Your Pilates Primer: Find the Philly Class That’s Right for You

Everything you need to know before you hit the studio

If you’ve been curious about Pilates for ages but haven’t yet taken the plunge, consider this your confidence boost. Check out the differences between three kinds of Pilates classes below, then pick the one that’s best for you. No matter which style you choose, know this: Your abs will never be the same. 

Just starting out? Try: Mat Pilates

What it is: You’ll use the weight and resistance of your body to perform exercises — heavy on the pulses, repetitions and holds — that increase spinal mobility, lengthen and strengthen your muscles, and zone in on your pelvic floor. Classes are done on a mat, and some work with props, the most common being the Magic Circle, a circular tool you squeeze with your arms or legs to promote the lengthening of the muscles throughout your body. These classes also provide the foundation for how your body should move on any Pilates apparatus further down the line.

What first-timers should expect: You’ll move continuously throughout the entire class, with little to no downtime between moves, and you’ll walk out with muscles you didn’t even know existed shaking. It helps to track down a teacher known for clarity; with names like “teasers,” “mermaids” and “hundreds,” even the basic moves can be hard to catch on to without a good explanation.

Where to do it: Thrive Pilates in Rittenhouse offers beginner classes where instructors walk you through moves at a slower pace. Once you have the hang of things, you can delve into the tougher stuff, like Piloxing (yes, Pilates plus boxing).

Have some experience? Try: Pilates Apparatus

What it is: “Apparatus” refers to all the equipment used in a Pilates workout, including the Reformer, which utilizes a moving platform to create instability to challenge your core; the Tower, which has springs that promote muscular elongation; curved barrels that lengthen the spine and open the chest; chairs, which target the muscles of the pelvic floor; and the Cadillac, an all-in-one machine equipped with a trapeze for aerial work. Reformers and Cadillacs are typically reserved for private or small-group sessions, while the others are utilized in larger group classes.

What first-timers should expect: While it’s helpful to have a foundational knowledge of Pilates before jumping on the machines, you should consider making your first session a private one so you can really learn the ropes (pun intended) firsthand. Otherwise, good studios should have 101 or apparatus beginner classes aimed at breaking down the basics.

Where to do it: At group classes at Ploome in Northern Liberties, you’ll spend time on two pieces of equipment in a circuit-style workout. The studio’s introductory Flight School classes will get you comfortable — and plenty sweaty — as you try out the machines. Private and small-group sessions are also available.

Looking for a new twist? Try: Megaformer Pilates

What it is: Megaformers are souped-up Reformer machines clocking in at 250 pounds and measuring 10 feet long. They employ a moving platform like Reformer, but the added length allows for full-body planks, and extra attachments accommodate more exercises from different angles. Expect isometric holds and pulses to get your muscles quivering.

What first-timers should expect: These fast-paced, high-energy classes minimize rest time between exercises to keep your heart rate up. New students will be given an overview of how the machine works, with lots of hands-on assistance to help them keep up.

Where to do it: You can take group classes or private sessions at Plank Studio in Wayne. On the first Monday of the month, the evening classes feature tunes spun by a live DJ.

This article first appeared in the 2015 Be Well Philly print magazine. To get a free copy for yourself, go here.

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