Pilates FAQ

  1. What exactly is Pilates?
  2. What are the benefits of Pilates?
  3. What age group is Pilates for?
  4. What's better, mat or equipment Pilates exercises?
  5. How do I get started on a Pilates exercise program?
  6. How often should I do Pilates?
  1. Why are personal training sessions with a
    Pilates instructor so expensive?

  2. What should I look for in a Pilates instructor?
  3. What kind of classes can I take in a
    Pilates studio or fitness club?

  4. Can I get an effective workout with
    Pilates videos and books?
  5. How long does it take to obtain Pilates certification?
  6. Will I lose weight through Pilates exercises?
  7. Can I do Pilates if I'm pregnant?
  8. Who owns the Pilates trademark?
1. What exactly is Pilates?

Pilates is a system of over 500 controlled exercises that engage the mind and condition the total body. It is a balanced blend of strength and flexibility training that improves posture, reduces stress and creates long, lean muscles without bulking up. Pilates works several muscle groups simultaneously through smooth, continuous motion, with a particular concentration on strengthening and stabilizing the core (the abdomen, back and pelvic girdle region, sometimes referred to as the "powerhouse").

The focus is on quality of movement rather than quantity, which makes one feel invigorated rather than exhausted after a session. Pilates takes a balanced approach so that no muscle group is overworked and the body works as an efficient, holistic system in sport and daily activity. Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat or on specialized equipment such as a Pilates Reformer, Pilates Cadillac and Ladder Barrel.

2. What are the benefits of Pilates?

With regular committed Pilates workouts you can expect to:
3. What age group is Pilates for?

Pilates can be beneficial for virtually all ages, fitness levels and body conditions. The method is like a bridge between physical fitness and physical therapy, and can be adapted, modified and customized for individual needs. Some advanced moves and sequences seem to demand youthful energy yet others are manageable for even the frailest physique. It's more about fitness condition than age. One's chronological number doesn't necessarily limit one's movement capabilities - sometimes a 75 year old can perform contortions on the Cadillac while a 20 year old struggles with a simple roll up.

4. What's better, mat or equipment Pilates exercises?

It's not a matter of one being better than another. The fundamental Pilates workout can be performed on a Pilates mat alone, and great results can be achieved through beginner, intermediate and advanced moves. However, the various equipment pieces such as the Reformer, Cadillac and Chair incorporate light spring resistance that works like concentric and eccentric muscle contractions to safely sculpt, tone and stretch the muscles. The Arc Barrels and Ladder provide support that allows you to safely manipulate your body to stretch and engage muscles otherwise challenging to isolate. Smaller Pilates equipment pieces such resistance bands, Pilates circles and exercise balls also provide an element of variety and focus to a Pilates regimen.

A complete and satisfying workout can involve exercises on the mat alone or can be combined with various pieces of specially designed Pilates equipment. Each session can offer variety so that no two workouts are alike.

5. How do I get started on a Pilates exercise program?

Mat-based exercises make a good starting point to those new to Pilates. Take the opportunity to enjoy a group mat class in a club setting or workout at home with a Pilates video and learn the principles behind the discipline. You'll definitely feel it - especially deep in your abs.

Once you've got a better handle on integrating all the principles (it takes a while), branch out and try some Pilates equipment. Small props like Resistance Bands, Circles and Swiss Balls can add variety and interest to a mat workout, but if you want to experience the traditional Pilates equipment, the Reformer is a popular piece to start with. Try a small group class or a private Pilates lesson with a personal trainer at a Pilates studio or fitness facility that has a Pilates program (more and more are popping up every day).

6. How often should I do Pilates?

Try to work out 2-4 times a week, taking a day off in between sessions to rest or enjoy some kind of cardiovascular activity (walking, bicycling, swimming). This kind of regular, consistent practice will help you make the mind-body connection and integrate the various Pilates principles. You should start seeing and feeling results in about 10 to15 sessions.

7. Why are personal training sessions with a Pilates instructor so expensive?

Pilates instructors are highly trained professionals who have invested hundreds of hours studying the technique. They learn over 500 exercises for both the mat and Pilates equipment. They learn the philosophy and theory behind each movement, spend considerable time observing and mastering proper form and sequences, and apprentice to fine tune their teaching skills prior to taking a rigorous written and practical exam. They learn more than just a series of moves, they learn how to assess their students' posture, how to adapt exercises for various body conditions, and how to customize the optimum Pilates program for each individual. This kind of specialized training, combined with the expenses of furnishing a fully equipped studio, commands a $40 to $80 per hour price range.

8. What should I look for in a Pilates instructor?

Ideally your Pilates instructor should be certified through a comprehensive Pilates training program, one comprised of lectures, observation, practice, hands-on apprenticing plus a written and practical examination. This level of training is especially important if you are going to be working out on any of the specialized Pilates equipment - some courses only cover mat exercises while others educate trainers in the full range of apparatus. Find out if your trainer is educated in handling clients with specific injuries or body conditions that might warrant a modified approach. A professional Pilates instructor should keep up with the latest developments in exercise science, choreography, small prop usage and more through continuing education workshops. Any background or teaching experience in other movement disciplines such as dance, aerobics or yoga is also a plus. A professional instructor should make good use of visual, verbal and tactile cueing to ensure students are exercising with proper form and technique. Whether you are working out in a group setting or one-on-one personal training, make sure your Pilates instructor is confident, knowledgeable, responsive and personable so you can have a safe and effective experience.

