes in Your Body

Often, instructors will check in with students before a class, and ask how they are feeling and if there is anything special going on. But if something really new is going on for you, don't wait to be asked. Politely approach the instructor before class and let them know what's up. New bodily pains or strains are important to communicate. As are significant changes like a surgery or pregnancy.
Neck Pain and Pilates
Back Pain and Pilates

Don't Use Class Time as Chat Time

Before and after class are great times to chat with friends and share insights about Pilates (as long as you aren't disturbing others). During class, it is a good idea to review whether or not what you want to say is timely and relevant. If you tend to blurt out whatever pops into your head, try to take a look at why. Sometimes talking is a way of escaping the moment. This might be a good time to mention cell phones. Do turn them off.

Do Ask Appropriate Questions

Some questions can wait until after class, but sometimes a certain exercise -- in that moment -- triggers a question that has been lingering. I tend to think it's fine to ask a question like that during class. On the other hand, you might be in a large class that has a workout flow going in which case it might be best to hang on to it until after. But do make sure you get your questions answered.

Don't Do Exercises that Hurt Your Body

You are responsible for your body. If an instructor asks you to do something that really doesn't feel right for you (which is different than "requires exertion"), it is alright not to do it. Ask the instructor for a modification. You can also familiarize yourself with basic Pilates exercise modifications:
Modification Tips for Pilates Exercises

Do Wear Appropriate Workout Clothing

There is nothing special about workout clothing for Pilates. You just need something that lets you move, isn't too tight or too baggy, and lets the instructor see the line of your body. Shoes are not worn for Pilates workouts. Some people wear specialized footwear, like The Shu or Pilates socks, as a light barrier or to enhance their grip on the equipment. Read more in:
What to Wear for Pilates
Women - What to Wear Under Workout Clothes

It is best not to wear strong scents to class. Many people are sensitive to perfumes and other scented products.

Do Find Out How You Should Leave the Pilates Equipment

This is a basic put away your toys note (you asked first anyway, right). If you move a piece of equipment or take a something small like a magic circle from its place, put it back. Beyond that, most studios will want students to wipe the equipment off when they are finished. The studio provides towels and sprays for that. Sometimes a studio will want you to return equipment that changes during class, like the reformer, chair, or tower to a start position for the next class.Learn about Pilates equipment:
Pilates Small Equipment
Pilates Large Equipment

Don't Be Afraid of Pilates Classes

Some people are intimidated by Pilates classes. Don't be. Pilates studios are usually welcoming environments where all kinds of people are taking advantage of the benefits of Pilates for different reasons. If you are tempted but unsure, read:
Overcoming Fears About Pilates
Top 5 Myths About Pilates
Why You Need a Live Instructor
How to Find Pilates Classes

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