What Are the Benefits of Pilates?
With the right instructor and guidance, Pilates is a beneficial type of workout for most people at any age. It strengthens the body, improves flexibility, increases balance and mobility, and can even reduce pain and injury risk. The benefits of Pilates may also include a better connection between body and mind, reduced stress and improved overall well-being.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a type of exercise that focuses on strength, especially in the core, flexibility and mobility. While Pilates has become a modern trend, the inventor, Joseph Pilates, actually developed his training method more than 100 years ago.
Pilates struggled with health issues as a child and used fitness to gain strength and better health. While held captive during World War I, he developed his unique workout method while working with other prisoners. He later came to the U.S. with his wife and opened a studio in New York City. And the rest is history.
Pilates is a low-impact type of exercise that incorporates bodyweight strength exercises, balance, mobility and stretching. The practice of Pilates can strengthen the muscles of the whole body but focuses on the muscles of the core – abdominal, pelvic and oblique muscles – to improve overall movement, posture and alignment.
Like yoga, Pilates is also associated with better connections between the body and the mind, but those who practice pilates will not find the meditational and mindfulness elements of yoga.
Like yoga, many Pilates exercises are performed on the floor and use no more equipment than a simple mat. Mat Pilates is a strengthening and lengthening form of exercise that focuses on the muscles of your trunk while also training your arms and legs. A class can start with simple breathing exercises that strengthen muscles by creating the intra-abdominal pressure, and advance to any of the 34 classical pilates exercises.
There is however a whole world of Pilates exercise that requires specialized equipment such as the Pilates reformer, which is a collection of springs, a sliding carriage, ropes and pulleys, the Pilates chair, which is box with large pedals and springs for resistance or the barrel, which is used for correcting the spine.
Some exercises are focused isolated muscle groups, while others are combination exercises.
The Many Benefits of Pilates
Any kind of physical activity or exercise routine is good for overall health. Some forms of exercise are better than others for specific aspects of health and have different benefits. Pilates has staying power for good reason. It’s packed with great health benefits for the body and mind:
Core strength for posture and stability
Joseph Pilates’ first clients were dancers. They needed to strengthen their core muscles—all the muscles of the trunk, from the neck to the pelvis. These muscles stabilize the entire body and is the focal point of all movements. Core muscle strength leads to improved posture and better muscle coordination across the range of motion of other limbs.
Pilates exercises can potentially work the whole body, but the main focus is on the core. This is the most important of Pilates benefits. With stronger muscles in the trunk, you will develop better posture and increased stability in all your movements. It’s a good foundation for everyday life but also for other physical activities and sports.
Connect the mind and the body
The controlled movements in a Pilates workout look deceptively easy. They are small. The point is to move only a little, while focusing the mind on these tiny movements. This allows the mind to establish strong connections with the body.
Again, this goes back to dancers. Joseph Pilates wanted dancers to develop greater balance and stability through improved control over their bodies’ movements. Focusing thoughts on little core movements and engaging specific muscles achieves this and brings greater awareness to how you move.
The Pilates instructor guides class participants not only in adopting the correct posture and the controlled execution of exercises, but also in their breathing. The relationship between breathing, the concentration in the timing of each breath and the physical movement, enhances the mind and body connection. Many people who practice Pilates regularly, discover that this physical exercise that strengthens muscles and improves coordination, also reduces stress and improves general well-being.
It should be noted that while Pilates, like many forms of exercise is great for your mental health, it does not have the spiritual side that yoga has. Yoga is considered to be a more holistic health system with greater emphasis on the mind, while Pilates has a greater focus on physical health, muscle strength and stabiity.
Strong core muscles, greater balance, improved stability and range of motion, and the ability to focus on and control your movements improve performance in dance and other athletics. While you may not be worried about your performance in a soccer game or on a stage, what these benefits give you is a reduced risk of injury.
In a study with older adults, researchers used an eight-week Pilates exercise program to assess balance and mobility improvements. The regular Pilates sessions improved mobility and injuries due to falls. And the effect is valid at any age. If you move, you can potentially get hurt, but a stronger core, improved posture and greater balance keeps you more stable—on a treadmill, an icy sidewalk, or anywhere else.
Ease back and joint pain
Practicing Pilates can be part of a pain management routine in a couple of ways. The core-strengthening exercises help reduce back pain. A stronger core is key to reducing back pain, but Pilates movements also improve alignment of the spine. Another benefit is that Pilates is easy on the joints too, so people who struggle with impact exercises can do this form of activity safely and with less pain.
It has also been demonstrated that practicing Pilates can help reduce lower back pain. While lower back pain can have many causes – and you should consult with your doctor if you suffer persistent or recurring back pain before performing any exercises – for most people, strengthening the lower back and core muscles should provide benefits. Pelvic curls lengthen the back and strengthen abdominal muscles. Single leg lifts improve pelvic stability, core awareness and mind body connectedness. Supine spine twists will give you better spinal mobility. These are examples of normal exercises you may practice in a Pilates class.
As a newcomer to Pilates, you may find it difficult to do some of the moves. But don’t let the bending and stretching prevent you from trying a Pilates class. If you struggle with flexibility or have limitations in your range of motion, these exercises will help. You can start small and work your way up to more stretching, but in time you will see major improvements in flexibility if you stick with regular Pilates sessions.
Many of the benefits of Pilates are common with other forms of exercise such as yoga but while yoga approaches the body from the perspectice of improving the flexibility of the body and its joints, Pilates focuses more on strengthening muscles.
Are There Any Downsides to Pilates?
Pilates is a safe and beneficial workout for nearly anyone, with one major caveat: You should work with a professional instructor to start. Pilates includes precise movements, and you need an expert to show you how do to them and to correct your form to avoid injuries. This is especially true if you want to use a reformer, the main piece of equipment used in Pilates.
Also be sure to include other types of workouts in your routine. Pilates is not as effective a cardio workout as things like cycling or swimming. As a fitness activity, it can help you maintain or lose weight, as part of a healthy lifestyle, but more intensive forms of cardio activity or resistance training may be better for weight loss. Use it as part of a balanced workout schedule. Pilates classes can be a little expensive, but once you get the hang of it you can do this workout at home.
Pilates is an excellent form of exercise, especially for core strength, balance and flexibility. Pilates benefits for both the mind and body are numerous and available to anyone willing to try and to learn from an instructor. A good place to find out how Pilates can benefit you is to find a class at a local gym. Their instructors can provide you with information on the right sort of class for you, be it a simple mat class in a group or working with a reformer and other equipment.