Pilates classes are all about training the ‘powerhouse’ muscles: the abs, back, hips and butt. But while their purpose is the same, they have their own ways of going about it. To decide which class to splash your cash on, think about your goals and what you want to get out of Pilates. This guide will help!
It’s a good idea to wear fitted activewear so your teacher can see what you’re doing and correct your technique. That’s what you’re paying for! 🙏
IF YOU’RE A BEGINNER: MAT PILATES…
Welcome to the OG Pilates class. During a mat class (which usually goes for 45-60 minutes), you’ll learn the fundamental techniques of Pilates, like neutral spine, c-curve, and pelvic stability. You’ll move through the classic exercises, such as hip raises, planks and the ‘100s,’ and work those teeny-tiny muscles you never knew you had. Above all, you’ll find out how to engage your core. If you want abs of steel, you’re in the right place!
While mat classes focus on strengthening the core, they are a full-body workout. You may use props (think balance balls, rings, and resistance bands), but you’ll mostly be relying on your own body weight. Since there are no machines involved, these classes are usually cheaper and available at most gyms and studios. They’re also taught in group settings, so there’s always someone to copy if you have no idea what you’re doing.
The best bit? Most of the exercises are the same across all Pilates classes, so the mat is great for mastering your skills before moving on to equipment.
IF YOU WANT TO TIGHTEN AND TONE: REFORMER PILATES…
You’ve probably peeked at a reformer class before – and then cried when you realised that they cost $30-$40 a pop. I feel ya.
Think of reformer classes as power Pilates. The reformer is a bed-like frame with a flat platform that rolls up and down a carriage track. It has a set of springs and an adjustable foot bar on one end, and straps and shoulder blocks on the other. In a mat class, you use your body weight; in a reformer class, you rev up the resistance. Your teacher will tell you to add or take off springs to make the carriage heavier or lighter. Usually, you’ll use more springs for leg moves, and less for abs and arms, but either way, you’ll feel the burn!
The class is all about flow. You’ll work through the classic exercises, but the machine will add a little resistance, a little weight, and a little more of a challenge. With the help of the reformer, you’ll strengthen and tone your abs, back, butt and legs, and improve your flexibility and posture. You’ll probably break a sweat, and you’ll definitely walk out feeling longer and leaner.
Reformer classes tend to be smaller. Most studios keep it to 5-10 students so the teacher can pay closer attention – that’s why they’re on the exxy side.
IF YOU WANT TO DO CARDIO WITHOUT RUNNING: THE JUMPBOARD
Hate running? Here’s the good news: you can get your heart pumping by lying down.
The jumpboard is a flat piece of equipment that attaches to the foot of the reformer. In a jumpboard class, you’ll literally lie down and jump. It’s a fun class that fires up the abs, legs and butt. Your teacher will adjust the springs to make it more or less challenging, but either way, you’ll feel it the next day (in the best way).
These classes are offered at dedicated Pilates studios. Some studios run jumpboard classes, and others use the board in their regular reformer classes.
IF YOU WANT TO STRETCH FROM HEAD TO TOE: THE LADDER BARREL…
We spend our days hunched over our laptops, phones and books. To avoid ending up like Quasimodo (aka the Hunchback of Notre Dame), we need to stretch and open up our bodies.
Enter: the ladder barrel.
This piece of equipment looks exactly what it sounds like: a barrel with a rounded shape at the top.
As the story goes, old mate Joseph Pilates loved a beer, and when he finished a barrel (#impressive), he’d play around with it. Before long, he realised that the shape was perfect for supporting the spine. So, he created a series of exercises.
Used in private and equipment classes, the barrel is amazing for reversing all that hunching. You can lie over it, face up, to boost your flexibility and release any tension in your back and shoulders. You can pop one leg up on the barrel to loosen up tight hip flexors and stretch your hamstrings. And when you’re done stretching, you can crunch your way to shredded abs a la Pip Edwards.
IF YOU WANT TO BE AS BENDY AS A FITFLUENCER: THE CADILLAC
Picture grown-up monkey bars, and that’s the cadillac. Also known as a trapeze table, the cadillac is one of the most diverse pieces of Pilates equipment. You can sit, stand, kneel, lie or hang upside down, and the springs and bars add an extra acrobatic challenge. Since you’re working against gravity, it helps to boost your strength, posture and flexibility – big time.
There are endless exercises to do on the Cadillac. It’s usually only used in private sessions, so your teacher can guide you into different positions.
IF YOU WANT TO HAVE THE POSTURE OF A BALLERINA: THE TOWER…
At first glance, the tower looks like a torture device, with various bars, arm springs and leg springs. But really, all of these bits and bobs are designed to help you to sit up straight – just like Nan always tells you to!
While the reformer has springs on one end, the tower has springs in a bunch of places, and you can adjust them to match your height, weight and strength. It also has a stable platform (unlike the rolling carriage of the reformer), which means you don’t need to worry about the machine moving. There are seated and standing exercises, and all of them help to align your spine, stretch and strengthen your body, and create long, lean muscles. During a class, you’ll rotate through the tower’s springs, bars and straps to work your whole body and perfect your posture.
Tower classes are sometimes offered on their own, or as part of ‘equipment classes’ with the reformer and cadillac.
Have you tried pilates before? What class do you like the most?