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December 29, 2007 1:00 AM   Subscribe

Help me get ready for a Pilates class!

I'm pretty out of shape -- extra fat, not enough muscle -- and I have been encouraged by my SO to take a Pilates class with her. Great! But everyone who I've told this to has said, with a degree of don't-say-I-didn't-warn-you, "you know it's really hard".

So my question is: what can I do now, before the class starts in 3 or 4 weeks, to get myself ready for what will possibly be a pretty strenuous twice-weekly activity? The class is a basic/beginner's class, FWIW.

Additionally, what equipment will I likely need? Is there stuff that would be worth picking up now?

Finally, any info related to Pilates, exercise, or getting an underworked butt in gear would be appreciated.
posted by rossination to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
But, seriously. Why not do some jogging every other day? It will get you out of the house and get some fresh air, and you'll get used to doing aerobic work. You can get pretty far in 3 or 4 weeks with running (especially if you go in a straight line and don't loop back, yuk yuk). You might want to see where you can jump in on the Couch to 5K regimen, and stick with that for a few weeks. Seems to me that the best preparation for this kind of general "hard workout" class is good cardiovascular training, and if you're able to do at least some running, I don't see the harm in jumping into the middle of the Ct5K plan wherever you feel comfortable.
posted by lostburner at 1:20 AM on December 29, 2007

Pilates focuses on core strength, so anything you can do to get your abs a bit more used to being worked would be helpful. Crunches (regular & twisting for obliques) are probably useful. It will probably not be very aerobic, but more like what you think of as strength training.
posted by judith at 1:32 AM on December 29, 2007

I've not tried Pilates, but have practiced Yoga. Unless your class provides one, you'll need a mat. lostburner's Couch to 5K suggestion is excellent--at least get a walking routine going and drink adequate amounts of water, if you don't already. About.com has an article about preparing for the first class.

It will seem hard and you'll get sore. In Yoga, if the instructor moved through postures that were too difficult or if I wasn't feeling well that session, there were alternatives or rest poses one could use. I would hope that would be the case in a beginners' Pilates class, as well.

Enjoy yourselves!
posted by bonobo at 2:00 AM on December 29, 2007

It wasn't that hard for me, and I'm terribly out of shape. It helped that I was swimming and doing Yoga at the same time, but after a week you get the basics. As bonobo mentioned, if one pose hurts or is uncomfortable there are alternatives.

Our classes didn't use anything except mats and the occasional water bottle. I'd imagine that your instructor would let you know if you need anything.
posted by divabat at 2:23 AM on December 29, 2007

The breathing exercises mentioned by sculpin are good, but you may want to check out a beginner's DVD for a taste before going to class. I like Jennifer Kreiss's videos -- she gives plenty of transitional instruction for each exercise/pose and for moving between them.

And don't get discouraged -- I started doing Pilates after back surgery and was overweight and had an incredibly weak core due to the back problems leading up to surgery. The first class is hard -- the second one a bit better -- but after a few classes I felt 2 inches taller and was able to continue much better through all the poses.

Be SURE to buy your own mat -- using gym mats can get you a staph infection. Oh, and you don't want to eat within a couple of hours before the class. Bring a water bottle, though, and a towel to prop you up if you need it.

Good luck!
posted by mdiskin at 3:40 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I think I'd just show up for the first class. I'd get there a little early and tell the instructor that it's your first time doing pilates. You might try to make sure that your first class isn't one that's usually really crowded. If you're feeling really super rich and ambitious, you could sign up for a private lesson or two before you take a class, so you can have some one-on-one attention.

The thing about pilates is that it's really good exercise, but only if you do it right. Otherwise, it's very little exercise at all. It all depends on whether you get the knack of holding you stomach muscles in the right way while you do the exercises, and it's easy to fall out of form accidentally. When you start out, it's nice to have someone monitoring you to make sure that you're doing it correctly, because if you're doing it incorrectly, it's kind of a waste of time.

Don't let people freak you out about pilates. It's not that hard, and you'll get better at it quickly. Also, you know that to really get in shape, you need to do some cardio too, right?
posted by craichead at 6:00 AM on December 29, 2007

Jogging would be good - but if you don't exercise at all right now it might not be realistic. What about minutes walking (maybe change your commute?) with 5 minutes stretching?
posted by shothotbot at 8:09 AM on December 29, 2007

I couldn't possibly be more out of shape if I deliberately tried to be fat and lazy -- but when I took a beginner's pilates class, I had no problem with it. I couldn't do everything in the class successfully, or hold all the poses for a long time, but the expectation was that I was working towards it during the class. I think you shouldn't stress too much -- sure, take up walking and hydrate yourself, because they're good for you, but you should be able to go to class and participate and pick up the skills you need as part of the class.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:08 AM on December 29, 2007

I wouldn't worry about this kicking your ass. Pilates was invented as a form of physical therapy for WWI soldiers and originally, the Pilates cadillac machine was actually just pulleys hooked up to hospital beds. I started training on the machines because I had a severe back injury and it was a LIFESAVER for me (it's cost prohibitive where I live now... I miss it a lot). But the point I'm trying to make is that Pilates is not MEANT to strain your body, but rather the opposite. It focuses on core strength, and with the exercises you use your body weight as resistance to exercise pretty much every muscle of your body simultaneously while still lying down half the time.

I mean, how many workouts can you lie down through?

You weren't clear about what kind of class you're taking... is it a mat class with floor exercises or is it on the Pilates machines (like the reformer & cadillac)? They're different exercises entirely, and the quality of instruction can differ too. Sometimes people will teach Pilates mat classes in a gym without actually knowing anything about Pilates, but to work on the machines you have to have a trained professional training you and monitoring every single breath you take and precise movement of your body, because you won't get the most benefit from the exercises if you're doing them wrong. If it's a group mat class just be careful. If the trainer suggests you do something and it feels like you're hurting yourself, don't do it. Do some kind of modifier until they get to the next exercise. Do not continue an exercise if it is hurting.

Pilates is based on six principles. The main things they'll want you to work on in Pilates are building core and ab strength, as well as coordinating fluid movement and breathing (breathing in Pilates is super important, similar to yoga). One thing I would try doing is lying down with your knees up and finding your neutral spine position so you know what that means. (That'll come up a lot.) Also, learning how to contract your stomach muscles while still breathing as well as how to scoop in your abs in a c-curve (that's one's hardest for me because of my back). The most important thing in Pilates is not about being super athletic and kicking ass, but about learning to control every movement, breath, and placement of your body parts. That's actually what's hardcore about it, not that the exercises are particularly hard. It's just an intricate and detailed practice.

About.com actually has some surprisingly good stuff on this. Here's a page on preparing for your first class. It's going to be great for you! It's my favorite workout, hands down, and it has amazing results. So good luck. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 1:56 PM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

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