There are nearly 500 Pilates studios that offer classes nationwide, and the explosion continues. Instructors of the official Pilates Method must complete a rigorous training program that includes more than 600 apprenticeship hours. Other Pilates factions have created their own certifications, which may or may not be as rigorous. To find a good Pilates instructor, you’re going to have to rely on your own judgment and recommendations from people you trust.

You can practice Pilates three ways:

  • You can take a group class that involves performing specialized calisthenics exercises, with or without a mat.

    Using a mat for upper abdominal curls. [Credit: Photograph by David Herman and Jordan Levy]
    Credit: Photograph by David Herman and Jordan Levy
    Using a mat for upper abdominal curls.
  • You can take private lessons on a series of machines with exotic names like the Cadillac and the Reformer. The Cadillac, with its array of springs, straps, poles, and bars, looks like a bed that the Marquis de Sade might have enjoyed. The Reformer looks like a weight bench souped up with assorted springs, straps, and pads.

    [Credit: Photograph by David Herman and Jordan Levy]
    Credit: Photograph by David Herman and Jordan Levy
  • You can pick up a copy of a Pilates workout video. Look for one that demonstrates Pilates techniques for beginners but also offers challenging workouts as you advance.

Pilates is expensive. Private lessons will set you back $40 to $200 a session. Yes, you read correctly: Some instructors charge $200 for a single session. That’s because there are many more personal trainers who don’t have a Pilates specialization than do, and when they get a following, their prices tend to skyrocket. Mat classes are a relative bargain, running from $12 to $25 per session, but that’s still more than many monthly gym memberships. Some gyms offer Pilates classes to members at no additional charge and offer private instruction at a discount.

If you like to master athletic activities quickly, this may not be the workout for you. Like dance, yoga, and martial arts, learning Pilates is a long-term process.

If you can afford it, consider taking a private session or two on the machines. It is both an enlightening and humbling experience — enlightening because you discover that your body can move in ways you never imagined, and humbling because you discover ways your body should be able to move but can’t.