The Pilates exercises, developed by Joseph Pilates in the early twentieth century, combine movement and breath to work the body’s smaller and deeper stabilizing muscles as well as its prime movers. Pilates aligns and supports your entire body’s overall structure and joints. When done correctly and with good form, what appears to be simple can be deceptively challenging and incredibly effective. Pilates has been shown in studies to improve one’s quality of life by reducing depression and pain, particularly back pain.
We reach out to Pilates experts to ask for advice on creating the ideal space at home and some tips and advice for your daily practice; read on to learn everything they had to say.
What are the basic Pilates props to have at home?
The Pilates Process™ method is all about ease, efficiency, and adapting Pilates to work for the individual. Props support these goals and can make mat work kinder to the joints.
There are 3 props that we love everyone to have access to.
Though not a sophisticated prop in any way, the head pad can be key to neck comfort and ideal alignment, and most people do better with head support of some type. A folded towel can substitute if you don’t want to invest in the official firm head pads.
* Note: If you need head support, you are doing yourself no favors by lying flat. It’s a common myth that posture is improved by removing head support.
Also called the overall, this softball can be helpful in a variety of ways. Most dramatically, it can increase the range of motion to abdominal curls resulting in more lengthening and strengthening of the often tight upper abdominals. This results in greater abdominal challenge and a healthier, less compressive range while often easier on the neck. What’s not to love?
A light theraband is a simple and economic prop that can add resistance, support, and feedback to various exercises – it’s amazingly versatile. And it travels so well 🙂
We recommend using lighter bands (green or blue) that are a bit longer (over 5′) to get the most out of standing exercises.
These props can make or break your love of mat Pilates and mimic some of the effective elements of equipment-based Pilates.
-Laura Helsel Gauthier from Pilates Process
What is the easiest pilates sequence for a beginner to do at home?
The best advice on starting a Pilates routine for beginners is to remember not to do too much, too soon! You want to introduce these new exercises with proper form and engagement of the appropriate muscles to ensure you will get the most out of your Pilates routine! The following exercises should be done on a Pilates Mat on the floor. *Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially for those with injuries/health conditions.*
Breathing (for core activation): Start lying down on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on the ribcage and one hand on the low belly. Take a deep inhale through the nose and observe the ribcage expanding. Next, exhale through the mouth, imagining someone tightening a corset around the waist, forcing you to draw the abdominals deeply and towards the spine. Repeat 5 times.
Toe Taps: Start lying down on the back with knees bent and toes on the floor with heels lifted. Inhale to prepare, exhale and draw the right leg up to a tabletop position (90 degree bend, as if resting a leg on a tabletop) using your core. Next, inhale, place the right leg down, exhale, and draw the left leg up to the tabletop. Repeat 8 times for each leg. As you progress, try to find your balance between the legs change, making it more challenging on the core.
Modified Rollups: Start in a sitting position with a flat back, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With hands behind the thighs, for support, start rounding your back down towards the floor, engaging your core. Go as low as you can with control and then round back up to starting position. Repeat 6 times. Hands can come off the thighs as you progress, making it more challenging on the core.
Pelvic Lift: Start lying down on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, slightly wider than hips and turned out. Arms long at the sides on the mat. Inhale as you slowly start curling your pelvis off the mat, one vertebra at a time until you reach the mid-back, engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and core. Hold for a pause and then exhale and roll back down to the mat. Repeat 10 times.
Modified Criss Cross: Start lying down on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring hands behind the head with elbows wide for neck support. Inhale prepare. Exhale while bringing your right leg to the tabletop as you curl up with your upper body, twisting your left elbow towards the right knee. Core and your obliques (side abdominals) should be engaged. Inhale and lower right leg and upper body. Exhale and repeat on the left side. Repeat 8 times on each side.
-Sarah Leifer from The Pilates Collective
Pilates at home: what to look for in online fitness classes
Online fitness is here to stay. It’s incredibly convenient and can even connect you to a community of people with similar interests. In addition, Pilates can be adapted to home practice with ease. Did you know that when Joseph Pilates created Pilates in the early 1920s, he was focused simply on the body and breathwork? No fancy equipment is needed.
Here are my top 3 tips for getting started with Pilates at home:
Choose the Right Place to Exercise
Make sure you have enough room around you to move and that there are no other hazards you could trip on. You know your house better than we do. Pick the best spot you can to work out.
Listen to Your Body
If an exercise doesn’t feel right for you today, don’t do it. If you know a modification, do that instead. Of course, you can always skip the current exercise and do your favorite stretch, grab a drink, or simply catch your breath as you wait for the next round.
Establish a Routine
Once you’ve found a couple of favorite classes, make a weekly reservation (something manageable) to set a habit for yourself. By developing and sticking to routines, we hold ourselves accountable for a healthy lifestyle.
