So you’re finally heeding the advice of your friends (and potentially physician) regarding the countless scientifically backed benefits of a Pilates practice (increased endurance, and improved posture, just to name a few), but you’re unsure how to get started!
Don’t worry—-I am going to walk you through the key elements of Pilates and some mistakes to avoid and help you to enjoy your first Pilates class while avoiding injury.
Mistake #1: Showing Up Unprepared for Pilates Class
What’s the best thing to wear in Pilates?
Wear comfortable work out gear that isn’t too baggy – your teacher will be looking for your pelvic and spine alignment.
Opt for yoga pants, avoid zippers, pockets, or anything that might feel uncomfortable.
You may opt to wear socks with rubber grips on the bottom or go barefoot for mat classes.
Make sure you come to class with a mat, water and a towel.
Mistake #2: Moving Too Fast Through Pilates Exercises
Pilates was originally named “Contrology”, the study of control, so maintaining your teacher’s intended pace with control is key. More often than not, at first, you will be moving slower than you might like. The turtle wins the Pilates race; avoid using momentum and know that a stable, slow pace requires your stabilizing muscles to fire, and that is what makes Pilates so good, and so difficult!
Mistake #3: Breathing Without Intention
Most often in Pilates, you will be breathing within the diaphragm and ribcage with as little movement in the abdominals as possible. The focus should be on using the breath to expand the ribcage laterally (outwards, sideways) rather than vertically. A good way to get a feel for this is by placing your hands on each side of your ribcage. As you inhale, visualize your rib cage gliding apart. As you exhale, visualize your ribcage knitting back together. This is a bit hard to execute at first, so just make sure you are breathing as you learn the repertoire and the lateral breathing will come in time.
Mistake #4: Craning the Head
In Mat Pilates, you will likely be asked to lift your upper chest and back off the mat, requiring you to keep your head lifted too. In order to avoid stressing the neck, gaze slightly forward and up, with your chin in a position where it could hold an orange between your chin and chest. This chest lift position is repeated throughout Pilates. If you have trouble at first holding your head up, that is absolutely normal. You will eventually gain enough strength to execute these forward flexion exercises without neck strain. Take breaks, or use a small pillow or towel under your head initially if you feel discomfort.
Mistake #5: Tensing the Shoulders
When you’re focusing on strengthening muscles in the body, your shoulders are often the first to tense up in response, bunching up at the ears and closing the upper torso inward. Remember that laterally expansive ribcage breathing? Visualize your shoulder blades gliding down the back to lengthen the neck. In most exercises, thinking of rolling your shoulders up, down, and then back helps put them in the ideal place for movement.
Mistake #6: Mistaking Abdominal Strength for Abdominal Stability
Where most exercises start from the feet up (generally because you’re standing), Mat Pilates starts from the centre outward; Pilates teachers often refer to your abdominals and core as the second spine or the tower of power.
Abdominal strength and abdominal stability are not necessarily the same thing. You can gain abdominal strength by doing a thousand crunches per day, but that abdominal strength will not necessarily ensure that your torso is in proper alignment with your pelvis in a standing position – your abs could be nice and strong but totally off center, which ends up taxing your spine and lower back! The focus on deep abdominals in Pilates will create stability and strength.