7 Tips for Your First Pilates Session

Working on the Cadillac.

Working on the Cadillac.

With its fancy-looking machines and dedicated private studios, Pilates can seem intimidating and shrouded in mystery. But it’s actually meant to be just the opposite! Pilates was created with the intent to balance and strengthen ALL OF US—not just dancers or elite athletes.

Don’t let the fear of the unknown deter you from trying this empowering, uplifting form of exercise. I’ve been there. I’ve stood outside looking into many a Pilates studio, only to turn around and walk away. But finally one day I did commit, but I’m sure glad I did. I loved it so much, I became a Pilates teacher and eventually a studio owner. And I wonder, “What took me so long?”

Take a look at these 7 tips that will help prep you for a great first Pilates session, and sustain a joyous and zest-ful future practice.

Tip #1: Keep an Open Mind.  

There will be talking. There will be unfamiliar terms and movements. Your teacher might spend time on very un-glamorous things like your breathing, or the position of your pelvis. Or they might insist that it’s important that you move your right ankle one-half inch to the left. There will be weird exercise names with the word “stretch” in them that feel less like stretches and more like work. You might be asked to use muscles you didn’t even know you had. Please trust your teacher! It’s all going somewhere, I promise. It’s laying a foundation for a stronger and more balanced YOU.

Pilates is designed to balance your body—which means it might feel like learning a foreign language. Stay open and soak in as much information and feedback from your teacher(s) as you can.

Tip #2: Eat AFTER your session, not before.

Scarfing food + deep abdominal contraction = let’s just say it’s “less than comfortable.” For your amusement, here are a few of my favorite quotes (perhaps slightly paraphrased) from MVP clients on the topic:

  • “I wouldn’t want to do this one after a pancake breakfast!” (btw, this one was just today!)

    -(S.C, doing abdominal curls on the Spine Corrector)

  • “Note to self: Do not eat a bunch of quiche before a Pilates session.”

    -(B.G., on the Reformer, doing a kneeling abdominal exercise)

  • “Oof…I really regret that falafel I just ate.”

    -(A.C., during the One Hundred)

If you’re starving, put down that hoagie! Have a few nuts, a bit of an energy bar, maybe a small amount of fruit. Then go for tacos (or what have you) after your workout.

You’ll thank me later.

Tip #3: Share, share, share.

Your first private session will usually involve an “intake,” which means you and your teacher will chat about your physical history, challenges, posture, and goals. That will take some time, because your teacher wants to make sure you’re getting the most appropriate and safe workout for your unique body. There won’t always be that much talking, but it will be really helpful to take the time for it in the beginning. (If your first session is in a group setting, time may not permit this kind of detail. I HIGHLY recommend doing at least one private session before joining a group. But that’s a blog for another day.)

Tell your teacher about old injuries, previous surgeries, that wonky left ankle that rolls sometimes, even that time you broke your collarbone in 4th grade. All these body experiences have contributed over the years to the unique way you move, and sometimes that small detail you haven’t thought about in years is a huge clue that may help unlock your body’s mysteries and challenges.


Tip #4: Be specific about your goals.

The most frequent goal I hear is, “I want to strengthen my core.” That’s great! But why? What can it help you do that you can’t do now? Run without back pain? Improve your rotation for golf or tennis? Support you while you’re picking up your child/grandchild/pet/20-pound bag of ice? Or just help you get up and down out of a chair? Those are all fantastic and achieveable goals. And hearing them helps us, as Pilates teachers, tailor program for you.

Sometimes it’s, “My doctor/chiro/PT/husband/wife/child told me to do this.” That’s not going to fly. This work needs to be meaningful and worthwhile to YOU. Pick one thing you would like to do better and tell your teacher. S/he will help you make it happen.


Tip #5: Observe the studio rules.

Just like workplaces, theatres, restaurants, and clubs, Pilates studios have a particular etiquette. MVP (my studio) is tiny, so when things are out of order or we don’t abide by the procedures, it throws everything off and decreases quality of experience for everyone. Studios may vary slightly in their rules, but here’s a highlight reel of the most common:

  • PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE silence your cell phone. Don’t take calls during your session (sounds obvious, but I’ve seen it happen…many times. Usually I’m nice about it, but inside I’m cringing).

  • Put your personal belongings away on a shelf/cubby/locker, not on the floor.

  • Observe cancellation policies and please don’t ask for exceptions…your teachers rely on attendance for their livelihood.

  • Clean your equipment after using it.

  • You will likely be working out in a small space near other clients (especially if you’re in the Bay Area or NY!) Try to keep your movements and the volume of your voice appropriate for the space you’re in.

  • Be thoughtful about your personal hygiene. Refrain from wearing heavily scented products. You will likely be getting warm and sweating, which amplifies scent (especially in a small space). Catch my drift?

If you’re not sure about something, ask!

6.      Baggy shorts are not your friend.

You will be lying on your back a good deal of the time, and you don’t want to spend your time tugging your shorts back up your legs…or worrying about indecent exposure! Your best bet is long pants or leggings. If you must wear shorts, make sure they’re form-fitting—or put a pair of bike shorts underneath.


7.      Be patient.…with your body, your heart, your mind…and your teacher.

One of my first private clients summed it up perfectly after his 3rd session. He said, “Geez, Pilates is humbling.”

I wanted to give him a standing ovation. He had just hit the nail on the head.

Pilates is not just a collection of exercises. It’s a very sophisticated system of movement designed to balance your body’s imbalances: strengthening parts that are weak, stretching parts that are stiff, sending breath to parts that are closed off. So you didn’t get something perfectly the first time? Good! That’s the whole point. If you were already good at it, you wouldn’t be paying a teacher to help you with it, would you?

And beyond that, Pilates isn’t just for your body parts. It will have an effect on your emotions, your attitude, and your outlook. There’s a chance you may feel frustrated…or even triggered emotionally. It happens. Your teacher is here to support you through it. That’s what we signed up for. We want the best for you and everything we do is to serve that goal.

And even though sometimes you might want to swear at us or give us dirty looks, we will keep nagging you do stand taller, try harder, breathe deeper, because we believe wholeheartedly that when you give it your best, the Pilates Method is truly going to help you improve your quality of life. I’ve seen it happen.

It takes a lot of heart and determination to make changes in your body, your mind, and your spirit. But it is—and you are—100% worth it, I promise.

I’ll leave you with some words of inspiration from Mr. Pilates.

“Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a  uniformly developed body with a sound mind capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.”

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One order of zest & pleasure, please!

Enjoy your workout!

Krista Knudsen Thomas