9. What kind of classes can I take in a Pilates studio or fitness club?

Every Pilates studio, health club and fitness facility has its own program, however the following types of classes are often available.

Group mat class: This is a great place for beginners to start, and a fun, social way to continue Pilates practice. Ideally these classes have a manageable student-teacher ratio (10-15 students) so the instructor can monitor each individual's form and progress. Classes should be levelled for beginner, intermediate and advanced students.

Group Reformer class: With the advent of smaller, more economical Reformers such as the Allegro , more and more fitness clubs are adding group Reformer classes to their Pilates roster.

Session for 2-4 students: Sometimes called duets, trios and quads, these small group sessions are a little more economical per participant than a private session, but still allows for plenty of individual assessment, guidance and monitoring. Various mat and equipment exercises can be approached in these sessions.

Private one-on-one session: A personal training session is the most effective way to learn, practice and perfect your Pilates performance. The instructor devotes undivided attention to your specific needs and develops a custom program for optimum results.

10. Can I get an effective workout with Pilates videos and books?

Absolutely. There are hundreds of titles of Pilates exercise videos, DVDs and books on the market that are a good companion to learning and practicing this method of exercise. Through Pilates books you will get a good understanding of the philosophy behind the method and can practice some moves through their descriptions and step-by-step pictures. Through Pilates videos and DVDs you will be able to see each movement executed correctly plus hear explanations and verbal cues to help you try each exercise yourself. Giaim, Stott Pilates and Winsor Pilates have produced quality series of Pilates videos that you can try at home.

That being said, personal instruction with a Pilates professional is the best way to ensure you are using correct form and technique. Many moves engage deep muscles difficult to isolate and subtle body adjustments can make the difference between effective and ineffective exercise. Try some beginner books and tapes at home to get an idea of what Pilates is all about, but then join a group class or get some one-on-one instruction to ensure you are performing properly. Once you've had some fine-tuning and are confident you are on the right path, you can continue to workout at home along with the guidance of Pilates videos, DVDs and books.

11. How long does it take to obtain Pilates certification?

It varies depending on the institution. You can obtain certification to teach mat classes in a couple of weekend workshops, especially if you are already a fitness professional. However, if you want to be able to teach on the various pieces of Pilates equipment it takes considerably longer. The more reputable institutions require hundreds of hours of lecture-based coursework, hands-on training, observation and apprentice work before a rigorous written and practical exam. Usually, as a prerequisite, each student must have studied anatomy and already be a certified fitness professional or licensed rehabilitation practitioner before being accepted into a course. Plus there are continuing education requirements to maintain certification status throughout one's career. See the Pilates Training and Certification section for more details.

12. Will I lose weight through Pilates exercises?

In essence, Pilates exercise is not a cardiovascular workout and burning calories is not it's main focus. However, in conjunction with a sensible diet and some cardio work such as brisk walking, bicycling, aerobics or swimming, Pilates can factor into a weight loss program.

The Winsor Pilates video series has a faster paced program performed in a particular order they call "dynamic sequencing". They claim this can give a boost to the metabolism and help one lose inches.

Pilates exercises help strengthen, sculpt and tone the body while building long, lean muscles. Whether the number on the scale goes down or not, you will tend to look and feel better through continued Pilates practice.

13. Can I do Pilates if I'm pregnant?

There is a lot of debate on the subject of Pilates and pregnancy and exercise in general. Generally speaking, moderate exercise is safe throughout a normal, healthy pregnancy and many gentle Pilates exercises are appropriate. However, keep the following cautions in mind.
That being said, many gentle stretching and strengthening Pilates exercises can be good for a woman's body and mind during pregnancy. Some mat exercises can be adapted from a supine (back lying) to a sitting position, and use of a Spine Supporter / C-shaper can help. Other exercises for the mat, Reformer and Cadillac / Trapeze Table can be performed in a kneeling or standing position. The Wunda Chair / Stability Chair can be a useful piece of Pilates apparatus during pregnancy as well, as many moves are performed in while sitting upright.

To be safe during pregnancy, only practice Pilates under the guidance of a professional Pilates instructor who has been trained to teach women in this condition.

14. Who owns the Pilates trademark?

Pilates is named after Joseph H. Pilates, the man who developed the exercise regimen back in the 1920s. Purists devoted to Joe's original teachings believe the word "Pilates" should be trademarked specifically for this tradition and not for the variations on the theme that have emerged throughout time. However, in a 2002 landmark court case, it was legally determined that the word "Pilates" is a generic noun that can apply to both Joseph's specific approach and the exercise adaptations it inspired.

Some camps feel this dilutes the credibility of the word (and to be fair, there are some less-than-scrupulous programs and practitioners jumping on the Pilates bandwagon), but others believe it is time the word got off its perceived pedestal and joined the popular vernacular that denotes an exercise method - much like the word "yoga" or "karate" does. Several reputable training programs have emerged that teach a Pilates-inspired regimen, and new accessories are being added to the mix as the "movement" evolves. Now these programs can proudly and legally stand under the Pilates umbrella. Just be aware, not all Pilates programs, studios or instructors are alike.
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