ARTICLE COURTESY OF Jen Miller (JenReviews.com)
In the 1920’s, a man by the name of Joseph Pilates observed people doing yoga, and animals moving how they naturally do at the zoo and came up with a series of movements that allow a human to stretch and build muscle that he called pilates.
Pilates is considered to be a “low-impact, big result” workout regimen. It was intended to be a workout for dancers with injuries.
Knowing it’s intended purpose it should come as no surprise that the series of movement works out the entire body but also tends to focus more on the core muscles and balance. (1)
Pilates is series of movements that are slow, methodical, require a lot of focus and accuracy coupled with controlled breathing.
Because it is not considered cardio, yet it is considered exercise and because it is so adaptable, pilates is perfect for those just starting out in the exercise world or those coming back from an injury.
Pilates is very much like yoga, but it is stepped up a notch.
Pilates is more balance, more muscle toning, more stretching, more flexibility, more mind/body connection. (2)
Pilates can be done as a stand alone exercise if it is challenging enough in itself but many do pilates on their “day off” from a stringent workout routine.
Regardless of why you choose to do pilates, the health benefits are amazing.
Here are 16 amazing health benefits of pilates and 10 tips for beginners.
1. Pilates Improves Flexibility
When most people think about “flexibility”, they think of a gymnast doing the splits or a circus performer twisting their body in what most would consider an unnatural position.
And yes, those are example of extreme flexibility.
However, flexibility is used in everyone’s day to day lives. Whether you are doing laundry, getting into a car or going grocery shopping, everything you do requires flexibility.
Flexibility is something that many of us take for granted every day.
We can bend over to put our socks on. Or reach to the tallest shelf to get a book down.
Flexibility, in it’s simplest definition, is the ability to move.
Obviously, this is a very important part of life.
But as the body ages, it loses some of it’s ability to be as flexible.
Injury and non use of the body can bring about premature inflexibility as well.
Any amount of movement and stretching will help keep you flexible and mobile.
But, one of the easiest ways to stay flexible, or get some flexibility back is to do pilates.
Pilates combines stretching, resistance, muscle building and breathing into a prime flexibility enhancing routine. (3) ; (4) ; (5)
Take away: Flexibility is not just for fun, it is pivotal in everyday. To keep or increase your flexibility, do pilates!
2. Pilates Increases Strength
Everyone has a personal definition of what “strength” means to them.
Some people imagine Superman. Other envision marathon runners. And still others consider walking down the hallway after an injury as strength.
A very generic and basic explanation of strength is “how much weight you can lift” or “how far you can run”.
This is applicable for Olympic athletes and for those who are bedridden alike.
A key element to pilates is holding the body in positions that are very natural, but the body and mind find it unnatural.
Not because the body is unable to do this movement, but because it is not position that generally happens throughout the day.
By doing this you are activating muscle and joint combinations that you probably have not employed recently or ever.
This will allow you be even more strong all over your body rather than just the muscles that you use on a regular basis.
Because this is a low impact exercise, it means that no matter what your fitness level is or your circumstances, you can increase strength. (6)
Strength is important for everyone but it is very important for those who are re-building their strength after an injury.
If you do not take the time to regain your strength after an injury you could be more likely to reinjure the same area.
You could also run the risk of the area never healing appropriately which can lead to other problems down the road.
Pilates helps recovery by keeping the healthy parts of the body moving and allowing the damaged area to heal slowly.
Pilates can also help break up the scar tissue that is created during the healing process which can increase range of motion and strength quicker than if you were totally inactive. (7)
Take away: To stay strong, or regain your strength, do pilates!
3. Pilates Increase Core Strength
Pilates can help strengthen your entire body, but what it really focuses on is strengthening the core muscles.
Core muscles are the muscles at the center of your body. To simplify this idea, you can think of any muscle that is not in your arms and legs as part of your “core muscles”.
The core muscles are pivotal in each and every movement the body makes.
It is responsible for balance and stability as well.
Without the ability to move, balance or stability, you would not be able to function effectively at all.
Some studies have even shown that athletes who have more solid stability and balance are less likely to get hurt.
Which is one of many reasons that athletes from all different backgrounds participate in pilates. (8)
In order to strengthen your core, you could do planks, push ups, sit ups, crunches etc…Or you could do pilates which combines all of these movements but also incorporates other movements that connects the entire body together.
By connecting and working out you body as a whole, your core will become familiar with balancing and stabilizing all of your body making your core muscles stronger and more effective. (9)
Take away: Core muscles are very important but are often overlooked. Add pilates to your workout routine to make sure you keep your core strong.
