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An Introduction to Pilates

  • LiveWell360 Staff
  • September 30, 2015

As more and more people are looking for ways to add some excitement and variety to their fitness routine beyond the standard weight training and cardio program, many are becoming interested in Pilates yet they are nervous to try it because they feel a bit intimidated by the machines or close one-on-one work with the instructor. Don’t be that person! If it sounds interesting, try it!

If you are unfamiliar with Pilates, it is a fitness system developed in the early 20th century by a German man named Joseph Pilates. The system that Pilates developed focuses on core strength, awareness of breath, and alignment of the spine. Many people enjoy Pilates because they feel it gives them flexibility and a long lean, “dancer-like” look.

To help elaborate on the topic I asked Anne Samoilov, who is a pilates instructor here in LA, to give you the scoop on what to expect during an introductory Pilates class.  This way you can sign up for that first session feeling informed, confident and excited to try something new in your fitness routine.

A Guest Post By Anne Samoilov

I am not your typical Pilates instructor.  I am not an ex-dancer or dance teacher.  I am simply someone who found an exercise and movement method that I was passionate about… so passionate in fact that I wanted to share it with others. I was attracted to Pilates because friends and coworkers had told me over and again how great they felt after taking it.  I could see the changes in their bodies — the flatter stomachs, better posture, one person had even managed to “heal” her nagging back pain.  I loved trying new activities and knew this had to be next on my list. Besides, I was not a gym rat and didn’t feel motivated enough to start a new workout program at home.  So, I partnered up with a friend from work and we went twice a week during lunch.

I sometimes joke that Pilates tricked me into really connecting with my body while getting into shape.

I’ll never forget the feeling of being a beginner… of getting on the reformer (special Pilates equipment that provides targeted resistance) for the first time or doing the hundreds for the first time, or putting my feet in the straps for the first time. More on this in a minute.

I keep these images strong in my mind, so I can guide the beginners I teach now with the same enthusiasm — and kind of live vicariously through their experience.  It fuels me to find new ways of teaching the same material and presenting the concepts of Pilates to my students.

So, today I will talk you through one of my introductory Pilates classes.  What to expect. How to prepare. And most importantly, why you just might want to give Pilates a try!

Pilates 101

Many people email me asking what to expect in my Pilates class.  They’ve done a Pilates mat workout or they’ve been to a class before, but they don’t think they’ve ever been on a machine.  Everyone enters the studio with a different set of experiences.

Most of my clients come to me as complete beginners to Pilates.People I have met through friends or that other students have brought with them (I encourage my students to bring their friend or sister or brother… someone who might like it).  The beginners seem to flock to my classes and I love it! I like to think I get beginners because I absolutely love introducing people to the method and do everything in my power to make them feel comfortable.

What to Expect

As soon you walk through the door for your first class, I ask about medical history and any current areas of concern. Even if you don’t think it matters… I need to know if you have a hip that pops or a knee that wobbles or a crunchy shoulder.  I like to know those details as it allows me to modify the moves based on your body.  Oh, and if you just had a baby or are pregnant, tell me please!

You will move… a lot… in fact. I really try to keep you moving the whole time so if nothing else, you feel the flow of the workout and don’t have a chance to get too confused. As I continue to work with you, I will pace exercises differently depending on your energy level.  After the initial shock of getting onto the machines, moving the straps, adjusting springs, I start adding in more specific breathing cues and movement tips.  I might even see that you can handle something with a variation to make it harder. I’ll be sneaky, so if you think something feels different, it probably does. On purpose.

For instance, when we first do the hundreds on the reformer, there’s a lot going on. You are laying down on your back.  You have your hands in straps pressed down at your sides, your head and shoulders are lifted, your legs are either in tabletop or extended out at an angle.  And the exercise hasn’t even started yet!

Imagine having to pump your arms up and down in this position for 100 breaths!  Not everyone can handle this their first time or if they have a lower back issue.  So, how do I make sure you get something from this exercise?  I may tell you to keep your legs in tabletop (knees bent at a 90 angle). I may tell you to keep your head down.  I may lower the tension on the springs.  I may tell you to do the exercise just laying on the machine but without any straps at all.  Now, I don’t want you to be so comfortable that you can nap through this, but I definitely don’t want you feeling any discomfort or pain.  So, we work it out until the position is right for you.

