Over the last 20 years or so, Pilates has gained a roaring buzz on a global level and let us start by saying a well-deserved one. The Pilates exercise method has endless amounts of benefits for everyone – athletes, beginners, men, women, etc.It is a common misconception that Pilates are only for women. It is most definitely not. And one of the best things about the Pilates method is, it offers benefits for everyone (with regular practice, of course) and can generally be done anywhere!
Whether you are an all-star athlete in top condition, a newbie to exercising, or recovering from an injury (or anywhere in between) Pilates can help you!
Pilates is a method of exercise and physical movement designed to strengthen, lengthen, tone, and balance the entire human body. With systematic practice of specific controlled exercises coupled with focused breathing patterns, it has proven itself invaluable not only as a physical fitness method but also as an important adjunct to professional sports training and physical rehabilitation.
It was developed during WWI by Joseph Pilates (yep, Pilates was in fact created by a man), a boxer in fact.
He was placed under forced internment along with many other German nationals in England where he taught fellow camp members the concepts and exercises developed over 20 years of self-study and apprenticeship in yoga, ancient Greek, and Roman physical regimens. The method was effective then and still is today.
Pretty impressive, right?
While it has a popular following, there are still many of those completely in the dark about it. If you are the latter, tons of research on the benefits of Pilates would suggest you switch teams. You are also probably going over these common questions in your head..
“So, isn’t Pilates just stretching? No.
“Is it like yoga?” Kind of…but no.
“Is Pilates strength training?” YES!
“Is Pilates mostly for chicks?” NO!
Let’s dive deeper into this to clear things up!
Is Pilates Strength Training?
Absolutely. It is series of low impact, controlled movements that can be performed at home (using your own body weight) where Pilates originated, just on a mat, or by using Pilates apparatus equipment (resistance based) in a gym or pilates studio. When performed correctly, the working muscles will be under contraction for the entire movement.
For example, during a fundamental exercise called “Footwork” on the Reformer, where you are lying supine position with your feet on the footbar pressing yourself out using resistance, by keeping the movements slow on the exertion of that movement and returning the carriage to the stoppers in a slow controlled movement by resisting that spring tension on the way back.
This is much more effective at keeping the muscles under tension when compared to erratic movements using momentum. Using the Pilates reformer works with resistance and these slower movements controlling the resistance are what develops tone and strength.
These exercises develop overall strength and primarily target your core muscles (aka your “powerhouse” in Pilates lingo) by focusing on developing strength of the deeper intrinsic muscles of the center core like no other method of exercise. Not only will you activate and strengthen muscles you never knew you had and develop a stronger, leaner body, but the benefits of Pilates go far beyond that.
In addition to the aesthetic benefits, regularly practicing this total-body workout can help ease the low back pain (remember a stronger core = a stronger back!), improve mobility, increase bone density and boost heart rate and state of well being.
These amazing benefits make Pilates an effective strength training workout and a plateau-busting challenge to your regular weightlifting and cardio fitness routine.
Health & Physical Benefits of Pilates
- Increased core strength and stability
- Overall increased muscular strength and tone increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and glutes (the ‘core muscles’ of your body)
- Strengthens pelvic floor muscles- great for improving sex life and delivery during childbirth
Increased pleasure in the bedroom ^
- Improved muscular imbalances
- Improved balance and coordination
- Increased mobility and flexibility
- Increased lung capacity through proper deep breathing techniques
- Increased blood flow
- Low impact – easy on joints
- Improved performance in sports
- Promotes weight loss and healthy living
- Enhanced muscular control of your back and limbs
- Improved stabilization of your spine
- Rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances or accidents or special conditions
- Relaxation of your shoulders, neck and upper back
- Safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries
- Prevention of musculoskeletal injuries
- Improved concentration
- Increased body awareness and relaxation
- Elevates mood
Now, if you are not sold on the fact that you need to get yourself to a Pilates class STAT, let us continue.
Is Pilates an Aerobic Exercise?
Yes, Pilates can be considered an aerobic exercise. But don’t get too excited and stop hitting the treadmill just yet.
An exercise that requires your body to use oxygen as fuel lasting for longer than a couple minutes is considered aerobic exercise (aka cardio) however it is not the same as running, or indoor/outdoor cycling as your heart rate will not be as high and it is less intense and therefore fewer calories burned. That being said- we wouldn’t recommend ditching cardio and replacing it with Pilates. Especially if you are looking to shed pounds and lose some weight.
Maintaining a balance of Pilates and cardio would be ideal!
If you think of cardio on the scale, different forms of exercise fall at various points on this scale. For instance, an indoor cycling class would fall on the higher end of the scale, offering more of a cardiovascular challenge than say a beginners Pilates session. So while a 45-60 minute Pilates class might not leave you AS fatigued as if you’ve just left a SoulCycle class, it does offer a bit cardio challenge for some.
