An Introduction to Pilates & Why You Should Give it a Try
Pilates emphasizes controlled, low-impact movements and is designed to strengthen the core muscles and improve posture, flexibility, and balance. It was developed in the early 20th century by an athlete and boxer named Joseph Pilates and has been used by professional dancers and other athletes for more than 80 years.
In this article, we check out the benefits of Pilates and offer tips on how to get started.
Since its founder’s days, Pilates has evolved to incorporate many advances in biomechanics, but the emphasis of the exercises remains squarely on good posture and body awareness - which makes it perfect for musculoskeletal fitness.
While exercises such as weight training tend to focus on individual muscles or areas of the body. Pilates provides a more holistic approach. The focus is on proper form and controlled movements, making it a low-impact and safe form of exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels.
There are too many benefits of Pilates to include in this article. Here’s an overview of four of the main ways it will improve your body and your mind:
Pilates improves posture and balance by focusing on strengthening the core muscles that support the spine and pelvis, such as the abdominal muscles, lower back muscles, and hips. The controlled movements and specific breathing techniques used in Pilates help to realign the body and improve body awareness, which in turn promotes better posture.
The use of various props and equipment, such as the Pilates reformer or stability ball, helps to challenge balance and stability, leading to improved overall balance. Through consistent practice, Pilates can help to retrain the body to maintain proper alignment and improve posture in everyday life.
Here’s a workout program that goes really well with pilates:
Pilates exercises lengthen and stretch the muscles, improving range of motion, and developing balanced strength throughout the body. The focus on controlled, fluid movements and mindfulness of breathing also helps to improve body awareness and posture, which can enhance the effectiveness of the stretches and increase overall flexibility over time.
Pilates also helps to increase circulation and warm up the muscles, making them more pliable and receptive to stretching.
Pilates is thought to relieve stress and tension by focusing on controlled movements and breathing, which can help to calm the mind and relax the body. The movements in Pilates also promote good posture and balance, which can help to relieve physical tension in the muscles and joints.
Additionally, Pilates can improve flexibility, strength, and overall physical conditioning, which can lead to a sense of well-being and reduced stress levels.
Pilates strengthens the core muscles by targeting and engaging the deep abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis), oblique muscles, and lower back muscles through specific movements and exercises performed on a mat or with equipment such as a reformer.
Pilates emphasizes proper form and alignment, which also helps to engage and strengthen the core muscles. The controlled, precise movements of Pilates build stability and strength in the trunk, promoting a strong and balanced core.
A Pilates Reformer class is a type of exercise that uses a piece of equipment called a Pilates Reformer to perform various exercises aimed at improving strength, flexibility, and posture. The Pilates Reformer consists of a sliding platform, adjustable resistance springs, and straps, which can be used in a variety of different positions to perform a variety of exercises. The exercises performed on the Pilates Reformer focus on the core muscles, as well as the entire body, helping to improve overall fitness and well-being.
Benefits of Pilates Reformer classes include:
- Improved posture and alignment
- Increased strength and flexibility, particularly in the core and lower body
- Better balance and stability
- Reduced stress and tension in the body
- Improved coordination and control of movements
- Enhanced mind-body connection and overall body awareness
- Low-impact exercise makes it a good option for people with joint pain or injuries.
To the casual observer, Pilates and yoga may seem very similar. However, there are some key differences:
- Yoga offers more of an emphasis on breathing, meditation, and spiritual development, whereas Pilates focuses more on strengthening the core and enhancing posture, balance, and flexibility.
- Pilates exercises are typically performed on a mat or with specialized equipment, such as a Pilates reformer, while yoga can be performed on a mat or with props, such as blocks or straps.
- Pilates movements are usually slow and controlled, while yoga movements can range from slow and meditative to fast and dynamic.
- Both Pilates and yoga place a strong emphasis on the mind-body connection, but yoga typically has a greater focus on mindfulness, meditation, and spiritual growth.
- Centring: The core muscles of your body (the abdominals, buttocks, inner thigh, and lower back) for your center - the fulcrum around which all movements are made.
- Precision and control: Instead of requiring you to casually move from one position into another. Pilates emphasizes the importance of maintaining precise control and coordination as you do so.
- Concentration: Good form relies on focus, visualization, and muscle awareness - as pilates wrote ‘it is the mind that controls the body’.Try to notice how your mind controls your muscles.
- Flow: Each exercise should flow gracefully and naturally into the next with what Joseph pilates called ‘energetic dynamics’. This reflects the fact that your body’s posture is also dynamic, constantly adjusting to counteract forces placed on it. The flowing movements in Pilates reflect the way we use our bodies much better than in the static position.
- Breathing: Deep, rhythmic breathing is essential for controlling each exercise and coordinating with the flow of the movement.
Plenty of gyms run Pilates classes. Why not book into one this week?
In a Pilates mat class (the most common form), the teacher will guide you through a series of mat-based exercises designed to improve your strength, suppleness, and body awareness. Most sessions last 60-90 minutes.
You can also take more technical classes, which are usually held in a dedicated studio containing a range of specialized equipment. As with most forms of exercise, learning Pilates is an ongoing process. The program is divided into several levels, with each new level involving slightly more advanced versions of each exercise. As you progress towards more advanced techniques, the benefits of each exercise should increase.
With all Pilates exercises, the emphasis is on quality of movement rather than quantity. This means you can safely practice every day without overstressing your muscles or joints. Joseph Pilates himself recommended that you do Pilates four times per week, but you should still see improvements with less frequent practice.
- Wear comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely.
- Hydrate before the class to keep your body hydrated throughout the workout.
- Let your instructor know if you have any injuries or physical limitations. They can provide modifications to ensure you are doing the exercises safely.
- Focus on your breathing and maintaining proper form throughout the exercises. Pilates emphasizes controlled movement and correct alignment.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help or clarification if you're unsure about an exercise.
- Remember to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard. Pilates is a low-impact workout, but it can still be intense.
- Take your time and don't worry about keeping up with others in the class. Pilates is about working at your own pace and level.
- Enjoy the class and have fun! Pilates is a great way to improve your strength, flexibility, and balance.
Regardless of how long you’ve been working out, Pilates will challenge you in unique, challenging ways. In doing so, it will add an extra layer of effectiveness to your training regimen, helping you to become fitter, stronger, and more agile. Give it a try and find out for yourself.