4. Pilates Is Safe For Rehabilitation
One of the worst situations that can come up for anyone is to be injured.
An injury can be something like overuse in athletes or a car accident. No matter what happened to cause the injury, proper rehabilitation is key to a successful comeback.
But for athletes and those who focus on their physical health, it can be especially detrimental to their athletic career.
Pilates is a low impact workout and because it can be adapted to accommodate most any injury, pilates is safe for those who want to stay active during the rehabilitation process.
But a physical injury can impact an athlete mentally as well. Some might argue that the mental impact is worse than the actual injury.
Pilates can help this in two ways.
First, by doing pilates, it takes the healing responsibility off of a therapist and puts the responsibility on the injured person.
Taking someone out of the physical therapy environment is also beneficial because physical therapy can be very restrictive while pilates is very adaptable.
Pilates also helps clear the mind of the negative thoughts and feelings. This can help inspire feelings of hope and positivity which many believe can be the difference between a full recovery or not recovering as completely.
Take away: If you have sustained an injury, don’t fret! You still have safe options to keep your physical well being on track.
5. Pilates Increases Circulation
It may seem like common sense but having good blood circulation is very important for good overall health.
Poor blood circulation is far more common than most people think. In fact, many people could identify a time when they themselves had less than perfect circulation.
Poor blood circulation can cause numbness, fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, swelling, breathing problems, and skin issues.
Long term circulation issues can cause even more severe issues like memory loss, heart attack, and stroke.
Blood carries nutrients and oxygen to every part of the body.
By doing what you can to make sure that your blood flows smoothly throughout your body, you can help make sure that your body will be well oxygenated and given nutrients.
Many of the issues that were listed above could be reduced by simply making sure your circulation is circulating as best it can.
One of the things that you can do is to do pilates. (11)
Any form of movement will help keep your circulation going but pilates is particular good because, it helps improve posture.
Because pilates is so ideal for strengthening core muscles, it automatically improves posture. (12)
Good posture increase proper blood circulation in a few different ways.
It allows you to stretch out your spine into is natural position which allows you to take deeper breaths.
Posture naturally improves blood flow to and from the heart while also lowering blood pressure. (13)
Take away: Support your circulatory system and your posture and take part in pilates.
6. Pilates Increases Lung Health
Posture is also very important to lung health.
But lung health is another aspect of health that so many people take for granted every day.
In fact, most people don’t know that there are things you can do to work out your lungs and there are things you can do to make your lungs healthier and happier.
When you slouch or sit or stand in unnatural positions, you are actually crushing your internal organs and not allowing your muscles to relax and contract to their fullest ability.
One of the main parts of the body affected by slouching is the diaphragm.
The diaphragm is made of muscle and tendon and is responsible for relaxing and contracting to allow air in and expelling air out.
Working out this muscle is just as important as working out your biceps or quadriceps.
Failure to stretch this muscle out can result in shallow breathing. If you do not take deep breaths for a long time, you could stunt your breathing.
Pilates stretches and strengthens the core muscles including the diaphragm which allows for deeper breaths.
Deep and controlled breathing is a crux of the pilates practice.
Lungs can be worked out just the same as any other body part. By having good posture and breathing deeply, you can encourage lung capacity and strength.
The benefits of this alone are worth doing pilates.
Take away: Pilates is an all encompassing exercise program that works out those muscles you don’t really think about.
7. Pilates Improves Concentration
Pilates is undeniably great for the body. But it is also beneficial for the mind.
Concentration benefits the mind which in turn benefits the body.
The pilates practice requires lots of concentration in itself. In order to perform the moves in an effective manner, the mind has to to be connected to the body.
By concentrating on the physical movements, you do them correctly, focus on the benefits, and connect the mind and body.
But the benefits of concentration go beyond the practice.
Pilates brings awareness beyond the class.
The concentration you use when practicing pilates translates to real world scenarios.
Concentration allows you to move more gracefully, react more effectively, and be more balanced.
This can be particularly helpful in the winter when there is ice on the ground. If you slip, knowing your body and having the extra grace and reactive ability could save you from a fall.
And anyone who has ever ridden a crowded bus or subway knows the value of being able to balance and adapt to movement while standing. (15)
Take away: Concentration is beneficial for mind and body beyond the practice.
8. Pilates Increases Coordination
Coordination is integral in every aspect of life.
It is the cohesive movement of different muscles in order to achieve specific movements and to execute those movements smoothly.
Children learn it from a young age and as you grow older, the coordination required to get through day to day life increases.
But coordination can be lost for a number of reasons like injury and age.
