Getting Started With Pilates (Pilates For Beginners)

Before you start a new fitness regimen, working on your core strength and flexibility is never a bad idea.

More strength and flexibility can make new exercises and movements easier on your body, reducing pain and inflammation after workouts and reducing your risk of injury.

That’s what makes strength and flexibility systems such good places to start exercising.

Pilates is one of those systems.

Like yoga and other stretching disciplines, Pilates stretches out muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments that may be long out of use and is an easy system to start into slowly and build upon.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a workout system that combines aspects of yoga, ballet, and calisthenics.

For the most part, it relies solely on bodyweight and movement to strengthen, lengthen, and tone muscles. (There are a few pieces of equipment you can incorporate if you so choose.)

From yoga, Pilates borrows aspects of breathing and meditation as well as numerous poses.

From calisthenics and ballet, Pilates borrows many strength and balance movements.

Pilates alters many of these poses and movements to some degree.

For instance, it adds movement to most poses that are static in yoga.

woman does the hundred exercise

What is the difference between yoga and Pilates?

Pilates is more than yoga. That’s the basic difference between the two systems.

While numbers vary depending on type of yoga, 84 is a commonly accepted number for how many asanas (poses) exist in traditional yoga.

Pilates incorporates over 500 different poses and movements.

Pilates incorporates aspects of yoga, but yoga doesn’t incorporate aspects of Pilates.

Basically, yoga is its own ancient discipline, while Pilates is a modern (within roughly the last century) fusion of multiple disciplines.

Another main difference between yoga and Pilates is movement.

Yoga relies largely on static poses, while Pilates relies largely on repetitive motion.

In this way, Pilates more closely resembles flow or power yoga, though with considerably more variety and focus on movement.

Is Pilates or yoga better?

Pilates may be more (and more active) than yoga, but it’s not necessarily better.

Which of these two disciplines is right for you greatly depends on what you are trying to accomplish with your fitness routine/meditative practice.

Some people view yoga as the more relaxed of the two (with all its stillness and focused meditation) and Pilates as the more fitness-y (those movements will definitely get your heart rate up and make your muscles burn).

But it really depends.

When it comes to results, Pilates and yoga actually have many of the same benefits, especially in areas of balance and flexibility.

And the two work very well in conjunction.

It’s also important to note that the divide between yoga and Pilates isn’t as great as it once was.

Much of today’s yoga is fitness-focused, using short poses and flow (movement) to get in and out of those poses quickly.

If you are looking to yoga and Pilates for overall wellness, especially in the areas of strength, flexibility, and stability, both should have equal impact.

If you are looking to gain stamina or recover from an injury to get back to a more active lifestyle, Pilates may have a small advantage.

Benefits of Pilates

Pilates has the same benefits as yoga and calisthenics.

Some documented benefits of Pilates for those who start and stick to a routine include:

  • Improved strength
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved agility
  • Improved balance
  • Improved endurance
  • Improved heart health (including lower blood pressure)
  • Improved respiratory rates
  • Improved sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Pain relief, especially muscle and joint paint, which means Pilates helps with the following conditions:
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic back pain
  • Menstrual pain
  • Menopause
  • Nerve stimulation, especially the vagus nerve, which can help:
    • Reduce stress
    • Reduce anxiety
    • Reduce depression
    • Improve overall mental health
    • Increase alertness
    • Decrease the frequency and strength of migraines

Like yoga and calisthenics, Pilates also has the benefit of being a self-propelled, body weight system consisting of many exercises that require no equipment and can be done anywhere.

Is Pilates hard?

Pilates is a very diverse discipline that can be easy or extremely difficult, depending on the combination of exercises you do and how many reps you do.

Whatever exercises you do, Pilates is gentle and low-impact, a major feature of this system that was created with recovery in mind.

How often should you do Pilates?

Pilates is like any muscle-toning/strengthening exercise.

To get the best results, you should do it at least two times per week. (Though, three is better.)

Can you do Pilates every day?

While Pilates is low-impact, it does work the muscles.

Depending on your level of fitness and starting muscle mass, it may even help you build some muscle when you first start out.

Like any muscle-strengthening exercise, you need days of rest to allow the muscles to recover.

So, three days per week is a good rule of thumb.

Is it OK to do Pilates every day?