During that first session, I might not give you a lot of detailed instruction. I try to keep it as simple as possible.  Move this. Do that. Hold these straps. Put these straps on your feet. Push the bar away.  I’ll give you some breathing instruction, but for the most part, I want you to feel natural movement.

The general flow of my class goes something like this:

  1. You start by laying down on your back on the reformer machine.
  2. You do a series of squat like exercises with your feet pressing into a sturdy bar.  Wow, this feels pretty easy, huh?
  3. But then we start to add in the straps.
  4. Generally, we move from the footbar work, to the hand straps, and then to our feet in the straps.
  5. Then, we do a series of exercises seated, sometimes kneeling, and even more work on a box set on the machine.
  6. And then we get really saucy and do some standing work!

Keep in mind that if something doesn’t feel right, we do it a different way, if something feels BAD, we don’t do it at all.

Sessions generally last 1 hour, but I do have a few clients with limited time who come to me for 30 minute sessions.  A full hour is a great way to warm your body up properly, get you moving through all planes of movement and then give you some stretching time at the end.

Frequently Asked Questions – What People Typically Want To Know

1) Will I feel sore the day after?

You might. In fact, you probably will the first time.  Since you’ll most likely come to take pilates classes on days when you have different energy levels, you’ll end up with some recovery days when you are sore and some when you aren’t.  And expect to feel {good}pain and soreness in areas you never imagined you could even get sore!

2) Will I sweat? 

If you tend to sweat, yes you will sweat. If you don’t sweat, then … you might not!  The more focus and concentration you place on your own workout, the more you’ll get out of it.  Don’t try to go for the burn….or speed up the movements. It’s about quality over quantity. Stay steady and listen to your body and the instruction.

3) Do I need to be graceful or coordinated? Will I fall off the machine? 

Many people have gone to yoga classes where you are asked to do balancing poses or to an exercise class that requires some intricate choreography. In my class, we go at your pace.  We move into new exercises slowly, and only when the time is right.  If you have a shoulder issue, I am not going to have you doing a complicated plank type move on the reformer. I would never put you in that type of unstable position.

Most people don’t fall, so dont worry about that.  Though, I will mention that one of my students did a backflip off to the side of her machine once and landed right on her feet! It was so graceful that the class actually applauded.  I kept my eye on her big time after that!

4) What if I can’t do something?

Well… then you can’t do something! I will always try to modify an exercise to make it less challenging if you need to build up to that level.  There is no sense forcing yourself to do something that you simply can’t do, especially if there’s a chance you will hurt yourself.  If it’s too heavy, tell me.  If you can’t do it, tell me. Simple.

5) What kind of results can I really expect? 

It’s common to read in the popular fitness magazines, articles titled something like, “10 Sessions to a Better Body,“ and while it is true that Pilates can shape your body and create nice lean muscles, to get that, a lot of other things need to be in play.  I never let a session go by without reminding people of these other “things” like eating a diet consisting of clean, whole foods, and including regular strength training and cardio into their weekly workout routine.

But the overall benefits people generally experience are stress relief, a feeling of lightness, feeling a little bit taller, and using your abs more while doing every day normal activity.

Final Words

Be forewarned that not every single Pilates instructor approaches their classes and clients like I do.  I keep it simple, straightforward and easy to grasp.  I don’t like to use flowery language and cues, and I routinely laugh at myself if I do slip one in.  I like to keep the environment easy going, sometimes chatty (depending on how well I know the clients) and I always try to make it fun while giving you a balanced and challenging workout.

Even if you don’t live in LA and can’t swing a class here, you can experience Pilates now almost any semi-big city.  If you don’t find a Pilates studio per se, look into Physical Therapy offices, yoga studios and corporate gyms.  Often in more rural areas, they will include Pilates as part of their class offerings.  Look for a teacher or class that uplifts you and inspires you.  My most successful students attribute their wins to a comfortable, accepting, respectful environment where they are excited to try new exercises and KNOW that even if they don’t do an exercise to textbook perfection, they are doing it perfectly within their own body’s ability.

And this is where you will experience the big realization when you take Pilates.  You will become more aware of how amazing your body is — it’s weaknesses, strengths, balances, imbalances — and be able to finally make peace with yourself.  Instead of parts that you somehow need to fix, you’ll be able to see your body as a systemand the act of improving it as a process.

 

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