Pilates is now one of the most popular forms of exercise around, mainly because it produces real fitness results without much of the 'strain and burn' involved in more typical workouts. Pilates exercise relies on a variety of special body movements which stretch, strengthen, and tone the various muscle groups of the body. The well-defined, controlled movements are combined with a yoga-like mental focus that many people find extremely refreshing.
Usually Pilates instruction is given by a trained teacher, either in a one-on-one session or in a small group class. There are also quite a few high-quality home video workouts available (including the very popular Winsor Pilates program). Because of its adaptability, just about anyone can perform Pilates exercise – from the most out-of-shape couch potato to the world-class professional athlete.
Focusing on the Core
The abdominal and back muscles are often collectively referred to as the body's core. Pilates exercises are designed to strengthen this core by developing pelvic stability and abdominal control. In addition, the exercises improve flexibility and joint mobility, and build strength. How can one exercise technique claim to do so much? The Reformer, a wooden contraption with various cables, pulleys, springs and sliding boards attached, lies at the foundation of Pilates. Primarily using one's own body weight as resistance, participants are put through a series of progressive, range-of-motion exercises. Despite the appearance of this, and several other equally unusual-looking devices, Pilates exercises are very low impact. Instructors, who typically work one-on-one or with small groups of two or three participants, offer reminders to engage the abdominals, the back, the upper legs and buttocks to stabilize the body's core. Exercise sessions are designed according to individual flexibility and strength limitations.
Pilates exercises are not limited to specialized machines, however. In fact, many gyms across the country now offer Pilates floor-work classes involving simple 'mat exercises' that also stress the stabilization and strengthening of the back and abdominal muscles.
Connecting with Pilates
The mind/body connection associated with yoga and meditation also plays an integral part in Pilates. Unlike exercise techniques that emphasize numerous repetitions in a single direction, Pilates exercises are performed with very few, but extremely precise, repetitions in several planes of motion.
Health Benefits of Pilates:
- Increased overall body strength and flexibility
- Improved posture, balance, and coordination
- Decreased back, neck, and arthritis pain
- Flatter abs and more slender thighs
- Faster injury rehabilitation
- Clearer, more refreshed mind
Pilates method exercise can seem a little difficult at first. But usually, after a few sessions, most people begin to feel a real difference in their muscle tone, strength, and flexibility as well as significantly improved posture. Also, once you become comfortable with the unique movements and positions of Pilates, you'll probably enjoy it enough to make it a regular part of your fitness routine!