Advanced age is one the primary and most common reasons for coordination loss.
Loss of coordination can result in more falls, reduced motor function, and general reduction in quality of life.
Reduced motor function can mean that someone who used to love being active can no longer be as active which can lead to many health issues in itself.
In many cases, pilates can be a great solution to any loss of coordination for most reasons.
Coordination requires focus, movement and yes, coordination.
Practicing coordination in a safe, less stressful environment can help increase the connection between the eyes, brain and body. (16) ; (17)
Take away: To help you keep and increase coordination, participate in pilates.
9. Pilates Improves Balance
Since pilates was designed to be a recovery exercise routine for dancers, balance is obviously a wonderful benefit of pilates.
Balance is a combination of muscle movement, inner ear input, sound and vision.
The brain receives all of the sensory input then makes adjustments as needed to keep the body in a position that it needs to be in.
Being aware of your body and being aware of the mind/body connection and how to best control it, which is something you learn in pilates can enhance your balance.
The increased core strength, flexibility, concentration and coordination all contribute to balance as well.
The more strength you have in these areas the better your balance should be.
Balance can be helpful in every aspect of life.
Anything from walking down the driveway to get a newspaper to performing neurosurgery requires balance.
Balance is also very important in most hobbies, sports and other physical activities.
Balance is also something that can be lost with age. By doing pilates you can improve or maintain your balance not matter how old or young you are. (18)
Take away: There are many contributing factors to balance. Pilates can strengthen most of them to make your balance easier and better!
10. Pilates Improves Posture
There are many reasons for poor posture.
Work demands like working on a computer all day or driving all day or repetitive movements can contribute to bad posture.
There are also lifestyle factors like being sedentary and not being active that can lead to poor spinal alignment.
All of these things can cause your “normal” posture to be slouched. It can also cause your muscles to weaken which can also lead to spinal misalignment.
The most tragic reason for poor posture is not being aware that you have bad posture and not knowing how to keep your posture strong. (19)
Having bad posture can lead to stress, increased depression, decreased circulation, digestion issues, pinched nerves and can even cause issues in your job. (20)
While pilates is typically done in a studio it can be applied to life outside the studio.
Pilates done in a studio or in your own home helps build the core and muscle strength that supports your spinal alignment and therefore, your posture.
But for those who sit at a desk all day pilates movements can be done in right there in a chair.
All you need is a 5 minute break to do some of the spine lengthening exercises and core toning moves while you sit at your desk.
And because pilates is so adaptable and generally does not result in sweat, you can do it and not have to worry about bothering coworkers or sweating through your work clothes.
Pilates also brings awareness to your posture, both good and bad, and can help you realize when you are slouching so you can address the issue immediately. (21)
Take away: Poor posture doesn’t just make you look sloppy, you also feel awful and bad posture can cause other health issues like depression and poor circulation.
11. Pilates Lowers Stress
It is almost impossible to imagine a world where stress does not exist.
Maybe even that thought by itself is stressful to you.
Stress can be caused by both internal factors or external factors.
External factors are challenges like work, social situations or rush hour traffic.
Internally, stress can be caused by illness or physical stress.
Stress is something that causes the fight or flight mode to kick in which can include increased heart rate, adrenaline production, stop stomach functions, increase breathing rate, and general state of fear.
None of these things in themselves are detrimental and in fact, they serve a very important purpose to protect the body.
However, a heightened state of stress over a long period of time can cause stomach issues, mental and emotional issues and other illnesses. (22)
One of the key factors in pilates is breathing and being self aware.
Breathing helps you live in the moment and be present and aware of your body and spirit.
Mindfulness, awareness, concentration and relaxation are all very helpful in recognizing stress and being able to handle it in positive ways.
Being more mentally centered can make you more able to adapt to challenges and more able to deal with stressors effectively. (23)
Take away: Stress is a part of life. But it is how you deal with that determines the impact stress has on your health.
12. Pilates Can Bring Increased Self Awareness
Self awareness looks different for everyone but it does share many commonalities between people.
Self awareness can help identify stress and can identify poor posture and other imbalances, both physical and mental.
The importance of self awareness is that it identifies issues.
Often, people overlook or ignore things that are bothering them. But these simple things can be just as important and just as detrimental as a broken bone
Whether it is a minor pain in your knee or a feeling or thought that just won’t leave you alone, everything that is uncomfortable needs to be recognized and addressed.
Pilates is something that helps you look within.
Which means self awareness is also for times that everything is going well.
It is important to appreciate the good things in your life but it is also good to know how your body should feel when it is working well.
