The Beginners Guide to Pilates. What actually happens in class?

I’ve been teaching Pilates for close to 15 years now, the past six of those have been in Epping and I have always loved seeing nervous beginners transformed into raving Pilates fans.

When I moved back to Epping, I chose to leave teaching in gyms or leisure facilities behind and focus purely on building my own classes in the area. I wanted a space, learning environment and client base which I was in control of. A ‘leave your attitude and your worries at the door’ kind of a space and every day, I am grateful for that decision because I really love going to work.

Yes there are days when I’m tired, or feel a little off colour and I’ll be honest, there are days I feel I may not have given my best – but I love my participants and I love the way classes evolve and form their own little microcosms of Epping Forest life.

BUT (and it’s a big but for a reason) I still feel there are others lurking out there who want to feel the Fit School Pilates with Karen love but for some reason, they haven’t quite taken the plunge to being a beginner. So this one is for you: A Beginner’s Guide to Pilates with Karen.

When Chris and I formally registered Fit School as a Limited Company back in 2013 it was to join our strengths into a big, Fit School family.

Chris is fabulous at the detail. He eats anatomy and science books for breakfast. I love beginners. I love gently encouraging newcomers into a more active lifestyle by taking small steps.

Chris will train when I’m on the sofa drinking wine and eating crackers. I should add that Chris will snooze on the sofa with the kids on a Saturday afternoon whilst I head out to the gym.

Chris is strict on discipline, whilst I might allow a 5 minute ‘chatter’ window within my classes because I’m sensing the mood requires it, in a ‘get it out of our systems so we can focus’ kind of a way.The point is, I think some people imagine Pilates as some ethereal space full of model-esque participants, to which they’ll never belong. Not in my classes.

My participants range from 20s to 90s; petite to fuller figured; extrovert to socially awkward; fully bought in to a more active lifestyle to those still teetering on the edge stubbornly refusing to fall in; and from graceful to … a little challenged.

We are all normal. Me included. Whatever that is. We are a diverse bunch too.

Our common ground is that we are all learning, again, me included.

I completely understand that if you might have got to a certain level in one area of your life, work for example, it can be really hard to take it right back to being the new one in the class. But that’s okay! You are still 10 yards ahead of the person who never took that plunge.

I also think some people feel that Pilates is a thing to say you do but then toddle along to class occasionally and pass on the difficult bits. Much like the mums on the school run, fully kitted out ‘athleisure’ but who never break a sweat. You can’t really get away with that in my classes. I know life gets in the way but you’re part of a team. These aren’t drop in classes where you can fade into the background. I like to know where you are. And anyway – Pilates doesn’t work by proxy.

You may have tried a class somewhere else at sometime and either felt out of your depth, like the instructor was telling you off, or like you didn’t actually do anything. These are the most common issues I hear from other classes. If this is you, I’d recommend at least trying a different class and instructor. Not everyone will like my style but you might just be the person who prefers my class to the other one you tried before. I’d also recommend getting a private session or trying a beginners class or workshop, where there’s more time to get to grips with technique. Pilates success is very much to do with understanding and mastering the moves within the moves. This is something I focus on intently in my classes.

Now if I still haven’t allayed your fears of your first class. I thought I’d share a little insight into what actually happens inside my Pilates classes. A sort of ‘average’ class.

We arrive. There’ll be those who are there before I get there. The early birds are always those who booked first and arrive to get their parking space first. They also have a preference to where to sit in class but will never admit it.

I set up the class. There’s general chit chat over the weather, how the week has been and how quickly the weeks are going by.

I may need to vacuum/sweep the floor if the last hall user has left a mess. So you’ll occasionally find me with vacuum in hand.

Nearer to class start time more will arrive.

We’ll discuss mat formation. It tends to be different for every class.

A few people need a last minute wee.
We get started.

Stragglers begin to arrive full of apology.

We wiggle round to include them.

Someone’s phone will ring or beep. Occasionally the person who’s phone it is has no idea it’s theirs.

We always start the class with standing mobility work. If you’re new, this will all feel new but you’ll get to know some familiar mobility exercises as time progresses.

During balance work there’ll be wobblers and those who like to show off. We have a giggle about it.

There’ll also be plenty of cracking joints and squeaky knees.

We head down to the floor.

We’ll do a fair amount of floor work at all different angles. On your front, on your back, seated, on your sides and from an all fours position. This is because many of us don’t move around much other than to walk or stand up and sit down, our bodies love multi-planar (multi-directional) movement. Or joints love it even more.

You will probably find some exercises really hard to do and be tempted to watch your neighbour who’s breezing the hundred. She’s not by the way, she’s just stubbornly refusing to show any outer signs that she’s challenged.

Later in the class you might find an exercise a little easier and be so focused on how nice it feels that you don’t notice your neighbour has barely moved. Our bodies are all different and we’ll find certain exercises harder than others.

In the early days your body simply won’t respond or move the way a more seasoned Pilates participant’s body moves but rest assured it will come, with time.

Someone’s phone will beep some more. Or their Fitbit will buzz.

We’ll attempt some of the rolling exercises. Some people can’t do them at all or just find they make them feel a bit ‘ick.

We work our way through a sequence of exercises focusing on technique, breathing and ways to help our bodies adapt.

At the end of the class we’ll finish with some gentle stretches and calming moves.

It’s always pretty quiet at the end of a class, like we’ve worked away the day’s stresses a little bit.

Some people rush off. Others stay for a quick word. Some will wait with me to help get my equipment back to the car. Some just take it without ever asking and leave it by my car.

And that’s it. It’s all very normal. No Insta worthy, white legging wearing, mountain backed poses. Just a bunch of regular folk doing something which makes them feel good.

Please, if you still have any fears just email me. There are no expectations. I want it to be right for you so would rather talk first. What have you got to lose from just giving it a try?

Absolute Beginners Pilates Class.

Read this before your first class.

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