A while ago, a friend of mine told me that she had tried Pilates but it just wasn’t for her. She said that instead of improving her back issues, the exercises had made them worse. I was very surprised to hear that as my experience with Pilates is completely different. In fact, it has made a big difference to my overall well-being.
So I wanted to find out more as I suspected that maybe she wasn’t aware of how to start Pilates the right way. She had taken the following approach: booked a beginner’s class and exercised at home with the help of YouTube videos. Sounded completely fine to me. So what had gone wrong?
Apparently, she had joined a beginner’s course, but most people in her class had already done Pilates for at least a term and knew the basics. For this reason, the instructor didn’t think it was necessary to run through the basics again, such as breathing, posture, body alignment, engaging your core, finding your neutral position etc.
So my friend just tried to copy everybody else to get the exercises right. However, as she hadn’t found her neutral position and her body was very much out of alignment, she pulled a back muscle. As she was in pain, she thought she had to do some extra exercises at home to alleviate the pain. So she practiced to some videos she found on YouTube making the same mistakes as in class.
You can imagine the result – even more back pain!
Make sure you don’t end up like that and follow these easy steps.
1) Find a good Pilates instructor and learn the basics
Even if you plan to do Pilates at home, it’s essential to first learn the basics from a qualified and experienced instructor. You want to make sure that you do your exercises correctly to get maximum benefit from them and don’t hurt yourself. But how do you find a good instructor?
If you live in or near a town, you will have a good choice of Pilates instructors and classes available. You can ask in your local gym or leisure center, and there may also be dedicated Pilates studios nearby. In my experience, Pilates studios are the best choice followed by Pilates instructors at a gym or leisure center.
My friend had picked a community Pilates class run by a freelance class instructor and whilst this instructor was fully qualified, she was not undergoing any quality control and was cutting corners with detrimental effect. I certainly would not say that this is always the case, but should you decide to book a community class in Pilates, this is something to be aware of.
You can either look to join a class or take up one-to-one sessions to have your sessions tailor-made. When going for a class, double-check it’s for complete beginners so you get proper induction. If the class is more for improvers with basic knowledge and the instructor is not prepared to run you through the basics and principles of Pilates, stay away from it.
2) Allocate a suitable space for Pilates at home
Once you have learned the basics, you are fine to practice Pilates at home. It is a good idea to decide on a particular space in your home where you feel comfortable to do your exercises. The space needs to be big enough to accommodate your exercise mat, and you should be able to spread out your arms to both sides when lying on the mat. Generally, aim for a minimum area of 180 cm width and 250 cm length.
Also, keep this space uncluttered and unobstructed as you are unlikely to practice regularly if you first have to tidy up your room. Imagine you had to move some furniture or clutter each time you wanted to exercise for a few minutes. Wouldn’t you be tempted to just have a coffee instead and practice another time? Right, of course, you would. So, your special Pilates space should always be ready to use.
Some people set up mini home gyms in their garage, which is sensible if you use exercise machines that take up a lot of space. However, when you start Pilates, you will first focus on mat-based exercises and lie on the floor a lot. Therefore, your lounge or bedroom or any room with a relaxed atmosphere will be a better choice.
3) Find time to practice Pilates regularly
No exercise program will work without regular practice. That’s also true for Pilates. If you want to feel and see a sustainable improvement in your body, you have to do your exercises on a regular basis. This does not mean that you need to spend hours and hours every week just working out. Even 10 minutes a day or 30 minutes 2 or 3 times a week will make a noticeable difference.
But to ensure you really do practice regularly, you need to find a time slot in your daily or weekly schedule. Some people like to do a few exercises right after getting up although you will feel particularly stiff at that time. Or you might make it part of your lunch break which is a nice way to relax half-way through your day. It’s a great choice when you work from home. Or you could do it at the end of your working day.
There is no one best time for practicing Pilates but there are times that work best for you – something only you can decide on. That said, there are certain times when exercising is not recommended – for example, after a big meal, when you feel completely exhausted or when you feel or are ill. Don’t force yourself to do Pilates or any exercise in such an instance as it will not only make you feel very uncomfortable but may also cause harm to your body.
4) Put together a small routine
Having a routine rather than some random exercises has a number of advantages. First of all, it helps you focus as you know exactly what you are going to do. You don’t need to spend time finding or deciding on exercises each time, so you can start with your workout right away – no time wasted.
Also, you will be able to measure your progress much more easily. For example, initially, you may only be able to hold the Plank position for 10 seconds. After a few weeks of regular practice you will be able to hold it for 30 seconds, and so on. Seeing measurable progress is a real motivator and will make you feel good about your body.
When putting the Pilates routine together, you can include your favorite exercises from your induction, focus on particular problem areas you may have – e.g. neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, arms, abs – and customize it as you go along. You can also follow or get ideas for suitable exercises from YouTube videos, Pilates DVDs and books, such as The Pilates Bible, and from Pilates online classes.
5) Listen to your body – it’s not a race
When you take up a new exercise regime and exercise at home, it’s very tempting to push yourself really hard as you want to see results quickly. While this approach may be great in some other sports, or in business, it’s certainly not in line with the Pilates principles. In Pilates, every exercise needs to be performed slowly and with control. So don’t push but pace yourself!
In addition, unlike in other sports, the exercise motto ‘no pain, no gain’ is completely inapplicable to Pilates. The general rule in Pilates is ‘stop immediately when in pain’. This means that you need to listen to your body and take warning signs like pain seriously. If you continue with an exercise when in pain, you may cause damage to your body.
Create an exercise environment that is free from distractions, so you can concentrate on your body and each single exercise. Having the TV on in the background or some fast funky music is a definite no-go as it will make it impossible for you to focus on your breathing and precise movements. Instead, put on some gentle relaxation music that will calm your mind and help you feel more focused and relaxed.
Starting Pilates is easier than booking a holiday
You see, it is, in fact, not difficult to start Pilates at home. You just need to follow a few simple steps and you will be on the right track. And the good thing is – you can adjust and customize your routine at any time so you don’t have to spend a huge amount of time finding the perfect solution and deal for you.
Isn’t it so much easier than booking a holiday where, once you’ve made your choice you are pretty much stuck with it? And yet, people often hesitate to try a new exercise regime as they don’t know whether they will like it or whether it will suit them.
With Pilates, you are fully in control – in every respect – so it’s easy to make it work for you.
Have you taken up a new sport recently or are you thinking of doing so? Do you generally find it easy to start something new? I would love to hear about your experience.