Do You Have To Be In Shape To Start Pilates?

June 1, 2022by Norah Myers

Do You Have To Be In Shape To Start Pilates?

Let me think.

Erm – no.

Twenty years ago, Pilates was geared toward the fitness community and attracted people who were already in shape and wanted tough classes. Now, physiotherapists, doctors, and chiropractors send their patients to Pilates following surgery or an accident. The perspective has shifted more toward the rehabilitative nature of the work.

My first client who ever came in regularly, Amanda, did classes because she had knee pain from running. Four weeks into our work together, she came in and said she had her first pain-free run. I cried because I was so happy.

The whole reason that I started Pilates was that I wasn’t in shape. I hated going to the gym. I never felt pretty enough to be at the gym and just spent all of my time there comparing myself to other women who were prettier than me. I also didn’t see any results from the gym. I’d spent years in the gym on the elliptical, doing weights, working with trainers, and I’d never seen or felt any difference in my body. Why would I do something where I felt no result and I just spent my time wishing I were as pretty as the girl on the treadmill in her Lululemon shorts?

My massage therapist told me that having regular massages was a waste of money if I didn’t exercise regularly. There happened to be a Pilates studio right down the street from her clinic. After that treatment, I walked in the door of the Pilates studio and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve been a student of Pilates for nearly fourteen years and an instructor for nearly three years.

I was very out of shape when I started Pilates. I had poor balance, weak abs, no glute strength, a very exaggerated curve in my back, and an obvious limp. At that time, I wasn’t in pain, but I was certainly weak and needed help with my posture and balance. I took to Pilates very quickly. One year of Pilates did more for me than thirteen years of pediatric physiotherapy. My pelvis untwisted, my limp diminished, and my posture became better than it had ever been. It wasn’t until I started my instructor training that I finally developed glute and ab muscles and I improved my balance a hundred fold, but Pilates definitely got me into better shape than I had been in before.

I specialize in these kinds of classes because I want to help people who are in the same place now that I was when I started. I have helped so many people who are out of shape and just recovering from an injury or an accident. In the last three years, there have been countless clients who used to believe what I did: that Pilates was just for dancers or gymnasts, for people who were already flexible. I’ve shown them that you don’t have to be flexible to do Pilates, and that the work is adaptable to their needs on any given day.

Kathleen was hesitant to try Pilates because she was out of shape and self-conscious about her body. It took me months to convince her to try classes with me. When I finally got her to come in for private classes on the reformer, where it was just her and me, within three classes she was sailing easily through the work and saying to me, ‘This is fun.’ Now, she does Pilates several times a week. She’s not only much stronger and in much less pain – she’s far more confident than she used to be.

At the beginning of lockdown in March 2020, I started teaching online mat Pilates classes on Zoom. I taught a daily class for my mum, sister, aunties, and cousins. They initially joined for the social aspect, so that we’d get to see each other every day, and they were all surprised when the classes helped them feel better. My mum was able to manage pain in her hips and knees, something that had been difficult for her for years following a bike accident. My auntie’s back and hip pain got better. Most people who are skeptical about Pilates, myself included, are proven wrong pretty quickly when they feel a difference in their bodies that other exercise hasn’t provided.

If you want to progress in Pilates, it’s great to complement the work with weight training, running, swimming, or boxing. The one thing that Pilates doesn’t provide is cardiovascular exercise, and you don’t burn a lot of calories. Intermediate and advanced Pilates classes do demand that you have more strength, so weight training and TRX classes are some of the best things you can do to make your practice better. But you don’t have to be in shape to start Pilates classes.