Pilates  for Beginners
Pilates for Beginners

Can Pilates help you lose weight? What exactly is Pilates? And what are the health benefits of Pilates workouts? WLR personal trainer, Nicola Glanville gives you the history of Joseph Pilates with a beginners guide on how to start Pilates and work out what moves are best for you.

Pilates for Beginners

By wlr Personal Trainer, Nicola Glanville PTI REPS L3

Everyone has heard of Pilates, even if we aren’t entirely confident of it’s pronunciation, but what is it and what can it do for us?

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise that focuses on using both the mind and body to achieve optimum performance.  The deep stabilizing muscles of the body are conditioned and strengthened using sequences of movements that use gravity, body weight and specially designed equipment as forms of resistance.  The connection between the mind and body is crucial to Pilates.  Pilates trains the mind to maintain a constant level of awareness of the way the body moves.  This results in a greater control of motion and vastly improved technique.

The History of Pilates

Pilates is named after German born Joseph Pilates (1912-1967), a man who overcame his own childhood weaknesses through developing and practicing his own regime of exercises.  According to the Pilates Foundation website, Mr Pilates apparently suffered with asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever.  He worked as a circus performer, boxer and self defence instructor in the UK in 1912.  After this he worked with injured World War I soldiers who were unable to walk owing to their injuries.  Pilates has developed over the years to become a credible system of conditioning and rehabilitating the body. 

Benefits of Pilates

Total Body Workout

Pilates works the body in a functional way, using muscles in synergy with each other.  This is the way that the body is designed to be used and the movement sequences performed can prepare you for the physical challenges of everyday life. 

Core Stability & Postural Alignment

Poor posture accounts for a variety of aches and pains that hamper a large percentage of the population.  According to the BBC Health web site, ‘4 in 5 adults experience back pain at some point’ (BBC Health).  If your parents didn’t teach you to sit up straight, then Pilates is definitely for you.  Pilates teaches you to consciously maintain optimum anatomical alignment in all positions and during movement.  By coordinating the body as a whole, we are stronger, thus reducing the chances of injury caused by overuse of one area. 

Muscle Tone and Strength

Pilates is a fantastic way to sculpt your muscles.  In order to get optimum results you should participate in 3 or more sessions per week.  And if you have a cuddly layer of adipose tissue (fat!) hiding your ‘ripped’ physique then your Pilates workouts will need to be complimented with 5 x 30 minute cardiovascular workouts per week to reduce your body fat percentage

The PM’s work outs consist of Pilates and regular jogging sessions, this is a great combination.  Pilates isn’t a cardiovascular workout and will not exercise your heart and lungs enough to reduce your chances of developing heart disease.

Improved Body Awareness

Pilates work outs are designed to improve balance and coordination by teaching a greater connection between the mind and body.  Many of the older clients that I have trained have forgotten how to use various muscles and their reaction times are slow.  This is often very frustrating for them and it comes as a surprise.  Pilates is an ideal way to get back in touch with your own body so that you can use it to its full potential.

Injury Rehabilitation
Joseph Pilates used his system to rehabilitate injured soldiers and today Pilates has gained public recognition as a method of rebuilding strength and function following injuries.  One great benefit of Pilates is that it is low impact and that makes it ideal as a form of physical therapy. 

Pilates is not a substitute for medical advice.  However doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths cannot do your exercises for you.  Your time with them is often brief and then you are on your own in the intervening periods.  In most cases you don’t think about their advice again until you are in the clinic waiting for your next appointment.  One of the great things about Pilates is that it provides you with a structured method of taking control and improving your own strength and stamina.  Pilates is now widely available throughout the UK and is a great way to improve the structural integrity of your body.

However, if you have any injuries or illnesses talk to your medical practitioner prior to starting a new exercise routine.

WLR PT Carla Van Traa, also a pilates teacher, has produced this guide to safely exercising the abdominal muscles for us.   Use the Pilates Foundation website to look for a local instructor
Pilates for Weight Loss
Pilates will contribute to your overall strategy to lose weight by increasing muscle tone.  Muscle is metabolically active; the more of it that you have the more calories you will burn.  The best way to get the weight off would be to combine regular Pilates sessions with 5 x 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week.  Other than increased muscle tone, Pilates will strengthen your body, preparing it for the more dynamic calorie burning work outs. 

Pilates can also help to increase self esteem and reduce stress levels (see below), both of these factors are closely associated with weight loss.

Stress Reduction.
Pilates trains you to stay focused on your movements.  This is ideal for pushing out the voices in your head that are reminding you to pay the bills, get the washing machine fixed and finish that work project that was due in yesterday.  Pilates also teaches you to breathe properly which is another recognized stress reduction technique.    

Different Disciplines of Pilates

Stott Pilates

This is a modern version of Pilates that started in 1988.  The Stott method of Pilates has been revised by fitness and rehabilitation professional to incorporate up to date principles of exercise science and spinal rehabilitation.  The benefits of Stott Pilates can be enjoyed by anyone including rehabilitation and prenatal clients all the way up the scale to sporting professionals.   Stott Pilates is also a brand of company that trains its own instructors and sells Pilates equipment.

