Understanding Pilates and why it’s such a good workout.
Fans of Pilates flock to classes in the quest for improved muscle tone, flexibility, and six-pack abs. Most of us who haven’t tried Pilates envision it as similar to yoga, but practiced on odd-looking machines and with an emphasis on core work. What is Pilates, really, and why is it considered a killer workout? Let’s find out.
Without a doubt, some of the benefits of yoga and benefits of Pilates are similar. Pilates places an emphasis on the mind-body connection through breath control and an intense focus on each movement, however its primary purpose is physical strengthening and toning. Yoga is more directly focused on a holistic mind-body, and at times spiritual, approach.
Created by German gymnast Joseph Pilates in the 1920s and originally called Contrology, Pilates was intended to help wounded soldiers rehabilitate their injuries. The program is based on six principles
- Centering—strengthening the core muscles, also known as the Pilates Powerhouse
- Concentration—fully focusing on each exercise to ensure proper form
- Control—slow and steady movements to master muscle control
- Precision—each movement is performed in a precise manner for maximum benefit
- Breath—exercises are coordinated with deep breathing
- Flow—movements are smooth and graceful, like a dancer
Benefits of Pilates
You’ve probably noticed Pilates devotees with lean physiques, perfect posture, and enviable abs. Indeed, Pilates is geared toward achieving all this and more. Here are some of the benefits of Pilates:
Great abs—Pilates places a huge emphasis on the Powerhouse—the core muscles that stabilize the body and serve as a foundation for all other movements.
Lean muscle tone—The exercises in Pilates recruit muscles from all over the body, helping to strengthen and tone muscles that might otherwise be ignored. The focus on strengthening and lengthening results in long, lean muscle, minus bulk.
Improved flexibility—Pilates practitioners benefit from increased flexibility and mobility, even in a short period of time.
Proper posture—Because Pilates exercises require constant alignment, maintaining proper posture will become your norm.
Reduced back pain—The postural benefits of Pilates often translate to a reduction in chronic back pain.
Improved balance—The focus on muscle control and alignment improves one’s coordination and balance.
Reduced risk of injury—Pilates is a low-impact workout, making it safe for all ages with a low risk of injury. It is often incorporated into physical therapy programs as both rehab and protection from future injuries.
Reduced stress—The concentration required in Pilates helps to alleviate stress, shifting focus to the movements at hand.
Increased energy—Much like yoga, Pilates tends to refresh and revitalize practitioners.
Improved bodily functions—Through working the entire body, Pilates helps stimulate the immune system, digestive system, and metabolic rate.
Pilates Equipment and Variations
Basic Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat on the floor, similar to yoga. Small, portable equipment—such as weights, resistance bands, and Magic Circles (an exercise tool invented by Joseph Pilates and originally made from the barrel ring of a keg)—may also be used. Dedicated Pilates studios incorporate apparatus like the Reformer (the most recognizable Pilates equipment, a sliding table-like contraption that uses pulleys, springs, and resistance), the Tower (an add-on to the Reformer), the Cadillac or Trapeze Table (which incorporates gravity into the workout), and special chairs and barrels.
The now-popular Barre method is often confused with Pilates. What is a Barre class and how does it differ from Pilates? Barre incorporates aspects of Pilates, plus yoga and ballet-inspired exercises. It uses the practitioner’s body weight as resistance and small, focused movements to achieve improved flexibility, core strength, posture, and lean muscle tone.
Is Pilates right for you? It’s hard to deny the many benefits of Pilates. So whether you test the water with basic mat exercises, or go all in with a studio membership, we say why not give it a try!