How to Get Started with Pilates Exercise

There are three options to getting started with the pilates method. You could:

  • Attend a group class
  • Go to a private lesson
  • Start from home

I will talk about these three options and inform you of what you will need in these different scenarios.

One thing applies to all…

If you have never done pilates before - you are a beginner. This means you go to the BEGINNER class. I don’t care if you are the president or an Olympic swimmer (although Kudos to you if you are!). Consider:

  • You don’t know what pilates is all about.
  • Skipping vital information that is covered in a beginner level course can lead to injury.
  • Learning the basics well will lead to a successful practice allowing you to reap additional benefits from the exercises.
  • A beginner class does not mean no or slow improvement. Your practice will flourish the most while studying the principles.
  • Got it? Let’s move on.

    Pilates Class

You could be going to a group class at one of two places: a pilates studio or a large gym which offers a range of classes, pilates being one.

Class at a pilates studio

If you are going to a group class at a pilates studio, chances are they will have everything you need, ranging from mats to various props. If this is your first time, use their stuff. As you become more experienced you might find certain props or mats that you really like and want to purchase for yourself.

Often, most pilates studios wipe down equipment after each use - so no need to worry about germs. However if the studio you visit does not, you might consider investing in a pilates mat (especially to protect yourself around cold and flu season.)

Last, I like to bring a bottle of water. Some studios provide water, some sell water, and some have a drinking fountain. Simply put, I’d rather bring my own to avoid the overpricing, skip on germs, and have it at an arm’s reach away.

If you do decide to bring your own water please make sure it is in a leak proof bottle and that it is only water. Any carbonated or colored liquid could stain very expensive equipment!

Ask the pilates studio that you are attending if they have a Beginner Series. These are usually a four or five week, once a week, group class that is geared at teaching the principles and their integration into various pilates exercises. The class is called a series, so each class should build on the previous which is great for getting a handle on those pilates basic principles. The beginner series is great to jump start your pilates practice where you will be surrounded by other beginners like yourself.

Group classes are generally $12-$15 at a pilates studio. Some studios offer a discount if you purchase a “card” which contains several classes that get punched each time you attend class.

Class at a gym

A gym usually provides what is needed for a group class. Usually the mats are workout mats instead of pilates mats. Because the floor surface for group classes at gyms and health clubs are very hard, the extra padding is a necessity to protect the bones in the spine. Though these mats are a bit shorter than pilates or yoga mats - you can just scooch around. (You are going to the class for more exercise, right?)

The down side is that most equipment in gyms are not cleaned after every use. With classes like kick boxing and cardio step aerobics that share the same mats that you will be lying on, it is likely that you are sharing the same mat with four other sweaty bodies (previously that day).

Point being… I would invest in a thin (they come in different widths) pilates or yoga mat and simply lie it over the mat that the gym provides. Again, don’t forgo that padded mat completely because you might injure your spine. Again, I would take some water as well.

Several gyms that offer pilates often offer the pilates classes free to their gym members. Check with your gym for their policy.

    Private Lesson at a Pilates Studio

If you are getting started by going to a private lesson at a pilates studio you should not be expected to bring anything except your body and your concentration. The studio you are going to should have all mats, props, and/or equipment needed. Consider bringing water too.

One-on-one pilates sessions can range from $50-$90 a session depending on the studio and the experience of the instructor. Most pilates studios offer a discount if you purchase a package, which are several lessons paid in advance.

Some studios also offer duets or trios which bring the individual cost down. When choosing friends to be pilates partners, try to pick friends who will be reliable and who are at your level of exercise. This will bypass frustrations later on.

    Pilates Exercise at Home

Getting started at home is pretty easy. You have to do a little ahead of time planning to buy or order a few inexpensive products, but once you have them they will always be in the next room waiting. You will need:

Workout Space

You will need enough space, once you are lying down on your mat, to lift your arms next to your ears.


You will also need enough room, once you are lying on your side, to swing your leg front to 90 degrees.


Pilates Mat

You will need to purchase or order a pilates mat. Choosing a mat depends on the type of surface you will be working on. If you are working on carpet then you really don’t need a thick mat. A simple yoga or pilates mat will do just fine. Mats come in all different colors, patterns, and textures these days… so have fun!

If you are working on a harder surface, like a hard wood floor, look for a thicker mat to protect your spine. A thicker version of a yoga or pilates mat will work. You could also buy a foam mat and lie a thinner yoga mat over it. I prefer the double mat version because of the maximum protection for my spine for exercises like roll over and rolling like a ball.

I have a post of recommendations for pilates mats for different surfaces.

Pilates Video

You will need a video guide for your pilates journey. As you begin to feel comfortable with the basic movements then you can purchase the videos with small props for added challenge and variation. You will also progress to the intermediate and advanced levels - requiring the appropriate videos for that time.

When getting started in pilates choose a video that is instructive of the basic principles and of the alignment of each exercise. Watch out for videos fused with anything other than pilates. Those videos can be fine exercise, but for the sole purpose of learning the pilates basics to build upon, they are not effective.

Check out these recommendations of pilates videos for getting started.

Pilates Equipment

Once you begin feeling comfortable with the basic pilates principles and essential/basic mat workout you can buy a video(s) that offers workouts using props. You will also need to purchase the prop(s). Common props that are relatively inexpensive and require very little space are:

Pilates Advice for Beginners:

  • More attention, like a private lesson, is best when starting
  • If opting for group classes to start, go to a SMALL group class (10 people or less)
  • Detailed attention on the principles is most beneficial - you will excel quicker
  • Larger classes cannot provide as much personal attention and are mixed with many levels
  • Mixed levels prompt trial of exercises/modifications you are not ready for (people get hurt this way)



Still wondering what to wear to pilates? Check out this article on pilates clothing.

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