Since Pilates is as much about mental health as physical health, it can be a hard habit to quit.

If you want to do Pilates every day, the key is varying your routine so that you still have days of recovery.

This means, choosing exercises on your “off” days that are basic and don’t put any extra stress on the body.

Recovery days are also good days to switch to yoga.

The static poses of yoga are an ideal way to stretch out the muscles, while still incorporating the mental aspect of your workout. (Again, stick with easier poses.)

Or, even better, use your recovery days to get in cardio, because Pilates alone won’t provide enough.

How long should a Pilates session be?

Pilates classes are typically just under an hour, but this includes warm-ups and cool-downs.

Time spent in the actual workout generally runs between 30 and 45 minutes.

If you’re practicing on your own, these can be useful numbers to keep in mind.

However –

Is 20 minutes of Pilates a day enough?

It is.

Anecdotal evidence has shown just 20 minutes of Pilates three times per week (an hour a week total) provides remarkable benefits for most people.

In fact, just 10 minutes three times per week provides remarkable benefits.

So, it’s fair to say, when it comes to toning and stability, some Pilates is better than none.

What is the best time to do Pilates?

Any time of day is a great time for Pilates.

However, since Pilates provides just as much peace of mind as physical benefit, some people prefer to save their sessions for when they need them the most, such as first thing in the morning or right after they get home from work.

The only time not to do Pilates is right before bed.

Though Pilates isn’t cardio, some moves can get your heart rate pumping and intense stretches can cause inflammation, either of which will interfere with sleep.

Is Pilates a good workout?

It depends on what you mean by a “good workout.”

If you mean will your muscles and joints get stronger and more flexible with Pilates, and will you experience a range of positive benefits, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

If you mean will you lose weight and get good cardio from Pilates, the answer is “Maybe a little, but not enough.”

Is Pilates good for weight loss?

While Pilates is better for weight loss than yoga (due to the increased movement), it’s still not an aerobic exercise.

But Pilates does help build muscle, which burns more calories than fat.

Like yoga, Pilates will change the structure of your body in visible, highly beneficial ways, but, if your main goal is weight loss, you’ll need to incorporate cardio/aerobic exercise along with your Pilates sessions.

Is Pilates enough exercise?

No, not on its own.

If you incorporate enough different exercises to engage all your muscles groups, it can be sufficient strength training.

But you’ll still need to do some cardio.

How long does it take to see Pilates results?

A quote attributed to Joseph Pilates himself may best answer this question:

“In ten sessions you’ll feel the difference, in twenty you’ll see the difference, and in thirty you’ll have a new body.”

(It should be noted, I can find no official source for this quote other than every single Pilates studio highlighting it on their websites. So, while I can’t say for certain Pilates said this, I can say Pilates studios preach it.)

On a personal note, I have to say I find this quote pretty accurate.

Though, I think the visible changes appear before 20 sessions.

Within two or three sessions, I typically see small changes, especially in my arms and waist.

Does Pilates make you sore?

Yep, you’ll get sore from it.

If you’re really doing the work, your core muscles especially will both thank you and despise you.

Learn Pilates

When you’re ready to start with Pilates, you have a couple of main options:

  • You can learn on your own (as long as you’re careful with form and pay attention to your body).
  • You can learn through a class or private lessons.

Which of these methods is right for you depends on your personality, exercise style, and comfort level.

Pilates at Home

If you prefer not to do your stretching and whimpering in a group of strangers (like me), you might prefer to learn Pilates on your own or with a private instructor.

You don’t need a lot of (or any) equipment to get started and you’ll find plenty of free Pilates videos on YouTube.

Home Pilates Equipment

Like yoga and calisthenics, one thing that makes Pilates a good early exercise regimen (I wouldn’t call it a starting regimen – you’ll benefit from doing some static yoga and strength-building calisthenics first) is that you don’t need much equipment to get started.

You will, however, want a mat. (A lot of Pilates exercises are done on the floor.)

Pilates mats come in different thicknesses and have different advantages.

Thicker mats have more padding, which can provide greater protection to your knees, elbows, and other jutty parts while doing specific poses.

Thinner mats have less give, are firmer, and make it easier to feel the floor, which enhances balance.

The ideal Pilates mat is just over ½-inch thick. (This is thicker than the ideal yoga mat.)

