There are a lot of misconceptions about Pilates: that it's easy, that only women do it or that every class is the same. But Pilates is a challenging workout for both men and women with plenty of variety that you can adapt to any fitness level. Put simply: It'd be a mistake to not try Pilates at least once.
Today, the term Pilates refers to a fitness system with many different styles of classes, but the key principles established by founder Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s remain the same, borrowing from dance and yoga and focusing on full-body movements controlled by your core muscles, which instructors also refer to as your "powerhouse."
But it's so much more than a low-impact ab workout. Below, you'll learn how to get started on your first Pilates session, details on all its health benefits and exercises to target every major muscle group.
New to Pilates? Here's What to Expect
Don't be afraid to let yourself be a beginner. Everyone starts somewhere, and with Pilates, it's relatively easy to get going. You can pop in a beginner Pilates DVD at home and get started with little more than a yoga mat (although some video workouts might call for resistance bands, foam rollers or stability balls). Or you can sign up for a reformer class at a local studio and learn to master the machine with all the straps and a sliding base.
Pilates is generally a slower, more focused form of exercise, and much like in a yoga class, your instructor will guide you step by step through each exercise and from one move to the next. That gives you plenty of time to get things right without feeling like you're flying through your workout and struggling to keep pace. Plus, it's low impact, so even those with joint issues can try it.
All the Amazing Benefits of Pilates
Yes, it's true that Pilates is fantastic for your abs. Throughout a class, your instructor will remind you to engage your powerhouse to initiate movement. In other words, expect to contract your abs the entire time.
But there are plenty of other reasons to give it a try. For starters, Pilates can help ease lower back pain, and it's a great cross-training workout, especially for runners and other athletes who rely on their core to power their performance. And because it focuses so much on those core muscles, you may also notice yourself standing taller and even feeling more confident.
Do Pilates Workouts at Home
At-home workouts are an easy way to get all the perks mentioned above without ever having to leave your living room. And with at-home Pilates, you don't even have to change out of your sweats if you don't want to. Just roll out a mat and get to work! (Unless you're lucky enough to have your very own Pilates reformer in your living room.)
If you're unsure where to start without an instructor walking you through the exercises, we've made a list of the best moves for beginners. There are standard ones like the Roll-Up (lie on your back and use your abs to pull you up to a seated position) and the Hundred (lie down, lift your legs several feet of the floor and raise your shoulders off the ground, then pulse your arms) and more creative moves like Teaser and Mermaid.
How to Differentiate the Types of Pilates
Mat vs. reformer, Stott vs. Winsor: What's really the difference between all these types of Pilates — and does it actually matter? Though mat and reformer Pilates get most of the attention, there are several other options, which is great if you don't automatically love those first two. No matter what kind of Pilates class you find yourself in, the workouts all rely on the core principles of breathing, control, centering and flow.
Have nagging neck pain? Try Stott Pilates, which focuses on rehabilitation exercises. Looking to lose weight? Winsor Pilates combines 13 traditional Pilates exercises like the Hundred or Roll-Up into short, effective workouts that are different each session. If you want something new and different every time you walk into class, check out a contemporary Pilates class instead.
Pilates Workouts for Every Body Part
Just like there's a type of Pilates for every sweat style, there's a Pilates workout targeting every major muscle group, too. Whether you want to accentuate your abs, build your butt or lengthen your legs, Pilates can help you reach your goal.
For example, the Teaser is the dynamic Pilates version of yoga's Boat pose. And Swimming — a Pilates exercise that looks like you're in the pool on dry land — works the entire back of your body. Bonus: We even have routines to help ease pain and relieve stress.
Cue Up a Pilates Video Workout
Another option when you can't make it into the studio is following along with a video workout — either on DVD or streaming online. But wading through the seemingly endless clips can be daunting. No worries: Just start with one of our 11 recommendations.
Pick your favorite based on instructor (like Cassey Ho of Blogilates or OG fitness guru Denise Austin), time limit (if you only have 10, 20 or 30 minutes) or by goal (burn fat, work your whole body, strengthen your pelvic floor or sculpt your abs). The best part: Most of them are absolutely free.