Typically and classically, Pilates is performed at a slower more controlled paced for a reason, but it will, in fact, boost your heart rate, just not the type of cardio you would experience from say Barry’s boot camp class or a typical session of cycling, running, etc. It is also dependent on the type of Pilates class you decide to take and by the intensity with which it is performed.
There are types of Pilates classes offered that DO offer MORE of a cardio type of exercise directed more towards calorie torching by using an additional piece of equipment that can be attached to a Pilates reformer machine called the Pilates jump board.
It is a choreographed cardio routine performed on this additional piece. The workout uses the principles of Plyometrics which builds up speed and power through activation of the fast twitch muscle fibers in the quadriceps.
Athletes like soccer star (Cristiano Ronaldo ring a bell?) he is a self-proclaimed Pilates practitioner!
Nowadays, you might see classes at your local gym or fitness studios labeled as “Cardio Pilates” or “Jump Pilates”, “Hot Pilates”, “Mixed Pilates” etc. because the method of exercise has developed and some people have brought in a modern twist to Pilates. If you think you would be more of that type of class, keep an eye out for that style.
What To Know Before Taking Pilates
If you are new, it can be intimidating as with anything but not too worried. Starting anything new is both exciting and a bit nerve-wracking.
Step 1, get out of your head!
Maybe it’s the reformer machine that you’ve never even seen or maybe its been awhile since you worked out. Maybe it’s the exercise names that you’ve never heard before.
Whatever is it, here are a few things to know before taking your first class:
- There are two types of group Pilates classes- mat and reformer. Do your research on both and watch some videos online so you are not totally surprised.
- You will use muscles you probably have used before in typical workouts. You’ll be sore. Embrace it.
If you have any injuries, conditions, or are pregnant – LET YOUR TRAINER KNOW
- Wear form-fitting, sweat resistant clothing.
- Have fun and get out of your head! Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
How to Maximize your Pilates Strength Training Workouts
Proper muscle engagement and form are key when performing exercises. Here is a way to get the most from your Pilates practice:
1-on-1 private sessions with a certified Pilates Instructor to tailor each session specifically for you and your goals. Once you gain knowledge and skills, you can use those tools in your own practice or in a group setting in order to really maximize your session.
Get Engaged. Focus on keeping the working muscles engaged during each exercise. Think slow, precise and controlled movements. If you need advice on how to engage a specific muscle, speak with your instructor.
Increase Resistance. Go up a spring level – in Reformer class it’s easy to increase the intensity by adding a spring or two. Be sure to listen to your instructor’s suggestions for increasing spring levels as their recommendation will most likely be the traditional and required spring for each exercise, however, to once your strength builds and to avoid hitting a plateau, you can safely turn your spring tension up a notch, just ask!
Each spring on the reformer has a different level of resistance to add on or take off.
Push Yourself. Try planking on a super light spring load or even no springs at all! To spice things up. Sometimes, depending on the exercise, making the resistance lighter can be more challenging.
Take an Advanced Level Class. Once you’re confident, challenge yourself to take a higher level class type.
Include free weights in your Pilates class. Yes! Once you have taken enough fundamental classes and are looking for a new way to increase your practice, try looking for a class that offers free weights. Some studios will offer classes that include free weights to take your pilates up a level! You can find this in more of a modern type of Pilates class rather than classical.
Pilates can be tailored to anyone’s fitness level by taking it down a notch or pumping it up a notch, exploring different class levels, or even a different instructor.
Either way, make sure you ask a qualified instructor before making any changes to your practice.
Get ready to see results!
How Long Will It Take To See Results?
Assuming you have already made the decision to clean up your diet to complement your healthier lifestyle and to show off your hard work, it can be as soon as a couple of sessions.
That depends on what kind of results you want. You can begin to reduce back pain with just one session. You can relieve stress and feel longer and leaner with just one session. But if you want to get a six pack, run a marathon without injury, get into the best shape of your life, or simply tone up some jelly… make the commitment to Pilates 2-3 times a week.
As Joseph Pilates’ stated in one of his most famous quotes “In 10 sessions you will feel the difference. In 20 sessions you will see the difference. And in 30 sessions you will have a whole new body.” FACT!
So there you have it!
What’s your commitment going to be?
Remember, this is supposed to be enjoyable. Pilates feels good and in return will make you look great, so this shouldn’t be too difficult to commit to.
If finances are tight, check out Groupon for deals, there will undoubtedly always be deals there on many different Pilates studios! Try looking for Pilates at your gym or ask a trainer for special pricing if possible. No Excuses!
There is no doubt that Pilates has a plethora of benefits to offer. It is safe and effective and if cost is an issue as we mentioned, there are solutions for that!
So.. what are you waiting for?