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10 Things to Know Before You Take Your First Pilates Class

If your fitness routine has been feeling a little stale, trying a new kind of class can make it feel fresh again. Taking Pilates classes might be a good way to expand your fitness horizons, whether we’re talking about a class done on the mat or on a Pilates reformer.

Pilates is very versatile—while you certainly can do it in a gym or studio, you definitely don’t need to. If at-home exercise is more your jam, or even if you just want to acclimate yourself to the exercise type before joining a public class, there are plenty of streaming or virtual Pilates options too.

Regardless of how you attend the classes, trying Pilates can be a workout game changer, no matter your fitness background.

“Pilates will meet anybody’s needs to improve their movement in a graceful way, and at the same time make it extremely challenging,” Gabriela Estrade, a certified Pilates instructor and ACE-certified personal trainer based in New Jersey, tells SELF. “You can make so many variations of the same exercises that it stays fresh.”

Want to know what it’s all about? Here’s everything a Pilates newbie needs to know to enjoy their first class.

What is Pilates, anyway?

Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. Typical Pilates workouts tend to be 45 minutes to an hour long, Sonja Herbert, a Pilates instructor and founder of Black Girl Pilates, tells SELF.

You can do Pilates with or without equipment (more on that below), but no matter what you can expect the moves to involve slow, precise movements and breath control.

Pilates moves tend to target your core, although the exercises work other areas of your body as well. “Pilates is not restricted to specific body parts,” Herbert says. Yes, many classical Pilates moves focus on your core and trunk, but that doesn’t just mean your abs. “Although Pilates is specifically defined as exercise for the core or abdominal muscles, it is important that clients know that the core includes the entire trunk, which is the abdominals, the hips, the inner and outer thighs, and the back,” Herbert explains. And many Pilates instructors mix in moves specifically meant to engage areas like your arms, glutes, and lower legs. So expect a full-body workout. (Example: this core and legs Pilates workout.)

What are the benefits of Pilates?

What is Pilates good for, you may ask? Well, there are tons of Pilates benefits you should be aware of. “Pilates is a full-body exercise method that will help you do everything better,” Herbert says. “It strengthens and stabilizes your core body, which is your foundation, so that you can move efficiently while improving your posture, flexibility, and mobility.”

And if you’re looking for functional movement—the kind that helps you move better on a day-to-day basis while doing everyday tasks—Pilates can train you in that too. A 2018 study of 90 people published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation found that participants who practiced Pilates for one hour three times a week for eight weeks improved their scores on a functional movement screen, which measures things like balance, stability, and mobility, more than people who did yoga instead (or who didn’t exercise at all).

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