Online Pilates classes should focus on building a well-rounded movement routine that supports strength and muscle balance. The trainer should include exercises that move the spine forward and back, sideways, and rotate into a spiral. Online fitness has become so much more than the VHS workout tapes popularized in the 80s. Whether you choose the convenience of on-demand classes, the accountability of a livestream fitness class, or even brief workouts on YouTube or social media, I hope you’ll keep moving!
-Elaine Economou from Move Wellness
What are the 6 principles of Pilates?
Pilates is a movement system that holds at its core 6 basic principles.
The first I will discuss is breath. It is pretty likely that becoming aware of your breath and your breathing muscles will be one of, if not the first, skills that your Pilates teacher will introduce you to. This is because the most efficient way to access deep core and postural back muscles is via proper breathing and breathwork.
Next comes concentration. Concentration is another key principle of Pilates that requires the student to be laser-focused on the movement skill being taught. This focused concentration allows new movement skills to be absorbed and movement patterns properly reprogrammed.
And then there is precision. Your Pilates practice will require that you follow extremely subtle cues in a way that is pristine and exact.
After precision comes centering. This Pilates principle is described as the act of physically and mentally bringing our attention toward the center of the body.
Next in line we have, control. Through mindful awareness, Pilates requires the use of exact effort combined with proportionate muscle control. Joseph Pilates termed such controlled muscle activation, right effort, and muscle tone (not too much, not too little) “uniform development.”
Last but certainly not least on the list is flow – the fun part, in my humble opinion. The flow principle involves discovering the dance that exists between you, your breath, and the apparatus. This rhythmic pace creates warmth in the body by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the body.
Combined, all 6 of these Pilates Principles, when taught well, become second nature and will enhance not only your Pilates practice but your life. I guarantee it!
-Kevyn Zeller from Kevyn Zeller Pilates
Tips create the perfect ambiance in your Pilates space to help with relaxation and concentration?
Pilates is a perfect system of exercise to help you reconnect with your body without high-impact stress on your joints. It is a highly versatile workout whether you are in a gym, Pilates studio, or at home. It can be done with just a mat, small props, or full apparatus. Regardless, Pilates can be a workout game changer no matter your fitness background or where you practice.
If you have ever done Pilates in a space that is too noisy or too brightly lit, you know that creating the right atmosphere for relaxation and movement is vital. For me, creating the perfect ambiance in your Pilates space to help with relaxation and concentration include the following;
- Lots of natural light
- Open-air or good airflow
- Natural flooring and furniture
- Enough space to spread out
- Away from outside noise
- A clutter-free space
- Proper temperature
- The right equipment or props
If you are opening a Pilates studio, besides aesthetics, don’t forget to budget. Even if you have found your dream space, if it is not within your budget, you will end up being stressed, and your clients can tell.
When setting up a personal Pilates space in your home, there are many options for more portable apparatus if space is an issue.
The Pilates Arc, ideal for stretching, strengthening, and flexibility exercises. The MOTR (Movement on the roller) is a reformer, resistance trainer, and foam roller all in one! These Balanced Body products I highly recommend for the home if space is a concern. During the pandemic, these items helped keep my clients moving! There are virtual classes and video options to support these pieces.
If you have a larger space that can accommodate a reformer, the IQ reformer from Balanced Body is a good option.
It can telescope into itself and slide under the bed or stand it up to reclaim floor space. The IQ is a less expensive model than the studio reformers, smaller and easier to store.
On their site, www.pilates.com, Balanced Body provides you with a space planner to see what your space can accommodate and plan before placing an order.
Now that you have your space set up, how to choose a workout? There are many options out there for Pilates workouts, and it takes some trial and error to find the appropriate level and an instructor you click with. I always recommend some virtual privates first to discuss any limitations and safety concerns and to familiarize yourself with the props or equipment.
There are countless books, videos, and Pilates Anytime is a subscription service with hundreds of classes and trainers to choose from to support you in your movement journey.
-Nancy Myers from EHS Pilates
Pilates Breathing: Why is it important and how to breathe when doing Pilates?
I’m going to share an answer that may be surprising, perhaps even controversial. I think we should focus less on breathing when teaching Pilates for two reasons.
In his writing, Joseph Pilates repeatedly emphasizes the mind-body connection, and in talking with his student John Steel, I’ve come to understand that what Joe meant by this was what we call a flow state these days. Flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which you are immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and deep enjoyment of what you are doing. In other words, you’re not thinking, just doing.
To achieve a flow state, it’s necessary to engage in a high-challenge activity that requires you to use all your skill. Pilates is such an activity; focusing on executing the movements perfectly and moving the carriage smoothly is a high challenge activity that requires great skill.
Paradoxically, focusing on particular instructions and internal body sensations like breath is mutually exclusive with a flow state. Inflow you DON’T THINK. Whereas to consciously focus on the breath is, by definition, thinking.
Motor learning research can help us here too. We know from the last 25 years of science in this field that movement skill is enhanced by focusing on a point outside the body that is directly related to the outcome of the movement. For example, the movement of the carriage or straps or the pressure of your shirt against the mat.
