What is Pilates?

Peta Serras

by Peta Serras

What is Pilates? It’s a question I hear all the time when I tell people it’s my job. Whether it’s mat or studio Pilates, there are a few principles that make it unique to any other form of exercise.

Like many forms of exercise and fitness, Pilates can be quite diverse depending on where you go and who teaches you. No two class is ever the same, but each class should work towards a goal of perfection of movement and a balanced body. But keep in mind I’m totally biased! I have a rad Pilates based Stretching Series and a studio in the Hunter that I’ve had for over 7 years now.

Pilates is a lot more complex than people think. One thing I love is the more you do, the harder it becomes! Like ballet, you’re always striving to complete every movement like it’s a performance piece, even concentrating on your fingers and toes!

I’m hoping with this post to give you guys some clarity and answer the question of what is Pilates? I’m hoping it tempts you to try a class one time and experience the benefits for yourself.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a method of exercising the body in a balanced fashion. It’s a total body conditioning form of exercise that uses correct alignment, precision, breathing, focus, control, flowing movement and centering to achieve perfect movement.

Pilates can be an aerobic and non-aerobic form of exercise that can depend on why you’re heading along to a class. It could be rehabilitative, restorative or working towards a specific goal like training for a triathlon.

Each exercise has a prescribed placement, rhythm and breathing pattern that can vary depending on where your instructor has studied. Your muscles are never worked to extreme exhaustion. The focus should be on form, not fatigue.

Pilates is popular as a fitness based activity, but also as rehabilitation. The focus on strengthening the core and aligning the body helps to alleviate many aches and pains throughout the body including the back, neck and shoulders.


what is pilates | Professional Babe

Who created it and why?

Joseph Pilates created it, thus the name. It was developed in the early 20th century during the First World War as a rehabilitation program for injured soldiers. Joe had studied many forms of exercise including yoga and boxing as well as movements of animals and noted their movement patterns. Which is why we have so many animal names in Pilates like the seal.

As a child, Joe suffered from many illnesses including asthma which is why he turned to exercise to help with his health.

He moved to the US in 1926 and opened a studio with his partner Clara. The studio ran for 50 years where he taught a variety of clientele (my father was actually taught by Joe believe it or not!) and trained many people who continued his legacy.

What are the different types?

In a very short and condensed explanation, there are two types of Pilates:

  • Mat Pilates using your own body weight and perhaps small apparatus like the magic circle.
  • Studio Pilates using the big pieces of Pilates equipment like the reformer.

But to really get into the nitty gritty there’s lots! Reformer classes, combo chair classes, Fletcher Pilates, barre Pilates, semi-private studio and group mat classes! No matter your goal there’s a type of Pilates that will suit your needs and budget. But there’s still another reason your classes can vary…

How come my studio classes vary from studio to studio?

Simple! It depends on where your instructor has trained. There are many different methods of teaching, but each can be broken down into classical or contemporary Pilates. Think classical as the type that Joseph taught and contemporary usually drawns upon a more scientific approach to each class.

I’ve trained with Polestar Pilates and they’re a contemporary based way of teaching. Not only will the exercises be slightly different, but the breath pattern and sequencing of your class will change too.


What can I expect from a class?

That depends entirely on your instructor! But usually, it works through a systematic sequence where the whole body is warmed up and then each part of the body worked, e.g. the abdominals, upper-body weight bearing, extension etc. A well-rounded Pilates class should evenly work, strengthen and stretch the entire body without exhausting an area.

You will focus on your breath, core control, pelvic floor, body positioning, movement choreography and other Pilates principles like axial elongation. If you have a great instructor, you won’t even know you’re focusing on everything at once.

What are the benefits?

  • Improved flexibility of the entire body
  • Increased muscle strength and tone
  • Increased core strength
  • Balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body – remember, we want even bodies!
  • Enhanced muscular control and coordination
  • Improved stabilisation of your spine
  • Improved posture strengthening
  • Improved physical coordination and balance
  • Relaxation of your shoulders, neck and upper back
  • Stress management and relaxation
  • And much, much more

How often should I do Pilates?

I encourage my clients to come to the studio 2-3 times a week. This not only ensures that supervised movement means I know they are doing it correctly, but I can constantly push them further each lesson.

To keep the body aligned, centred and balanced, Pilates ideally should be practiced daily. Even 10 minutes is enough to work out any kinks and alleviate tension and stress.

Which one is for me?

I urge my clients to do a mix of mat and studio classes. That way they get the private attention they need to succeed, but they get the rigorous flowing workout of a group mat class. That way too, they also learn exercises that they can do at home for homework.

But to decide what is best for you, really get clear on your budget, how often you’re willing to attend and of course the outcomes you want to achieve from regular practice.

If you want to try it from the comfort of you own home, why not download my free ebook showing my favourite Pilates based stretches. Or if you’re lucky enough to live in the Hunter Valley, contact me for a lesson.

I hope this helps and gets you inspired to hit the mat!

Peta x

Peta Serras

Editor of Professional Babe, Peta has a penchant for pretty things, Tom Hardy and ginger kittens. You can find her sipping a long black, creating killer content or making sure her winged eyeliner is even. Peta is a writer, model & Pilates Instructor based out of the Hunter Valley.

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