Pilates for Beginners: Welcome to Your First Pilates Session

The Pilates method for exercise has never been more popular. Everyone is talking about it; everyone seems to be doing it, and everyone raves about the amazing results they get from doing Pilates regularly. So how does one begin doing Pilates? Where is the best place to go as a beginning Pilates student? What should the student expect from their very first session? 

A Little History

In the last 10 years or so, Pilates has gone from being something you do under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor at a boutique studio to joining a large studio with one teacher to 12 or more students.  Before the explosion of large group classes, beginner Pilates students took a few classes with an experienced instructor where they learned not only the moves, but also how to execute these moves properly. 

Many students continued to take private sessions on a regular basis while others ended up sharing a session with one or two other people making the session more affordable. Most studios at that time required that a beginner Pilates student take at least five private sessions and some required more. By the time the student was done with the required number of sessions, they had a very basic understanding of the method.  Once bigger studios with as many as 12 reformers (the main piece of equipment in a Pilates studio), students never truly learned how to do Pilates the way it was intended.  Group classes became more like group fitness classes in gyms.  

What to Expect on your First Beginner Pilates Session 

The instructor will have you fill out a health form which will help her to understand if there are any issues that would affect the way you move. This way she can modify movements when and if necessary. Think of it as a custom-made exercise program that could fit just about any body and any skill level. The instructor will also ask you what goals you have in mind. Maybe you are interested in getting in shape for an important event.  Perhaps you are hoping to be able to move with greater ease and to build strength. Whatever the goal is, the instructor will be able to customize the workout to fit your needs. Once the initial questions are answered, you will start with a few basic Pre-Pilates movements which will either be done on a Cadillac table (the largest piece of equipment in the Pilates studio) or on a Pilates mat. Most of these exercises are relatively easy and can be mastered quickly.  The instructor will talk to you about the Pilates breathing method so that you can get the most benefit out of each and every exercise. 

First Beginner Pilates Session

On to the Reformer

Not all beginning Pilates students will get onto the reformer right away, but some teachers will get you on there within the first half hour. The reformer looks like a bed – well sort of – and has a headrest on one end and a foot bar on the other. Between the foot bar and the carriage there are 4 or 5 springs depending on the brand of the reformer. The springs may be color coded in yellow, blue, red and green or they may all be black.  The springs determine the load from very light to heavy. Next to the headrest are two straps in which either the hands or the feet will be placed according to the exercise. 

Not to worry. 

The instructor will go over all of that with you before you get moving.  

Footwork Reformer

The Footwork

With a more traditional and classically trained teacher, you will start with footwork which involves moving the carriage back and forth using several different foot positions. The springs will most likely be on the heavy side to get the body warmed up.  The footwork really helps you to feel the flow of Pilates and it allows the instructor to observe how you move so she can see where you might need a bit of extra guidance.  

Pilates Reformer Hundred

The Hundred

After the Footwork most teachers will introduce their students to an exercise called The Hundred. The Hundred requires hands in straps, legs in tabletop (knees bent and feet off the foot bar). The hands in straps reach down towards the carriage, the legs move straight out from tabletop and, assuming the student is strong enough, the head and chest lift off the reformer. Then the breathing and pumping begin with five inhales followed by five exhales ten times. After the footwork and The Hundred, the instructor will introduce other beginner exercises which would probably include feet in straps (a real favorite for most people) among others.

After the Session

Most students feel amazing after their first Pilates session. They not only feel worked out, but they also feel taller, lighter, and more energetic. Most students can’t wait to come back and do it all again. Pilates is a great exercise and you will love your first beginner Pilates session.

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