How to Get Started with Pilates and Yoga

Pilates has taken many forms since it was first invented by physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. It was first popular with dancers who wanted to better control and stabilise their movements, and over the years it has adapted to a wide variety of functions, from athletic training to injury rehabilitation.

While the exact nature of the class will depend on who’s teaching it, you can generally divide pilates into two types: mat and Reformer.

If you’re a beginner, you should start with mat Pilates which – as the name suggests – is done on a mat. This provides a stable surface on which you perform and hold a variety of specific movements and poses that are designed to activate or “recruit” your core and stabilising muscles.

Reformer Pilates gets its name from the Reformer, an intimidating looking frame on which resistance bands of various strength can be attached to do more advanced exercises and positions. You shouldn’t start with Reformer Pilates, as it requires you to have developed your core strength and control to an advanced level. Classes are unlikely to take your specific strengths and weaknesses into account, so you need to be aware of your body’s capabilities.

Pilates programmes are structured in specific grades of difficulty, from beginner to advanced. You need to learn how to isolate and control very specific muscles in order for Pilates to be effective, so you can’t simply jump into an advanced class even if your general fitness is above average.

There’s a lot of overlaps between Pilates and yoga in terms of what they do to your body, how the classes progress and the type of strengthening they promote – and it’s no surprise, as yoga was a major source of inspiration for Joseph Pilates.

The main difference is that yoga focuses more on your limbs and spine, whereas Pilates starts on your abdominal strength and then builds outwards. Many of yoga’s poses also start in a standing position, lengthening your limbs to complete the pose, whereas most mat Pilates exercises are done lying down, using your abdominal strength to support the motion.

If you’re considering starting yoga, it’s important that you find a class that’s to your tastes. Yoga’s history stretches back thousands of years, making it far more varied than Pilates. Some classes are very dynamic and cardio focused, while others are slower and more meditative, emphasising breathing and mindfulness.

People who just want to challenge their bodies and increase their fitness probably won’t enjoy an instructor that spends a lot of time talking about energy and spirit, whereas someone whose primary goal is to come away relaxed might prefer a calmer, more meditative setting.

However, even if you’re sceptical about the “spiritual” aspects of yoga, if you avoid its stress relief potential entirely then you’re missing out on its biggest benefit. I can say from experience that few things leave me feeling more calm and refocused than completing a yoga class.

Why Men Should Do Pilates and Yoga

Both Pilates and yoga have a perception issue. Despite benefiting men and women equally, both are perceived to be exercises primarily for women. Just a quick Google image search of Pilates or yoga reveals how much of a problem this is.

But there is nothing about either exercise that makes them more suitable for women than for men, yet they’re mostly marketed at half the population. As a result, Pilates and yoga classes tend to be largely or completely populated by women, further reinforcing the assumption that they’re not exercises for men.

Modern, desk-bound life makes this a serious issue. Being stuck in a highly unnatural sitting posture for hours on end does a lot of damage to the body, weakening essential muscles in your core, spine, legs and shoulders. It’s said that sitting is the new smoking, potentially taking years off your life if you don’t find a way to balance out its negative effects.

Pilates and yoga are both fantastic for mitigating the toll that a desk job puts on your body, preventing serious injuries and generally improving your well-being. So, if you’re a man who’s put off by the popular image of Pilates and yoga, I urge you to give them a shot. They might just save your life!

If you want more help and advice for getting started with Pilates or yoga, you can get in touch with me at or book an appointment at our clinic by calling 0207 937 1628.


Undine Ungerer

Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist