Got knee, back or neck pain? Want to build your physical strength? Aim to lose weight? Cheer up, Pilates could be the answer. This is a system of exercises that can be used for full-body workout routines that can help to achieve such aims.
Pilates doesn’t require flexibility, but it will help to increase flexibility levels as our bodies age, which is crucial to maintaining mobility in the long run. Every exercise in the programme requires a deep connection to the core “powerhouse” muscles of the pelvic floor, the multifidus, transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis and gluteus maximus.
Pilates was founded by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates. According to Pilates.com, it was originally intended as a system of rehabilitative exercises, though over the years it has become a standard celebrity workout identical with lean and toned bodies.
The benefits of Pilates go far beyond simple core strength and flexibility. In addition to the aesthetic benefits, regularly practising this total-body workout can ease back pain, improve bone density and boost heart rate. These benefits make Pilates an effective cross-training workout and a change to a regular weightlifting and cardio fitness routine.
Here are some of the ways Pilates can impact your body:
Improving posture: Sitting at a desk all day, driving or even constantly looking down at a smart phone can all create muscular imbalances. Practising Pilates can help reverse the effects of these bad habits by creating better muscle symmetry and balance. It strengthens the core, shoulders and glutes while stretching out the chest, spine and hips. This gives you more energy as your lung capacity will increase, getting more oxygen to the body and brain. Good posture also keeps your organs healthy and allows you to move through daily tasks without pain.
Increasing bone density: Pilates offers bone-building benefits through resistance exercises that come from apparatus springs and resistance bands. Bone, like muscle, is dynamic tissue and responds to resistance and weight-bearing exercises that can help to fortify it.
Controlling stress and anxiety: Pilates teaches you how to control your body and mind, reducing stress and anxiety. A key principle is breathing, as the exercise programme helps you to breathe deeper into your centre and around your body, triggering the brain to calm down and creating a psychological response in the body that naturally decreases stress and anxiety.
Strengthening the core: Pilates strengthens your abdominal muscles and is based on efficiently contracting such muscles with every exercise. During the seated arm series in the exercise programme, the abdominals must stay contracted to hold the spine stable to correctly perform the exercise, for example. In addition, Pilates also targets deep abdominal muscles like the transverse abdominis as well as superficial ones like the rectus abdominis muscles that form a “six-pack.”
Preventing injury: Pilates helps improve flexibility, strength and balance, which decreases injury risk, according to instructors. Improved strength links to the improved dynamic control of movement, which improves balance and reduces the risk of falls. Pilates also helps to increase bodily awareness and create more efficient movement patterns, thereby reducing stress on joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments.
Easing back pain: Pilates strengthens the core to support the back, teaches proper alignment and provides gentle stretching for tight back muscles due to misalignment and overuse. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, people with lower back pain found significant pain relief after a four-week Pilates programme maintained over a 12-month period. Pilates also addresses underlying imbalances that can lead to poor posture and back pain.
Increasing flexibility: Pilates movements stretch and strengthen the muscles simultaneously to help create a long, lean and sculpted look. Most exercises involve movement in only one plane of motion, which is usually the forward-and-back motion. By contrast, Pilates sessions move the spine from flexion to extension and internal rotation to external rotation and side bending, allowing for an increased range of motion throughout the body and working within these additional planes of motion to increase and improve flexibility.
Promoting weight loss: Whether you cut back on calories or combine a calorie deficit with exercise to lose weight, Pilates can help. The caloric burn during a Pilates workout ranges from four to eight calories per minute, depending on intensity, according to studies. As part of a weight-loss programme, studies suggest doing moderately intense workouts for at least four days a week for 45 to 60 minutes, excluding warm-up and cool-down sessions.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly