Preparing for Your First Pilates Class: 15 Things to Expect and Know

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

If you have been looking for a non-religious yet meditation-esque fitness practice to follow, Pilates may have caught your eye. It certainly caught mine in a big way. Before I really knew anything about Pilates, I thought I knew what it was all about. Little did I know that there is a whole lot more to Pilates than meets the eye! If you are keen to try it out, it is a good idea to know what to expect before you take your first class. 

While there is definite Pilates’ etiquette in class, you are bound to find your first lesson extremely fun. You will be taking the first step towards a stronger, healthier version of yourself, and you will also be meeting new, like-minded people – perhaps even making lifelong friends.

When you enter your very first Pilates class, you are bound to feel excited as well as a bit nervous. Maybe you are stepping completely out of your comfort zone. If you want to make sure that your first class is attended with confidence, there are a few things you need to know and a few things you need to expect. Check them out below:

15 things to expect and know for your first Pilates class:

1. There’re two main types of Pilates; mat and reformer.

Before you actually book a Pilates class, make sure that you know what type of class you are attending. You might think that all Pilates classes are the same, but they are not. In general, you get two types of Pilates:

  • Reformer Pilates: this is a resistance form of Pilates that is done on an exercise machine. It is an intensive workout that uses leverage, bodyweight, and springs for resistance. This type of Pilates focuses on very specific muscle groups.
  • Mat Pilates: this is a form of Pilates that focuses on strengthening and lengthening exercises, with the main focus on your core muscles. Attention is also given to training the legs and arms. These exercises are done on the mat, with or without various small props such as balls, chairs, and neck supports. 

2. You are expected to arrive on time (and that means early).

Arriving dead on time is not a good idea as you will not have time to introduce yourself, find a decent spot, or stretch/warm-up. If you want to arrive “on time” for your Pilates class, aim to arrive 15 minutes early.

3. You are expected to advise the instructor of injuries ahead of time.

Before you do your first Pilates class, it is important for your instructor to know of any physical ailments or injuries you have. This allows the instructor to avoid giving you certain exercises that may exacerbate the problem or cause the problem to flare up. 

4. You should bring a few basic essentials.

You will not be expected to have a lot of Pilates equipment when you first start, in fact, your class might not need anything other than a few basic essentials. For your first class, take along your own mat, water bottle, and an extra towel to act as neck support if you need it. Some classes may expect you to have a Pilates ball. It is best to check with your instructor what the requirements are.

5. You “must” breathe.

Your very first class will be very focused on breathing. When doing Pilates exercises, you need to breathe in a specific way. It can feel quite strange to breathe in the required way in the very beginning, so it needs to be understood and practiced. 

6. Slow, steady movements are coupled with mindfulness and concentration.

There is almost nothing fast about a Pilates class, least of all your very first class. Most Pilates classes focus on very slow, intentional movements that are highly focused. It is important to concentrate, breathe, and carry out the movements in exactly the correct way.  

7. Modification requests are normal and allowed.

You will find that some of the Pilates students do the movements/exercises as instructed and others seem to be doing something different. This is due to modifications. People who have an injury, or find a particular exercise difficult or sore, are provided with a modification to try. This is a similar exercise that is done differently to alleviate pressure, strain, or simply provide a bit of ease. If you feel you need a modification, you just need to ask.

8. Fitness workouts are to be paired with healthy eating plans.

You will also notice that everyone in Pilates class seems to be dedicated to fitness and health. That is because the practice of Pilates promotes students to be in good physical form. The healthier you are, the easier you will progress and the faster you will recover from exercise pain and strain. 

9. Beginner’s classes follow a particular introductory pattern.

You can expect to be sharing a class with other newbies, so do not worry about feeling out of place. Most beginner’s classes (granted, not all of them), follow the same introductory pattern of:

  • Breathing techniques
  • How to find and engage your core muscles
  • Alignment of the spine
  • Basic stretches

10. There is a right and wrong way to dress.

Opt for form-fitting items that are comfortable. Crop tops, t-shirts, yoga pants, and shorts are good options. You need to be able to move freely without your clothing getting in the way. You do not need shoes; you can just workout in your socks. You should also remove jewelry, tie long hair back, and go make-up free if you can. 

11. Hydration is important.

If you have watched a Pilates class in action before, you might not think that physical exertion happens – but it does. Pilates may be slow and docile-looking, but it can be quite an intense workout. Make sure that you arrive prepared with a water bottle.

12. Different types of Pilates terms will be mentioned.

If you are sitting in a Pilates class trying to keep up with the different terms mentioned, do not worry, you will get there. These are 5 basic terms used in everyday Pilates:

  • C- Curve
  • BEAM
  • Zipper/Zipping
  • Inner Eye
  • Centering

Of course, there are many more that you will learn along the way.

13. Your muscles will burn in class and, might, be quite stiff the next day.

Again, you might be fooled into thinking there will be no pain or stiffness as Pilates exercises seem quite slow and gentle. This just is not the case. During a Pilates class, do not be surprised if the simplest moves/stretches make your muscles shake or burn. And you can definitely expect some muscle pain (or soreness) the next day. Do not worry, this will pass. It is a great sign that you have been doing something right. 

14. There are appropriate and inappropriate times to chat.

You might feel like commenting your way through a class to keep the mood light, but rather do not. You should also avoid chatting too much, even if it is focused on sharing advice and tips. This is not particularly harmful but can deter you and others from getting into the right mindfulness mindset. You need this mindset so that exercises can be concentrated and effective. The appropriate time to chat is before or after class.

15. Your first class will be gentle and fun. 

And last, but not least, you can expect for your first Pilates class to be gentle and fun. You are not going to do anything backbreaking and you, certainly, are not going to exhaust yourself past the point of no return. Beginner classes are aimed at providing a stable introduction to the practice and only get increasingly difficult as you progress through the levels.

Book Your First Pilates Class

Now that you are fully informed and know what to expect, you can confidently book your first Pilates class with peace of mind. Arrive with a keen attitude and an open mind. Have fun!

This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.