You are SO not alone if you are wondering what the heck is going on in your first (group or one-on-one) Pilates class.
I still remember the first time many years ago when I had my first real reformer (apparatus) session.
It was a private session and I was so confused!
Some exercises felt REALLY strange, almost impossible while others felt so easy.
I thought there was no way I was doing them correctly. The instructor wasn’t too chatty, but he kept me moving. I remember thinking “is this a joke? He just made this up,”… But as I looked around the studio everyone else was doing similar things, so I figured he must know what he was doing, right?
By then it was too late to leave. It was a private session after all and I couldn’t just sneak away. “Okay – I’ll go along with this for now,” I thought. “Just get me through this hour.”
I almost didn’t go back to Pilates.
But after that class I noticed that I felt energized, stretched, rejuvenated. So, I decided to give it another try. I know I didn’t do everything perfect, but after several sessions, my lower back hurt less, I felt like I could breathe deeper and most of all I felt like I had more energy after the workout than before.
After a few sessions, I actually started to understand some of the instructions. I had some “A-Ha!” moments that changed everything. That’s when I knew I was hooked.
That was only the beginning. With practice I felt even better and realized a different kind of strength, which made everything else I did feel easier, yet more powerful. I made the decision that I wanted to help my clients feel this too, and even though it took me a while, (almost 3 years) I became a teacher.
I didn’t come from an extensive dance background, as many Pilates instructors do. I rowed crew. I ran marathons and triathlons. I loved mountain biking, gymnastics, anything I could power through. But never had I done anything that challenged my body and mind like Pilates.
At first, I often felt as though I couldn’t decide if Pilates was too easy or too hard. I could squat a decent amount of weight, I was a runner and my legs were strong. In fact they were so strong that they would try and take control over every exercise, including exercises that were meant for the deep core muscles.
Finding those deep muscles: that was the hard part. For a while there, I just couldn’t feel them at all. Until one day, I did! Just like that, I had literally found muscles I didn’t know I had. At least it seemed to happen suddenly, but I now realize I needed a bit of time to learn how to find those muscles and use them differently.
That’s why I encourage everyone to do Pilates, even if it’s at home with a video. Pilates is not about performing or “getting it right” necessarily. It is supposed to help you live a stronger, more active life doing the things you love doing, whatever that is. Pilates exercises will help you run, swim, jump, bend, lift, stretch, carry, climb etc. better and with more strength, awareness and alignment. And that always feels good.
I sometimes see that same “are you kidding me?” expression on my new clients’ faces, and I get it. It brings me right back to that first time when I felt so awkward and incompetent. I know when someone says “I can’t feel this anywhere” that it means they just need more time, not that they are strong and don’t need that particular exercise.
Anyone can do Pilates…that’s right, regardless of your age, weight, athletic ability or lack of ballet training. I’ve seen people come on crutches, in wheelchairs, with missing limbs. There are modifications to make any exercise accessible to each and every person.
I’m writing this mainly for those who feel self conscious or not fit enough to do Pilates. I know lots of people who I think would really like to try a class or private session, but tell themselves they are not flexible enough, don’t have the right body type, have injuries, aren’t graceful, think they don’t have the right clothes….etc. But its also for strong, fit, athletic people who may have tried Pilates but gave up because maybe it felt too easy at first. That’s the beauty of Pilates: The more you do it, the easier AND harder it gets. But it always becomes more FUN!
Here are my tips that I offer as encouragement for anyone who is feeling like they are just not “getting” Pilates, are not seeing results, or are nervous about trying a session/class:
1. Patience: Be kind to yourself, and be patient. It takes time for your body to learn new things. It’s like a whole new way of moving, to your brain it’s not unlike learning another language. Focus and do your best and you will feel and see results.
2. Persistence: Don’t give up. Just…don’t. It’s a bad idea. Stick with it. It’s worth it. I’ve had so many clients say that they finally “get” what I’m teaching them after months of instruction. Find a regular schedule that works for you and stick with it, whether that involves a home video, group class or private session. Think long term fitness and wellness – this is a workout that is gentle enough to do anytime, for the rest of your life.
