A guide to Pilates for beginners

If you're interested in Pilates, here's how to get started.

Woman doing pilates

by Emily Thorpe |

It's easy to see the appeal of Pilates. As well as being low impact and gentle on your body, it boosts your posture, strength, and flexibility while being a really lovely method of self-care.

If you're new to the world of Pilates, in this guide we talk you through how to get started.

What is Pilates?

"Pilates is a series of exercises, either on a mat or other equipment (most commonly a reformer), structured in a sequence," explains qualified Pilates and yoga instructor Eloise Skinner. The method was developed by Joseph Pilates, a physical trainer, in the 1920s. Pilates has a strong focus on postural alignment, pelvic stability and the core muscles.

How is Pilates different from Yoga?

A central difference is the central intention and origin of each practice, according to Eloise. "Yoga is a spiritual tradition (originating in India), with a strong emphasis on mind-body connection; Pilates focuses more on anatomy and physical strength. Yoga sequences also tend to have a 'flow' (in other words, a steady transition between poses, or 'asanas'), whereas Pilates tends to focus on longer holds, continued repetitions and a sustained focus on a single muscle group."

Is Pilates good for beginners?

Absolutely! As Pilates encourages a controlled, steady way of moving, beginners should feel comfortable taking a basic-level mat class or even trying out a beginner-friendly video or app. "To progress to other forms of equipment, like the reformer, beginners should seek out an entry-level class, just to make sure they are comfortable with the equipment before diving in," recommends Eloise.

women in pilates class

What are the benefits of Pilates?

• A feeling of strength and power in the central muscle groups targeted by the practice (for example core, glutes and shoulders)

• A better sense of alignment (especially when performing other exercises, such as cycling, running or other fitness classes)

• Increased flexibility, mobility and agility

• An enhanced sense of balance

• A feeling of embodiment (or 'mind-body connection')

• A greater degree of breath control

Equipment you’ll need when beginning Pilates

"For starting out and when attending mat classes, you'll just need a mat - some teachers use extra equipment (such as balls, bands, rings, bricks and straps), but these should be available in studios," explains Eloise. "For reformer classes, many studios recommend wearing Pilates grip socks - these are available in studios, or in most fitness apparel stores."

The best exercise mats for home workouts, yoga and beyond

Pilates exercises for beginners

Single leg circles

Lie on your back (on a mat or other comfortable surface) and raise one leg to the ceiling. Keeping your hips stable and your spine in neutral (not arching your back or flaring your ribs out), circle the lifted leg in one direction. You can keep the circles small to start (think: tennis ball size), and then - if you can maintain stability in the hips - extend the scope of the circle. Take around five circles one way, then reverse, and then repeat on the other leg.

Cat/cow stretch

cow stretch

Come to a kneeling position on your mat. Begin with your spine in neutral, and then begin to move your back through 'flexion' (arching up like a cat) and 'extension' (opening your back into a back-bend, and sending your heart forwards to the front of the room). Once you've had a few repetitions, you can focus on your breath - try breathing out as you arch your back into a 'cat', and breathing in as you open your chest into a 'cow'.

Standing roll-down

Woman exercising yoga at home

From standing, soften your knees and tuck your chin to your chest. From here, roll down to a forward fold, trying to articulate each bone of the spine separately. Remember to bend your knees as much as you need to. Allow your body to fold all the way forwards, and stay in your forward fold for a few breaths before rolling back up - again, articulating each vertebra of your spine separately.

Follow Eloise on Instagram here.

Pilates for beginners at home apps

If you don't fancy attending a beginners class, why not download one of these apps?

5 Minute Pilates Workouts

Kick off your Pilates journey with this app and its five minute workouts. There's a handy timer function plus all exercises have clear descriptions and 3D animations making it ideal for beginners.

Cost: Free but optional premium level available. Available for iOS and Android.

Download 5 Minute Pilates Workouts here.

Pilates at Home: Workouts

This set of Pilates exercises will help you to build familiarity with Pilates mat exercises and programmes for newbies and those more experienced.

Cost: Free to download but in-app purchases available. Available for iOS and Android.

Download Pilates at Home: Workouts here.

Pilates Anytime

Access world-class Pilates instruction anywhere and anytime with this brand that has over 3,700 high-quality, fun, and effective Pilates workouts guided by 200+ of the industry's best teachers. The app can be used across several devices and beginners are well looked after with top tips and advice.

Cost: 15 day free trial then £14 per month after. Available for iOS and Android.

Download Pilates Anytime here.

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