How To Find the Perfect Pilates Class For You


Pilates is good for you, right? Celebrities and sports people testify that it has made huge improvements to their bodies. You’ve heard about how it strengthens the core and helps back pain. Yes! You have done the research. You’ve concluded that Pilates is something that you would like to try. Now what?

This post is designed to help you find the Pilates class that works for you. As a Pilates teacher, I am an advocate of its method and just want everyone to experience the positive benefits which will be felt not just physically during a class, but in everyday life, body and mind.

Machine vs Mat

Your first decision is whether you are going to practice Pilates on the mat or on the machine, the Reformer.

Both methods are hugely beneficial and learning Pilates on either will introduce you to its seven principles - centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, flow and endurance. You will also build your core strength and tone your muscles.

Either will also train you in how to use your centre to properly perform the exercises which you can also translate into use in your everyday life whether that is during sports or just picking up your toddler! You can perform the same exercises on the Reformer that you can on the Mat although this is where they start to differ. On the Mat, you are using your body weight whereas on the Reformer, resistance can be added through the use of the springs and pulley system.

The Mat

Pilates on the mat is the basis for the entire Pilates method created by Joseph Pilates and described in his book, “Return to Life Through Contrology”. Your body weight is your resistance as you perform a series of exercises using the Pilates principles.

You really do have to have full control of your body as you have not got the resistance of the springs of the Reformer. Teachers will also utilise small equipment to challenge you further such as Resistance bands or Overballs. The Mat is great as you can practice it anywhere; you just need the space for the mat! Mat classes are generally cheaper than the Machine as there are less costs involved for the Studio/Teacher.

The Reformer

This piece of equipment was designed by Mr Pilates when he was working with wounded soldiers in an internment camp in WW2 with their rehabilitation.

It is a bed with a moving carriage, straps and pulleys where resistance can be increased or decreased by the addition of, or the removal of springs. This means that there can be a lot of support provided which makes it great for rehabilitation.

Springs can be added to increase the work load or lowered to challenge stabilising muscles. There are also more options for performing exercises in different body positions, such as on the knees or inversions. The Reformer is a fairly large and expensive piece of equipment thus Studios have to charge more for these classes.

So to conclude, if you are suffering injury or chronic body imbalances and are looking to really target specific muscle groups, the Reformer may be better for you. At least to begin with.

The Right Teacher

Perhaps this is the biggest consideration you make. Pilates is well known to be highly effective and has been increasing in popularity over the last 20 years. Training to become a Pilates teacher has changed - it used to be purely an Apprenticeship from one of the Pilates ‘elders’.

Nowadays there are numerous Teacher Training Courses out there varying hugely in quality. I would recommend that you consider APPI, Body Control Pilates, Polestar or STOTT trained teachers.

You can be sure that these teachers have been taught to a high standard and have had good anatomy training. As a Body Control Pilates teacher I undertook 50 hours of supervised teaching hours before I was able to attempt my Practical exam in addition to the hours of theory exams and practice.

These teachers will be required to undergo Continued Professional Development courses yearly to keep up to date with the latest in best practice as well as to undertake more specialised teaching, such as Pregnancy and Post Natal Pilates.

There are teachers out there who have attended a weekend course and are now teaching with very little Pilates practice, theory or experience. So make sure you ask who they trained with and check they have the correct insurance to cover teaching you.

Private or Group Classes

Now you need to decide if you are best doing Private one to one classes or if you are happy to attend a group class. Both have their merits but if you are looking for specific help and guidance with an injury or you have a condition which may affect your ability to attend a group class safely, private is the way to go.

Your teacher will work with you and your goals to create well planned lessons, bespoke to you and what your body needs. For that hour you will be watched like a hawk and corrected to ensure you are performing the exercises correctly, therefore you will see results fast!

These classes can take place in your home if you are doing mat Pilates and at a time that suits you meaning there is a lot of flexibility for busy people.

A group class is an excellent and very economical choice for those who are generally fit and well and would like to practice regularly.

You will be taught a structured class without having to plan it yourself. You will get the benefits of a community and once you have signed up for a block of classes, you are more likely to attend as it holds you accountable so you feel the benefits of consistency!

A group class is motivational, pushing you beyond where you feel you may be able to get, but don’t fret. Pilates is non competitive and everyone is very focussed on what they are doing rather than what the others in the room are doing so don’t worry about being judged!

Although a good teacher will be making sure you are performing the exercises safely and correctly! And let’s not forget, it should be fun! A group class is generally full of a fabulous range of characters which makes it very enjoyable and very often includes a lot of laughter.

Do a Trial Class

If there are no reviews or recommendations online, ask for some. Word of Mouth is generally a great way to find a good teacher. And once you have found one, ask for a trial class. Use this trial to check a few things.

What is the class size?

Any class bigger than 12 will be difficult for even the most experienced teacher to manage. As Pilates is about precision, a teacher needs to be able to assess his or her students and ensure that no one is doing anything that is unsafe. Smaller numbers in a class will give you more attention.

Music?

This is of course very personal. Some people hate the thought of exercising in a silent room whereas someone else’s idea of hell would be being subjected to another person’s playlist. Personally I prefer no music. I can then concentrate on the movement and what is taking place in my body rather than having external distractions.

The teacher?

Do you like the teacher? Are they able to communicate what is needed in a way that works for you? Do they demonstrate the exercises or just talk them through? Can they answer your questions? The student/ teacher relationship is so important. You need to be able to trust the teacher is looking after you in the best way possible and that they listen to the needs of you and your body.

Pilates really can change your life so you want to feel happy and confident that you have made the right choice for you so that you can continue to feel its benefits over the coming weeks, months and years.

Enjoy!