3. Practice: Remember: it’s not a performance, it’s a practice that belongs to you, and only you. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Do it for yourself and make it a habit, even if it’s just a 5-10 minute routine. Don’t worry about what you look like, strive to do your personal best in the moment. I strongly encourage you to regularly do your own mat workout at home. Doing “home-work” makes you learn faster and see results quicker.
4. Presence:You need both your body and your brain to do Pilates. It’s not really the type of thing you can space out with…you will get a lot more bang for your buck (and a lot less time wasted) if you really participate instead of just going through the motions. Distractions during your Pilates practice don’t help you get results. Presence helps you get results. Show up 100%. Turn off your phone, go to the bathroom before your session, clear your schedule so you won’t be interrupted. Make that time worth your while. Trust me, everything else that’s on your mind will still be there after your workout, and who knows, you might just have a fresher, clearer perspective once you’ve focused your mind and moved your body a bit. I know it always works for me.
All of the above is what prompted me to create my downloadable Slow, Flow and On the Go Pilates workout. It includes 3 separate workouts: Slow (With lots of detailed instruction, GREAT for beginners), Flow (A little faster for when you feel ready to move more fluidly) and On The Go (for when you only have a few minutes but want to get a quick workout in. A great sequence to squeeze in before work!)
This is great for anyone looking for a classical, traditional Pilates class to add to their home practice. This is exactly how I first learned Pilates, so I’ve added lots of tips and visualizations that helped me learn the exercises more effectively.
I’m really very curious to know how you feel about trying Pilates, or if you felt like I did when I took my first Pilates session. Did it feel natural to you or did it take you a while? Did you stick with it? Please share your experience below!
Great article Danielle! I will share it with my clients. Thank you
loved your write up, as a Pilates instructor myself i could relate SO well to what you said 🙂
Thank you so much! 🙂
I just started and on just my 2nd private session . As I drove home last night i thought “i don’t think i’m cut out for this” or “I don’t think i am going to understand”. I first got interested in Pilates because I am 40yrs old and diagnoised with arthritis in the spine and thought “i have to do something; a change of lifestlye and career” I sit all day at a desk for the past 18 yrs and it has certainly done some damaged.
Nevertheless, I refuse to let that get me down; instead i wanted to find something to help me get up and off this chair for good! So i made the decision to start the steps to becoming a Pilates Instructor. Like you, i do enjoy the feeling i get after my session and slept like a baby! 🙂 However, started to feel that becoming an instructor is way out of my league until i read this article.
I will stick through it and be paitent…thank you so much again. This truely was a ontime read from God. 🙂
Wow I am inspired to retry. I felt embarrassed doing it and Never tried it again. I love cardio and exercise in general. I have so much work to do on my upper body. I was born without a thyroid and I am very active but weight is and always has been a struggle for me. I played sports my entire life and stay active but it’s not enough to be where I want to be. I am excited to retry it.. and it was awkward when I first tried it. Thought it wasn’t for me and I was the wrong type to do it. thank you.
I use to work out a lot, but for some reason I got out of the habit. I am trying to get back in to it and I am thinking about joining a pilate class. I really liked your tip about being patient. I am a person who likes to see results right away. Unfortunately, that isn’t how working out goes, so patience will be very important. Thank you for the advice.
It makes sense that patience is important when practicing Pilates. My sister has been interested in trying reformer Pilates. I’ll let her know that she should try her best to remain patient.
Hi Darrien, Building a solid foundation with the basics is key. Your sister should look for a studio that teaches mat as well as reformer as they are meant to be practiced as a system. Wishing you both the best of luck!
I’m thankful that you mentioned how pilates can be practiced no matter how old you are. My aunt has been trying to find a way to improve her mobility ever since she got into a car accident last month, but she is worried that her limited stamina may prevent her from taking a pilates class. She’ll be glad to hear that she may still be able to attend a class.
In her case I might recommend a private session so she can focus on her personal issues and details that may not be addressed in a group class. Since the car accident was only last month, be sure she gets clearance from a doctor and a recommendation of a knowledgable teacher to work one on one to address her concerns. When she learns the basics and is feeling better and more aware of her body, then perhaps a small group class would be appropriate.