Body Control Pilates®

The Body Control® method of Pilates is a variation that specifically focuses on rehabilitation and ‘it is rapidly becoming the osteopath’s recommendation to patients suffering from almost any injury’ (Jonathan Betser, DO Chairman of the UK Osteopathic Sports Care Association). 

Body Control Pilates is based on 8 principles:

  • Relaxation
  • Alignment
  • Breathing
  • Centring: creating a girdle of strength*
  • Co-ordination
  • Flowing movements
  • Stamina

*The girdle of strength, principle referred to above, is a method of drawing up the pelvic floor muscles and drawing the abdominal muscles towards the spine to achieve a ‘strong centre’. 

Body Balance™. 

Body Balance™ is a modern exercise class that you will find available in many gyms around the country.  It is choreographed to up-beat music and comprises a combination of Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi.  It is ideal if you want a dynamic class with a contemporary style.  Use the Fitpro website to find a class near you.

Pilates Equipment

Mat Work Classes

Mat Work Classes are more widely available than Apparatus Classes as they require less equipment.  This variety of Pilates takes place on a mat in a studio.  It involves working against gravity and bodyweight to hold and maintain a range of positions using strength and stamina.  It is extremely popular because of its versatility.  All you’ll need initially for this form of Pilates is a mat! Sometimes classes incorporate the use of resistance bands and balls.  Mat work classes are great for beginners to develop a basic level of core stability before progressing on to using more advanced apparatus.

Apparatus Classes

Joseph Pilates made his exercise equipment by attaching various pullies to hospital beds.  Today the equipment that you will see is especially designed for its purpose; the apparatus includes Cadillacs (approx £2700), Rerformers (approx £2900), Barrels (£150+) and Chairs ( £1000). 




The Reformer consists of a bed frame structure with a sliding carriage and resistance bands attached at one end.  Pilates apparatus vastly increases the variety of exercises available to you, offering greater resistance and more support.  There’s a video on You Tube that shows you how a Reformer can be used

Who is Pilates Good For?

Everyone!  Need I say more?  We all need strong core muscles to support out movements.  Our core muscles are the ones that stabilise our pelvis and spine in order to maintain optimum alignment.  These stabilising muscles include: the abdominals - transverse abdominis and Internal and external obliques; the gluteals – gluteus maximus and medius (buttocks); the back muscles – multifidus, trapezius and serratus anterior.  It is important that these muscles are functioning properly to support our posture and to facilitate movement.  If our deep stabilising muscles are not strong injury can occur.

Does it work?

Each of us is different and the only way to know if Pilates will work for you is to try it for yourself.  You will need to be focused and disciplined and to practice regularly to see and feel results.  Pilates has evolved to incorporate up to date knowledge of exercise science and spinal rehabilitation, so its approach is sound. 

Many famous personalities have been reputed to practice Pilates in their quest to maintain peak performance for their chosen professions. 

These include: 

  • Madonna, Singer age 50 on August 16th 2008.  Does muscle tone get better than that?
  • Sigourney Weaver, Actress
  • Pat Cash, former Wimbledon Singles Tennis Champion
  • Sharon Stone, Actress
  • Julia Roberts, Actress
  • Mike Atherton, Former England Cricket Captain used Pilates to aid his recovery from back problems.
  • Andrew Flintoff, England Cricketer
  • Jennifer Anniston, Actress
  • Matthew Pinsent, Great Britain Rower and Olympic Gold Medalist
  • Claire Wright, Olympic GB on the trampoline does Pilates as a part of her 5 hr daily routine
  • Tiger Woods, US professional golfer
  • Natalie Coughlin, Olympic US swimmer who won 5 Medals in the Athens Olympics

Pilates Versus Yoga

There are some similarities between Yoga and Pilates.  Both systems focus on working the mind and body, with an emphasis on relaxation and breathing patterns.  However, Pilates is more of a physical therapy program, whereas Yoga centers on spiritual well being.  If you are looking for relaxation, flexibility and spiritual well being then Yoga is for you.  If you want to tone, strengthen and rehabilitate then its Pilates every time.     

How to Start Pilates


There are a number of ways to take up Pilates.  A good place to start is to contact your local leisure center to enquire about the availability of classes.  Classes have the benefit of being well structured and are easy to follow, and there is an instructor on hand if you need any assistance or advice.  The cost of group classes can vary from approximately £5 - £12 for mat work sessions and £15-£40 for a group apparatus session.

One to One Sessions

A more expensive alternative might be to find an instructor who will teach you on a one to one basis, possibly in your own home.  Obviously the cost of individual tuition will be greater than group sessions at approximately £15-£40 per session.  However, if you have specific requirements, e.g. an injury or you are pregnant, one to one guidance is ideal. 

Teach Yourself Pilates

There are many instructional books and DVDs available in high street shops or on the internet.  One of the advantages of using books and DVDs is that you can do Pilates at home or on holiday or wherever you may be.  You can learn it in your own time, referring back to instructions at the flick of a page or the press of a button.

Keep Up the Good Work Mr Brown

The PM is definitely setting a good example to his public by prioritizing his health.  My advice to Gorden would be – ‘Keep up the good work and remember that exercise is for life, not just for holidays.’  I have no doubt that Mr Brown is using his brain 24 hrs a day 365 days a year.  If he wants his body to be as agile as his mind then he’s going the right way about it. 

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