When it comes to exercise, you need to think: What sort of body do I aspire to? If you want to be strong and shapely, then you should take up weight lifting. Athletic? Running or swimming should be your go-to. But if you want to be lithe and lean, then dancing is a good choice. The trouble is that we’re not all natural-born Misty Copeland lookalikes. If you have two left feet or the rhythm of a dad and dancing just isn’t your forte, Pilates really is the next-best thing to help carve out a body akin to a ballerina. But it’s worth knowing that the benefits of Pilates runs far deeper then just improving your posture and giving you the poise of a dancer (I mean we’d still be in if those were the only benefits). Actually, mindfulness, weight loss and pain relief are all on the list—below, we’ve unpacked how pilates benefits each one.
The History of Pilates
German-born Joseph Pilates was plagued with illness growing up and was introduced to gymnastics and bodybuilding by his father. He studied yoga, martial arts and meditation, which came in handy when he worked in a hospital on the Isle of Man during the latter part of World War I. There he attached springs to the hospital beds to support the patient limbs, soon noticing that they recovered more quickly. From here, Pilates honed his method, as he helped to rehabilitate injured soldiers. Once his method was fully formed, he launched it into the United States in 1923, and the rest, as they say, is history.
While modern methods have sprung up, they are all based on the original Pilates method, which centres around 50 simple, repetitive moves with the aim of challenging the muscles. Then there are the “five essentials” of Pilates—breathing, cervical alignment, rib and scapular stabilisation, pelvic mobility and utilising the transverses abdominis.
The moves can be performed on a mat or on a reformer, a piece of equipment that was conceived from the springs on those hospital beds. Pilates is based around bodyweight movements but also moving the body or using the springs and pulleys on the reformer to alter the centre of gravity to progress or regress moves depending on your skill level of strength.
Benefit of Pilates #1 Core Strength
The core is literally at the very centre of Pilates. One of the key aims of the method is to create a “girdle of strength,” which is something Pilates himself focused on. The idea is that during the moves, you focus your attention on recruiting deeper muscles within your core to strengthen them and improve posture and ease any back pain. The deep core muscles, when working properly, are incredibly supportive and help to prevent injury in daily life.
One study found that Pilates can actually even out asymmetric abdominals, which can help with balance. It also causes hypertrophy (growth) of the rectus adominis, which is the superficial layer of muscle we know as the six pack. So if you want shapely abs, Pilates is for you.
According to the American Council on Exercise, “Pilates remains one of the most challenging and effective means of building core strength and stability.”
Benefit of Pilates #2 Flexibility
Joseph Pilates believed, “true flexibility can be achieved only when all muscles are uniformly developed.” Pilates classes consist of tiny movements that strengthen each muscle, however small. While yoga is very much about stretching and holding poses to increase flexibility, Pilates focuses on building a base strength to allow your body to flex.
Studies have proved that Pilates can help boost flexibility, but as core strength and muscle balance are the key aims of Pilates, you may want to combine with yoga if flexibility is your number one goal.
Benefit of Pilates #3 Inch Loss
Pilates may not be a high-intensity workout, and you’re not likely to sweat buckets, but studies have shown that it can still cause participants to drop inches.
Any workout where you strengthen your muscle is going to help with weight management, as muscle burns more calories than fat. Pilates improves posture, which means you will appear taller and leaner, even if the scales don’t register a change. While Pilates moves will help to whittle your waist and tone your limbs, if you’re after speedy fat loss, then make sure you factor in some HIIT sessions, too.
Benefit of Pilates #4 Mindfulness
In Pilates the connection between the mind, body and breathing is paramount. One study found that Pilates enhanced mindfulness and the mental well-being of those who took part. While Joseph Pilates described his method as, “complete co-ordination of body, mind and spirit.”
Alycea Ungaro, owner of Real Pilates NYC, told The Guardian, “Pilates can be a mental and emotional respite for those suffering from depression, anxiety or everyday stress. Pilates forces you to focus inward for the duration of the workout, by concentrating on the detail, form and execution of each exercise.
“Pilates can rejuvenate the mind and restore the spirit. I sometimes think the benefits are almost in line with those of meditation.”
Benefit of Pilates #5 Pain Relief
For anyone suffering from back pain, especially in the lower back, Pilates could be a real help. A lazy core is often a biomechanical weakness in people with lower back pain, and since Pilates focuses so much on strengthening those core muscles deep down, it can have a knock-on effect, helping to ease back pain.
It’s important if you are suffering from an injury that you seek out a qualified Pilates instructor who can help regress and progress moves where needed and can ensure that the Pilates moves are being performed correctly to prevent further injury. To find a Pilates instructor, try searching on Pilates Near You. All you have to do is pop your postcode in, and it provides you with the details of qualified instructors in your area. Clever.