This popular, core-strengthening workout involves a series of controlled movements coupled with breathing patterns. Here are some of the benefits Pilates can bring.
#1. Exercise for everyone
Pilates, which can be done with a just a mat or with the use of specialist equipment like the Pilates reformer, can be practised by anyone, regardless of age, gender or fitness abilities. That’s because instructors can adjust the exercises to suit each client’s specific needs and health conditions; in fact it’s a popular choice for prenatal and postnatal fitness, as it strengthens the pelvic floor, helping the body both to prepare for the delivery and to recover post-delivery.
#2. Stabilise the core
The key to stability is the core (sometimes known as the “powerhouse!”), which includes the abdomen, lower back, obliques and pelvic floor. Having a stronger core means you can work out better as a whole, whether it be running, yoga, football, boot camp, you name it. According to Roderick “Erick” Mendoza, Master Trainer at Options Pilates Studio: “Learning how to use muscles that provide stability while we move our extremities helps to safeguard against injury during daily chores or sports.”
#3. Corrects posture and alignment
Correct posture and alignment are also key to effective functioning throughout everyday activities, whether it be working out at the gym or sitting at a computer. Pilates helps improve body awareness, which, in turn, encourages proper alignment, explains Erick. This is important so that the muscles can work effectively without excessively straining any one muscle group.
#4. Enhances your breathing
“The improvement of your posture and the ability to stand or sit taller will encourage better, deeper breathing day to day,” says Dipti Mistry, Pilates specialist at UFIT. She adds that the focused breathing used to control the Pilates movements helps to optimise the deep abdominal contractions that are involved.
#5. Boosts the mind-body connection
Along with focused breathing, says Dipti, “The concentration required to perform the exercises can help improve body awareness, and this can transfer to other areas of your training, and of your life.” She also notes that “quality” in Pilates is far more important than the number of repetitions performed.
#6. Tones and strengthens
“Pilates exercises involve all muscle groups, so you work on the entire body from head to toe,” says Dipti. “There’s a strong focus on deep abdominal contractions with each exercise, which improves core strength and tones the abdominals. Also, using your body weight, or equipment and props, helps to develop overall body strength and tones muscles.”
#7. Enhances mobility and enhances flexibility
“Our joints’ range of motion is dependent on how much we move,” says Erick. “Posture deterioration, muscle tension, aches and pains are usually caused by tight muscles. The Pilates repertoire moves each joint in all possible angles; that improves flexibility and helps muscles reach their optimal length.”
#8. Helps ease and prevent back pain
Having a stronger core means you’re less likely to develop a back injury. In fact, Pilates movements are often used as part of the rehabilitation – in addition to prevention – of lower back and neck injuries and pain, says Dipti: “It’s low-impact and safe for postural concerns when taught by a qualified instructor.” The controlled movements exert minimal impact on joints, taking pressure off one’s back and knees.
#9. Optimises balance and muscle control
According to Erick, Pilates helps create symmetry in the strength of opposing and unilateral muscles. “Working one side of the body independently from the other side, and with the same resistance, achieves balance in the internal force production of left and right side muscles,” he says.
Dipti adds: “Some of the exercises will challenge your arm and leg coordination, and engage certain muscles for movement. This emphasis on target muscle work can help correct imbalances and improve movement control.” It also means that you work the smaller muscles groups that aren’t usually focused on in fast-paced exercise sessions!
#10. Increase bone density
Our bones degenerate with age – and even faster without physical activity, explains Erick. “Using both bodyweight and resistance from apparatuses, plus props to provide a good stress to the skeletal system, Pilates exercises delay this degenerative process, making our bones more resilient and less likely to fracture as we grow older.”
As a sick child in late 19th-century Germany, Joseph Pilates – the son of a gymnast father and naturopath mother – dedicated himself to becoming stronger by studying anatomy and various forms of exercise. He got himself into top physical shape, posing for anatomical charts and becoming an accomplished circus performer, gymnast, skier and boxer in England.
After being forced into an internment camp during World War I, he began developing his concept of Contrology – essentially what is now Pilates mat work – which focused on core postural muscles and awareness of breath. As a caretaker for injured interns, he also invented rehabilitation equipment made from springs and hospital beds – a system that became the foundation for his body-conditioning method using specialised apparatuses.
Around 1925, Pilates and his wife brought his technique to New York City, where he opened his first studio catering primarily to performers and professional ballet dancers. The exercise system gained a devoted following, and is now taught around the globe in different variations.
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