Have you ever wanted to try out a Pilates class but were unsure as to what it involves and whether it would be suitable for you? Read on in this blog post to find the answers to many of those questions you may have about Pilates and hopefully it will make your decision to give it a go a lot easier!
What exactly is Pilates?
Pilates is a form of exercise which concentrates on strengthening the whole body with a specific emphasis on core strength. It was developed almost one hundred years ago by Joseph Pilates, as a strength and conditioning exercise program to rehabilitate injured dancers and soldiers in the UK during WW1. Joseph Pilates had the belief that the physical and mental health of an individual were closely connected. It became a favourite form of exercise of elite individuals in the 1960s, and has now expanded to become more widely available, with a large range of styles combining it with everything from yoga to boxing.
It is common that many relate this form of exercise to that of the traditional yoga practice, which is true. Similar to yoga, Pilates focuses on posture, strength, endurance, balance and flexibility. It also focuses on the mind-body connection. Whilst performing various exercises, your mind needs to remain constantly aware of your breathing and the way in which your body is moving. The exercises are performed with a heavy emphasis on technique, a balanced postural alignment, core strength, continual flow of movements and using breathing to centre the mind.
Many of you may be wondering, who can do Pilates?
With great adaptability, Pilates can easily be modified to provide a gentle stretching and strengthening program to those experiencing joint pain and injury or it can deliver a challenging workout to those that are more experienced and of higher fitness levels. It is suitable for all individuals ranging from beginners to those that exercise on a regular basis.
If you see yourself as a “beginner” and do not regularly exercise, then Pilates allows you to start with basic exercises, which once you have mastered, to then gradually progress on to those more advanced.
If you are starting Pilates for the first time, it is recommended that you join a beginner class or sign up for private sessions so that you are supervision by a qualified Pilates instructor to ensure you are performing the exercises with correct technique to avoid any increase in pain or injury.
Many rehabilitation clinics and wellness centre now offer Pilates as a form of physical therapy as research has shown that Pilates can be an effective treatment for injuries and illnesses including:
- Chronic neck and back pain
- Hip or knee replacements
- Multiple sclerosis
It is also an excellent form of exercise for athletes, dancers and other sports professionals who have had some kind of injury and need rehabilitation to get back to pre-injury form. Due to its low-impact nature, Pilates can be tailored to focus on specific areas of the body as long as it is performed with a trained and qualified Pilates instructor.
What does Pilates involve?
When starting out, a mat on the floor is all that is really required for Pilates and this is a great place to start if you are new to Pilates. A wide array of basic beginner exercises and stretches can be performed this way. Small equipment can then be incorporated into the floor-based exercises to add extra weight or resistance to the exercises, including rings, weights, therabands and balls. Mat classes mainly focus on working against gravity and the weight of your body to hold whilst maintain a varied number of position, involving both strength and stamina. Once you become more advanced there is larger equipment that can be used for the same purpose but as a progression from mat work, including the reformer, trapeze table and combo chair. Depending on the type of class that you sign up for will then depict what type of equipment you will be using.
Most Pilates classes with begin with a run through of the pilates posture following by several breathing activities. Following on from that, several exercises and stretches will be carefully and considerately structured one after the other to focus on strengthening and stretching particular areas of the body, such as the core, back, hips and shoulders. Whether it be a group class, or one-on-one classes, the program will be specifically tailored to suit the needs and desires of the participants, including any current injuries or movement limitations.
If you are relatively fit and want to try Pilates for the first time, then a group class would be ideal for you. These classes usually last for approximately 60 minutes. These are run by an expertly trained Pilates Instructor to cater for all fitness levels.
What health benefits can be obtained from Pilates?
When deciding on whether to commence Pilates classes or private sessions with an instructor, many question what the health benefits are and how it can help with particular conditions that they present with. As Pilates focuses primarily on strength, posture and flexibility, it can provide numerous health benefits to individuals including:
- Good Posture – Pilates will help you to gain and maintain a good posture. The exercises performed require you to always keep your body in alignment. This area is particularly important if you suffer from back pain. If you are a full time office worker or find yourself sitting at the computer all day then maintaining a good posture is very important to prevent damage or injury to your spine.
- Muscle tone – The exercise you will perform in Pilates involve the utilisation of numerous muscles that you may not use on a daily basis. This is particularly important for older individuals and those that are usually sedentary in their daily life as muscle tone is usually lost with age and inactivity.
- Flexibility – As we age, we tend to lose the level flexibility that we may have had when we were younger. Pilates will help to restore your flexibility which is very important for avoiding injuries from falls.
- Improves balance – Through the mind-body connection that is implemented into the practice, you will become much more aware of how your body moves around. Fortunately, pilates will not only restore your physical balance through correct posture and muscle strengthening, but will also work towards improving your mind-body balance.
- Helps to reduce stress levels – Whilst performing the exercises, you become totally engrossed, focusing more on your breathing and on the moves that your body is making, than to be worrying about any of the responsibilities that weigh you down on a daily basis.
Other benefits that Pilates can provide include:
- Longer, leaner muscles (less bulk, more freedom of movement)
- Increased core strength/stability and peripheral mobility
- Prevention of injury
- Enhanced functional fitness, ease of movement
- Heightened body awareness
- No-impact so easy on the joints
Several studies have found Pilates to be effective in people with chronic low back pain. One study found that Pilates offered greater improvements in pain and functional ability compared to usual care and physical activity in the short term1. Another study which focused on a case study of a 48-year-old man with chronic low back pain revealed an 85.1% improvement on the visual analog pain intensity scale and 87.7% improvement in the Owestry Low Back Pain Questionnaire score for functional disability after completing six physical therapy visits in which Pilates-based exercises were incorporated into the patient’s rehabilitation program2.
More specifically, mat Pilates has been shown to improve adult fitness characteristics over an 8-week training program3. Body composition, muscular endurance and flexibility were all significantly improved as shown in the table below:
|Relative Body Fat (%)||Decreased by 1.2%|
|Waist circumference (cm)||Decreased by 2.7cm|
|Chest circumference (cm)||Decreased by 1.7cm|
|Arm circumference (cm)||Decreased by 0.5cm|
|Curl Ups (repetitions)||Increased by 14 repetitions|
|Low back extensions (repetitions)||Increased by 7 repetitions|
|Sit-and-Reach (cm)||Improved by 7.5cm|
|Arm reach (cm)||Improved by 6.9cm|
Hopefully now this blog has answered most of the questions you have if you have been considered starting Pilates. Our very own Exercise Physiologist here at Exact Physiology has recently undertaken a two-day Pilates Instructing course to learn how to implement such structured exercise into our clinic. If you are interested in coming in to see our Exercise Physiologist for Pilates Exercise, whether it be a private one-on-one session or a group class, then contact our clinic today!
1 Wells, C., Kolt, G.S., Marshall, P., Hill, B., & Bialocerkowski, A. (2014). The Effectiveness of Pilates Exercise in People with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review. PLoS One. 9(7).
2 Bryan, M., & Hawson, S. (2003). The Benefits of Pilates Exercise in Orthopaedic Rehabilitation. Techniques in Orthopaedics. 18(1). P126-129.
3 Rogers, K., & Gibson, A. L. (2013). Eight-Week Traditional Mat Pilates Training-Program Effects on Adult Fitness Characteristics. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 80(3).