Pilates 101: 15+ Insider Tips For Beginners

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

If you are just cottoning onto the Pilates trend, you might have a few questions or feel a bit nervous about your first few classes. Don’t worry, that’s natural. When I started, I was a complete newbie. I didn’t do much research, and, for a short time, I felt like I was out of my comfort zone. Not only was I wearing the wrong kit, but I found myself flailing about because I didn’t truly understand the concept and method of a Pilates workout.

That said, I have learned a few things along the way that I wish I knew before I started. And because of that, I have pieced together 16 of what I consider to be the most helpful tips for Pilates beginners.

If you want to get the most out of your workout, follow the below tips, and you will! Of course, understanding why these pointers will make your Pilates workout better will help you to adhere to them better. So, without further ado, if you’re just getting into Pilates, here are 16 things you need to know.

These are 16 helpful Pilates tips for beginners:

1. Adopt a positive mindset.

When I first joined Pilates, I did so because I knew an instructor who had simply the “perfect physique”. I wanted that and I was very willing to work hard for it.

I started Pilates classes, and I could feel it working. After 2 to 3 weeks, I remember looking at her and wondering when I would start to achieve the same results – there seemed to be all pain and no gain. I got upset, despondent, and, somewhat, depressed. Don’t be like me! Adopting a positive mindset is vitally important. You won’t see physical results overnight, but if you stay positive and dedicated to working out; they will come. Trust me.

2. Find a decent Pilates instructor (avoid “backyard” instructors).

In my time doing Pilates, I have seen many new instructors advertising their classes online and at local gyms. The problem with this is that you have no guarantee that the person you sign up with is skilled or qualified in the field. Make sure that you do a bit of research into the instructors in your neighborhood and don’t be afraid to ask for verification of their background (with respect, of course). 

3. Be patient.

Pilates is not something that you will learn overnight. Some of the movements and exercises are challenging and they can take quite some time to learn. This is especially the case if you aren’t very flexible and are just starting out. Don’t make a decision on whether it is for you or not, based on your first few classes. Give it a few months for your flexibility to develop and then decide. Being patient is important.

4. Wear the right clothing/kit.

Don’t rock up at your Pilates class wearing a pair of sweatpants and a baggy hoody with sneakers. Not only will this get hot, but it will also be uncomfortable and impractical for the workout you will be doing. To get the best out of your Pilates workout, you should wear form-fitting clothing such as yoga pants (or shorts) and a shirt. You should also take a towel along with you as you are going to sweat!

5. Set time aside for practice.

If you don’t practice between Pilates classes, your skills are not going to improve as quickly as you want them to. It is important to put some time aside between classes for practice. Clear out a small area in your home – it could be in the living room or even in a spare bedroom – and make it your Pilates practice zone. This will improve your skills and help you to get the physical results you want, sooner.  

6. Pay attention to the breathing techniques.

Breathing properly is essential when practicing Pilates. Puffing and panting would not get you too far in Pilates. Keep your breathing controlled and steady and follow the inhale and exhale commands of the instructor.

7. Keep hydrated.

Just because Pilates is slow and steady, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get an exceptional workout. You will most likely sweat, so it is essential to remain hydrated. Bring a water bottle to your Pilates class with you. 

8. Disconnect from everything else: focus.

No, Pilates is not like yoga. You don’t have to enter a state of meditation. You do, however, need to put your phone away and dedicate your full attention to what you are doing in the current moment. A good Pilates workout requires you to be mindfully focused on each and every movement and exercise.

9. Choose the right class.

Here’s something that you need to know; not all Pilates classes are the same. In general, there’re two main types of Pilates you’ll find. Mat Pilates is done on the floor with a few or no items of Pilates equipment. While reformer Pilates is done using a specialized piece of Pilates equipment and is a very intense workout. Make sure that you join the type of Pilates class that best suits your objectives and physical abilities. 

10. Lose the shoes – wear a pair of socks.

There’s no need to wear shoes to a Pilates class. You can go barefoot, but you will probably find the movements a lot easier if you wear a pair of socks. 

11. Work against momentum – keep movements slow and precise.

There’s nothing rushed about Pilates. This is where I went wrong in the beginning. I believed that my movements had to be more aerobic or repetitive in order for them to be effective. As a result, my first few classes involved a bit of flailing about. Pilates exercises can be quite challenging to achieve. They are slow, focused, and deliberate. Don’t allow momentum to take over your movements and exercises.

12. Position the chin down to avoid neck strain.

Pilates exercises focus a lot of attention on the abdominal and core muscles. These can be grueling exercises, and it almost feels natural to lift your chin up and face the ceiling. You should avoid doing this as it almost always results in neck strain. To ensure that you avoid neck strain, tuck your chin in toward your chest. This will round the upper spine area and relieve strain and tension on the neck and ensure that your abs are the muscles that are doing the work.

13. Limit the music.

Some quiet and gentle music is absolutely fine for a Pilates workout. But, in my opinion, you will really get the best out of your exercises if you carry them out in a quiet place and focus more on your body and breathing than what is happening around you. Music can be distracting as it’s natural to pick up the beat or tempo of what you are listening to. For some, this might work against their Pilates workout effectiveness. 

14. Don’t push yourself too hard – easy does it.

When you first start Pilates, you are bound to encounter some exercises that just seem “impossible”. Rest assured that they are not impossible, but are rather impossible to you right now. With time and practice, your flexibility and strength will greatly improve, and things will feel easier. If you are struggling to do a particular exercise or movement, relax, take it easy and don’t push yourself too hard. Pushing yourself too hard will, most likely, result in aches and pain.

15. Engage every muscle.

When doing Pilates exercises, it is important to pay attention to exactly which muscles you should be engaging. Think about it. Physically make your body engage the muscles being worked. If you don’t, you might be able to semi imitate the correct movement or exercise, but you won’t be doing it right. 

16. Stretch before and after. 

It comes as no surprise that stretching before and after exercise is essential. It helps to prepare the muscles for exercise as well as to cool them down and allow them to relax after. If you don’t stretch, you could experience more strain after your workout, than is necessary. 

Prepare For Your First Pilates Class

If you want to truly experience the benefits of Pilates – and there are many – all you have to do is book your first class and get started. By noting the above pointers, you can ensure that you are prepared for Pilates and aren’t taken by surprise.

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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
Editor | + posts

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.