When choosing a Pilates mat, it’s important to remember you spend a lot of time exposing delicate areas of your body (namely, your spine) to the floor, and too thin of a mat can both cause more pain and increase your risk of injury.

Stick with a mat that’s ½-inch or more in thickness, at least when first starting out.

Here are a couple of mats we like for Pilates:

Pilates Exercises for Beginners

Once you have an appropriate mat, you can get started in Pilates with only a few simple exercises.

These are our five favorite starting moves for Pilates beginners.

Pilates Beginner Exercise 1: The Hundred

Why we like it for beginners: The Hundred is one of the first exercises you’re bound to encounter in any beginner Pilates class.

It’s a very basic move that’s simple to do, but also lets you know right away what you’re in for.

The Hundred | Pilates | Shape

Pilates Beginner Exercise 2: Single (or One) Leg Circle

Why we like it for beginners: Single leg circles are another very basic Pilates move.

The movement is in the leg, but the muscle work remains with the core.

This is one of the best exercises for helping beginners understand just how core-centric Pilates is, even when it looks like it isn’t.

Pilates Exercise: One Leg Circle | Pilates Anytime

Pilates Beginner Exercise 3: Back Extension

Why we like it for beginners: The back extension strengthens and stretches the back, which is essential before getting into harder, more complex Pilates moves.

It also serves as a reminder that there are two major groupings to your body’s core, the frontside and the backside, and Pilates puts both to the test.


Basic Back Extension Pilates Exercise from

Pilates Beginner Exercise 4: Rolling Like a Ball

Why we like it for beginners: Rolling like a ball is all about technique.

When done properly, it should feel really good, providing relief to tight muscles and kneading out pressure in the spine.

When done improperly, you are likely to feel discomfort in your mid and upper back as you pass over them.

It’s a great exercise for beginners to focus on doing each Pilates exercise well (with proper technique) and is a great way to both warm up and cool down.

How to Perform 'Rolling Like A Ball' in Pilates | The Right Way | Well+Good

Pilates Beginner Exercise 5: Double Leg Stretch

Why we like it for beginners: The double leg stretch takes the same basic position of The Hundred and kicks it up a notch.

It’s a great example of how movement of the limbs draws on the core and how much strength it takes to perform many Pilates exercises in a properly controlled fashion.

Pilates Double Leg Stretch Exercise with Alisa Wyatt

Pilates Classes for Beginners

While you can learn Pilates on your own (with the help of those kindly online instructors), if you prefer some socializing with your exercise (or need the encouragement of a group to stay on track), you might prefer to learn your Pilates in a class setting.

Most Pilates classes in your area will likely be found at Pilates/yoga/Barre-specific studios, though some gyms do have Pilates classes as well.

As do many YMCAs.

Private Pilates

If you still prefer not to learn Pilates in a group setting, but feel like you would benefit from expert instruction, one last option for learning Pilates is private sessions.

A private Pilates session is just like a class, except it’s just you and the instructor.

The disadvantage of private sessions is that they’re considerably more expensive than a class (you can expect to pay at least $50/hour.)

The advantage of private sessions is that the instructor focuses solely on you.

So, if you really want to get proper form down, they can be a good investment.

Private lessons also don’t have to be an ongoing thing.

Taking a few lessons with a private instructor is a good way to learn the basics of Pilates (and perfect your form) before switching to an at-home Pilates routine.

What to wear to Pilates?

Flexible, form-fitting clothing is ideal for Pilates.

Clothes should hug the body, while still providing maximum mobility.

This makes leggings or yoga pants the best choice for Pilates bottoms.

Form-fitting athletic shorts are another good option.

Up top, the same rules apply.

Keep shirts (including sleeves) snug against the body.

Well-fitted clothing not only keeps fabric from getting in your way during exercises and prevents mishaps (like your shirt falling up and over your head) when doing certain moves, it allows the instructor (or you in a mirror) to better see your form.

Why Pilates?

When it comes to rehabilitation and building core strength, it’s hard to do better than Pilates.

So, if you’ve been dealing with an injury, suffer from chronic pain (especially back pain), or simply need to work on your overall strength and flexibility, Pilates may be just the exercise system you’ve been looking for.

Need some inspiration to get those hundred pumps in? Check out Pilates Quotes for Inspiration (and Laughs).

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