Whereas focusing on internal body sensations reduces movement skill, efficiency, and automaticity. Automaticity is a hallmark of skilled movement as well as of flow state.
When in flow, you will breathe naturally and optimally.
If you study the breath patterns Joe describes in Return To Life, you’ll see that many of them follow the pattern of exhaling with flexion, inhale with extension. This is in harmony with the natural biomechanics of breathing, and most people will automatically breathe in this way without being verbally instructed or thinking about it.
So. If your goals with Pilates include mental clarity, focus, and achieving a flow state, I suggest not worrying about breath patterns and instead focusing on controlling the movement of the carriage, straps, your socks, or some other external object.
-Raphael Bender from Breathe Education
What should I look for in a Pilates instructor?
When starting Pilates, it’s important to find an approachable, knowledgeable, and certified instructor.
First, you should be able to check the teacher before you work with them. Look for a website and social media profiles, and testimonials. If they offer a free consultation, schedule that so you can chat and see if it’s a good fit.
Second, make sure that your instructor is knowledgeable. How many years of experience do they have? Where have they taught? Did they complete a comprehensive certification? And, do they understand your issues? Not every Pilates teacher knows how to handle every injury or issue, so you need to ask, especially if you have osteoporosis, back or neck pain, or any chronic illness.
Finally, make sure your instructor is certified and insured. Most Pilates certifications require a minimum of 600 apprentice hours in the studio, with exams and checks. You want a teacher who has taken the time and effort to complete this level of training. Also, check that your teacher is insured, either through themselves or as employees. It’s yet another good sign of professionalism and client focus.
Back when I started teaching Pilates over 30 years ago, there weren’t a lot of instructors. In fact, there were under 500 in the entire US! Also, there were no certification programs, just apprenticeships. Now, there are many certifications and many instructors.
Choose your Pilates instructor wisely!
-Lynda Lippin from Lynda Lippin Pilates
Is Pilates an exercise for all ages? How often should I do Pilates?
The 13-year-old dancer whose hypermobile pelvis and tight hip flexors caused wrenching low back pain.
The 20-year-old college football player whose back pain from poor mechanics during weight lifting kept him off the field.
The three 88-year-old women with poor balance and osteoporosis worried family members who thought they would soon have to move into nursing homes.
All of them found relief and renewal by practicing Pilates.
When people ask me whether Pilates is an exercise for all ages, I use these examples to answer unequivocally — Yes! I see the successes in my studio every day.
Joseph Pilates created an exercise system that has stood the test of time. His whole-body conditioning focuses on core stability, postural alignment, and spinal decompression. People get addicted to the way it makes their bodies feel.
Pilates teachers joke that Pilates is easy — unless you are doing it right! Precision is key to gaining the most benefits from the exercises, which is why people should seek coaching from a highly skilled instructor.
Practiced at least 2-3 times a week, Pilates will change your life.
One of my 88-year-old clients recently went to see her internist. When he discovered that she had regained a half-inch of height in the past year, he called her family to share the good news. He asked them, “What has made the difference?” They responded right away: “It’s Pilates.”
-Holly Holland from Holly’s Pilates Village
Mat vs. Reformer Pilates – which method is best?
What a challenging and ever-changing last 18 months to 2 years we have all had. As a studio owner, I know I have learned so much throughout this time regarding how my business runs, our processes, our team, our values, and our ethos as a business. We have certainly streamlined a lot of what we do.
However, one trend that I have noticed for sure in studio usage and business development is the rise of the reformer class.
Coming out of lockdown, we saw a clear demand, need, and want for our reformer classes far ahead of our mat class offerings. It got me to thinking – why the shift? Perhaps with the rise of online classes and so many people offering this service from all around the world, and all at very different pricing bands, the challenge of the studio mat class was heightened on the mat versus the reformer. Perhaps people just missed what they could not have and returned to the reformer classes quicker than the mat. Perhaps, our choices and behaviors in terms of what we leave home for have altered, and we need to be seen as providing something one cannot do at home to really thrive as a studio. All I can say is that we believe the rise of the reformer class in studios is here to stay and that if I were starting today as a studio owner, it would be the reformers that I focus on ahead of the mat classes for now.
From a purely business model, the reformer classes also provide greater turnover and greater profit and, as such, are an excellent choice for increasing the bottom line that we all so need right now!
Whatever your choice, your belief, or the trends you have seen, I hope your business thrives, and we can all achieve the best results we can for our clients. Wishing you well in your Pilates journey!
-Glenn Withers from Appi Pilates TV
Pilates has numerous advantages and is suitable for people of all fitness levels, ages, sizes, and other factors. In addition, it can greatly support and enhance any endeavor you undertake if you incorporate it into your training regimen.
Pilates can improve your quality of life, whether you want to feel better, tone up, build muscle mass and bone density, or cross-train.