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What Is Pilates?

Have you ever wanted to try Pilates but you were not exactly sure what it involved and whether it would be suitable for you? Read on to find the answers to some of the most common questions you may have about Pilates. Our resident fitness experts will try and help you to understand What Is Pilates, it's origins and what the health benefits that this exercise can bring.

So What Is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise which concentrates on strengthening the body with an emphasis on core strength. This helps to improve general fitness and overall well-being.

Similar to Yoga, Pilates concentrates on posture, balance and flexibility. In Pilates the chance of injury is much lower than with other more strenuous forms of exercise.

Pilates also focuses on the mind-body connection. While doing the various exercises your mind needs to be constantly aware of your breathing and the way your body moves.

This form of exercise was developed by Joseph Pilates in Germany where he was a carpenter and gymnast. He invented Pilates as an exercise program for injured dancers and soldiers while living in the UK. Joseph Pilates believed that physical and mental health were closely connected. In the 1920's he immigrated to the US and opened a Pilates studio in New York. Originally this form of exercise was called Contrology.

Can Anyone Do Pilates?

Because Pilates can be modified to provide either a gentle strength training program or a challenging workout, most people would have no problem with this form of exercise. It is suitable both for beginners and for people who already exercise regularly.

If you're a beginner you can start with basic exercises and then once you've mastered those, you can work on the more advanced moves. It's a good idea when you're just starting out in Pilates to go to Pilates exercise classes or have a private instructor. This way the instructor can make sure that you are doing the exercises correctly to avoid any injury.

It is recommended to check with your health professional if you haven't exercised for a while, are older or pregnant, or have health problems.

Pilates may not be recommended if you have the following conditions:

  • Unstable blood pressure.
  • A herniated disk.
  • Severe osteoporosis.
  • A risk of blood clots.

What Health Benefits Can Be Obtained from Pilates?

So when considering what is pilates the biggest reason people ask about this exercise is they wonder what the health benefits are. As Pilates focuses on core strength, posture and flexibility the health benefits include:

  • Good posture¬†- Pilates will teach you to gain and maintain good posture. The exercises require that your body is always in alignment. This is especially beneficial if you suffer from lower back pain.
  • Muscle Tone¬†- The exercises involve the use of muscles that you may not use on a daily basis. After the initial soreness, you'll find that your muscles will be much more toned. This is especially good for older people and those who are normally quite sedate in their daily life as muscle tone is usually lost with age and inactivity.
  • Flat abdominal muscles¬†- Because Pilates focuses on strengthening your core which includes your abdominal muscles, you'll find that one of the benefits of Pilates is that it will result in a flat stomach.
  • Flexibility¬†- As we age we tend to lose the flexibility we had when we were young. Pilates will restore your flexibility, gently at first of course. After a while though, you'll be amazed at how much more flexible your body has become. This is especially important for avoiding injuries from falls.
  • Improves your balance¬†- Through the mind-body connection which is taught in Pilates you will become much more aware of how your body moves and performs. Therefore Pilates not only improves your physical balance through correct posture but will also restore your mind-body balance.
  • Reduces stress¬†- When doing the exercises, you'll be totally engrossed and won't be able to think about all those responsibilities that weigh you down on a day to day basis. You'll be more focused on your breathing and on the moves that you are making with your body. This is an excellent way to relieve stress.
  • Gives you a general sense of well-being¬†- Because Pilates focuses on providing balance between your mind and body it gives you an overall sense of well-being.

Will Pilates Help You to Lose Weight?

Because Pilates is a muscle strengthening form of exercise it can help you to trim and tone certain areas of your body especially your stomach, legs and buttocks. Classes can be tailored to offer either a gentle exercise program for providing core strength, flexibility and balance or a complete workout for a more rigorous exercise program.

Bear in mind though that Pilates is not classed as an aerobic exercise, so for effective weight loss you should combine your Pilates exercises with a healthy diet and some regular aerobic activity such as walking, swimming or cycling.

What Areas of The Body Does Pilates Target?

Pilates works mainly on your core which includes your abdominal area and your spinal area. This is why Pilates can be extremely beneficial for people who suffer from lower back pain.

Other areas of your body that are strengthened and toned through Pilates include your legs, especially your upper thighs, and your buttocks.

Pilates has also been useful for people who suffer from arthritis as it helps to keep your joints flexible. Because Pilates strengthens the thigh muscles this may be particularly useful in preventing arthritis and knee injuries.

Do You Need Any Special Equipment?

When you're just starting out, a mat on the floor is really all you need. A lot of the basic beginner exercises can be done this way. 

Is Pilates Good For Physical Therapy?

Many rehabilitation clinics and wellness centers now offer Pilates as a form of physical therapy. Research has found that Pilates can be an effective treatment for injuries and illnesses such as:

  • Chronic neck and back pain.
  • Hip or knee replacements.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Scoliosis.

It is also excellent for athletes, dancers and other sports professionals who have had some kind of injury and need rehabilitation to get back into top form. Because Pilates is a athletes, it can be tailored to work on certain areas of your body as long as you have a trained and qualified instructor.

Can Pilates be Done at Home?

Pilates can be a family affair not just for individuals, busy parents with kids can do it too.

You can certainly practice Pilates in your own home, which is a great bonus. There are many instructional videos available which you can follow along with. All you need is a mat and some loose, comfortable clothing.

If you're a beginner however, it is advisable that you take a couple of classes first so that you can be shown the correct method of doing the exercises. This will avoid any injury that could occur from doing the various moves incorrectly.

You could even engage a private instructor to come to your home and get you started correctly.

So if you are looking for a body and muscle strengthening form of exercise that can be tailored to your particular fitness level and which will help to keep you flexible, then you should definitely consider trying Pilates.

Be prepared though, you'll find that this type of exercise is quite addictive - but exercise that is enjoyable has to be a good thing!