What is Pilates?
Even though this exercise trend will be a centurion in just a couple years, most people still don’t know what it’s all about. The main question that I get asked about Pilates is “Is it like Yoga and stretching?” No, it’s not Yoga, and they have very little in common.
Pilates has come a long way in the last 50 years. It started by being a means of conditioning for a very small group of people (dancers primarily in New York), gradually progressed through the years and exploded as an exercise trend in the 90s. Today true Pilates is more than just a group class at your local gym, it’s an elite form of body conditioning that develops a smart body and effective movement patterns.
Pilates is used as the next step after rehab programs and physical therapy.
Pilates is an exercise of choice of elite athletes (from football players to gymnasts.)
Pilates is a mind/body practice that calms your mind and energizes your body.
Pilates is an invigorating tonic for thousands of people who were able to forget about their pains and enjoy the freedom of movement again.
Pilates is a way to be in excellent shape while working with your body, not against it.
The list of Pilates benefits is growing every day as more and more new research is revealed to the public. This exercise trend inspires curiosity in researchers and scientists which leads to more in-depth analysis of its effects and benefits. I have put together 26 benefits of Pilates that were observed by me and my students as well as proved by modern research. Take a look at these and see what you agree with and don’t agree with. Feedback is always very important to me.
- It’s the best way to get a flat belly especially after pregnancy. I used Pilates to flatten my tummy after pregnancy (I had twins so I had a lot of work to do) and I got back in shape after just 3 months. A few of my students had problems with their tummies after getting a C-section but after just 1 month they noticed considerable improvements in the tone of their muscles and their strength.
- Pilates improves posture. Pilates puts a lot of emphasis on proper alignment during exercise. It makes you more aware of your body and the right position of your body at all times. It also exercises muscles that are responsible for your posture – the muscles of your trunk. These three facts make Pilates different from all other exercise programs out there and make it more effective for creating a graceful posture.
- Pilates gives you a lean body like a professional dancer. I’ve heard a lot of controversy around this one because a lot of ‘experts’ who never tried Pilates say that you cannot elongate muscles, you cannot create lean muscles without losing fat in them and you cannot build muscle strength without increasing the size of your muscles. Well, this is true in one way or another but there is different way to look at Pilates. The human body has two types of muscles: white fiber muscles and red fiber muscles. White fiber muscles are responsible for fast, spontaneous activities that require a lot of effort; they tend to increase in diameter as a result of exercise and create the hypertrophied bodies that you often see with body-builders. Red muscle fibers are slow to fatigue and they are the basis of the endurance training routines. These muscle fibers can become more slender as a result of an exercise routine (the reasons why this happens are not completely understood yet) and give you a leaner body. This is the reason why dancers and marathon runners have such lean bodies. Pilates is an endurance exercise routine that uses red fiber muscles and gives you a lean and slender body without bulk. Feel free to read Muscles and their Red and White Fibers. The effects of exercise and training for more scientific research behind this statement.
- Pilates helps people who have back pain. Right now I am not talking about people with back injuries or any serious conditions like herniated disks or serious postural deviations. I am talking about people who have pains due to a sedentary lifestyle, muscle tightness and weak muscle tone (and I know that there are millions of people suffering from these conditions). Pilates helped me, it helped my students and I am sure that it can help thousands of other people with chronic back pain. A study published in Journal of Orthopedics and Sports Physical Therapy, July 2006, proved that Pilates is effective for people suffering from chronic lower back pain.
- Pilates helps to lose weight. Pilates itself won’t make you slim in the shortest period of time, but if you add Pilates workouts to your regular cardio routines and combine it with a well-balanced diet then you can expect some really amazing results.
- Pilates helps to cope with discomfort and even pains during your menstrual cycle. Practice it a few days before the period starts and even during menstruation (choose easier exercises), and you will feel the difference.
- Pilates makes you more flexible. A lot of Pilates exercises increase flexibility of your back, the area that causes the most problems for all of us, as well as your suppleness in general. Being flexible means having fewer injuries, less pains connected with tight muscles and performing better in any type of physical activity.
- Pilates energizes you after even the most exhausting day. I used to teach evening mat classes at the gym and most women came to the class after work. They often said that they could barely get themselves to the gym because their day at work was just awful. But after a 1-hour workout they were making plans to go for a walk with their kids, go out with some friends or just fix something special for supper that night.
- It makes you feel light and relaxed, like you have just had a massage at a spa.
- Pilates helps you to sculpt your body and give it the shape you are dreaming about.
- If Pilates is performed with weights or a resistance band then it increases bone density.
- It purifies your mind while it exercises your body. Pilates is a mind and body technique that promotes health of your body as well as health of your mind and inner balance.
- Pilates helps with your sexual life because it gives you the body that you like as well as helps you to understand and feel your body better.
- If you practice Pilates with your partner then it’s a very sexy workout that can grow into another workout, in a different place:-)
- Pilates does not hurt your joints if performed properly. I want to add some clarification to this one. If you have any joint pains or injuries then you should talk to your doctor and make sure that you can try Pilates. In this case I would also recommend taking a private class at a Pilates studio that specializes in rehabilitation.
- Pilates helps you to find your inner balance and get rid of anxiety. A recent study at Tel Aviv University found that a simple course of workouts for balance (like Pilates) can resolve anxiety problems.
- Pilates enhances neuromuscular coordination.
- Pilates can help to improve memory. Workouts that include exercises for coordination as well as sequences of a few exercises help to improve memory.
- Pilates mat exercises can be practiced anywhere.
- The study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies proves that Pilates improves stability and balance in older adults. This is a very important fact because it can greatly improve the quality of life of older people.
- Pilates strengthens you core. All Pilates exercises use your midsection as the starting point for all movements that guarantees strong abs and a strong back.
- Pilates promotes body awareness that changes the way you sit, walk and look.
- Pilates teaches you body control. It does not isolate any muscles; instead it exercises your body as a whole which does not create any muscle imbalances that are common with other types of exercises. Pilates works the whole body in synergy, which is how we should be moving on a daily basis.
- Pilates improves blood circulation in your body that makes your skin more radiant and your body healthier.
- Pilates has proven to be effective in alleviating symptoms of fibromyalgia, arthritis and osteoarthritis as well as recovering after cancer (particularly breast cancer) and other surgical procedures (particularly knee, hip and foot surgeries.)
- According to a recent study held at the Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, Pilates improves self-efficacy, sleep quality and mood.
This list is far from being complete as Pilates develops and unfolds into a one-of-a-kind smart body movement program. The best way to find out what Pilates can do for you is to give it a try.
Keep it balanced!