Being aware of the tiny muscles that you use for movements in pilates will make you more aware of them during the time that you are you are not practicing pilates so you can gauge how well or not well they are functioning. (24) ; (25)
Take away: Get to know and be aware of yourself by doing pilates.
13. Pilates Can Prevent Injury
There is so much that go wrong in the human body that injury is almost seems guaranteed.
Knee, ankle, elbow, groin and shoulder injuries are very, very common in athletes no matter what the sport. (26)
The more common reasons for injuries are performing exercises incorrectly, putting too much stress on joints, muscles and tendons, poor posture, weak or underdeveloped spots, and disease or illness in the body.
Pilates is able to address many of these issues to varying degrees.
Pilates strengthens joints and muscles that do not often get worked. Working and strengthening joints and muscles appropriately can make them stronger and more able to take and adapt to being overworked or overstressed.
This is another aspect where self awareness is very important.
Pilates heightens your ability to recognize your physical limits so you can stop or reduce the intensity of your workout before it gets to be too much or causes injury.
Having good posture is also very important when you are performing exercises. Pilates addresses this in each and every session.
Take away: Check in with yourself before you injure yourself.
14. Pilates Can Improve Your Brain Health
As early as your 20’s, your brain starts losing it ability to remember things.
Exercise has a lot to do with brain health and helps reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s and dementia and can increase IQ and the ability to solve problems.
However, exercises like pilates can be even more beneficial than cardio.
Studies have shown that because pilates improves self awareness and is more mindful, brain health is even more prominent in those who practice.
Pilates also helps with brain training.
Brain-training is a method of learning that actually increases the white matter in the brain.
White matter is the physical connection between the neurons that allows for communication between neurons.
More white matter means better connections and more communication. Better communication and connections means better retention and therefore better memory.
A workout that requires both mental and physical components is more beneficial for the brain than a workout that only requires one or the other.
By challenging the body and the mind, pilates allows the body to multitask and supports learning and memory. (28)
Take away: Don’t forget, pilates is great for brain health.
15. Pilates Fights Insomnia
Insomnia is something that many people suffer from.
It is the inability to fall asleep or the inability to stay asleep.
This can be caused by a number of different health issues like allergies, pain, asthma, thyroid issues, neurological issues and digestive issues.
It can also be caused by eating too much, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol and nicotine use.
Or it can be a response to stress or the inability to relax. (32)
Insomnia can lead to depression, anxiety, issues with school or work, and other health issues.
Pilates is beneficial for overall health but it is also really good for calming down and relaxing.
Pilates can be done as part of a bedtime routine which can allow you to slow yourself down, clear your mind and prepare you for a restful night of sleep.
But studies have also shown that doing pilates two or more times a week can translate to better sleep throughout the week.
This can be attributed to having less energy, better self awareness and a calmer mind.
16. Pilates Increases Energy
Many people believe that there are two different types of energy.
Metaphysical energy and the physical energy that it takes to get through your day.
Pilates supports both.
It might be a surprise to many people but breathing can be more effective than a cup of coffee to wake up. (34)
Focused breathing by itself can increase circulation which can increase energy alone but there are breathing exercises that you can do to increase energy even more.
Breathing exercises can be done any time anywhere and there a few different kinds of energetic breathing that can give you different kinds of energy. (35)
Take away: Instead of that cup (or cups) of coffee, do pilates to keep your energy high.
10 Tips For Beginners
Doing anything for the first time can be daunting and uncomfortable. Especially when you are doing so in a group setting.
Even though pilates is generally done by very welcoming and open people, it is still human nature to be uncomfortable in new setting when doing new physical activities.
In the age of technology, learning anything is as easy as going online. And you can do everything in the comfort of your own home.
The important factor is that you do something to better yourself in some way.
Pilates is a great place to start. Whether you are new to physical activity or need a low impact workout, it can be done at home or in a group. (29) ; (30) ; (31)
Here are 10 tips for beginners.
1. Find a Pilates Instructor
There is no better way to learn something than to find someone to teach you.
When just starting something, it is important to learn it right the first time.
It is important to learn how to do things correctly the first time because relearning something can be very difficult and being accurate in your movement is imperative right from the start in pilates.
Pilates is effective because the moves were specifically designed to maximize results with minimal effort. But the moves must be done correctly.
Pilates can be tricky because the idea is to move slowly and smoothly where most physical activity requires quick and powerful movement.
You can find classes to join or you could hire someone to come to your home if you are not completely comfortable in a social setting.
In fact, finding a studio where you can have a private session is phenomenally beneficial if you have special circumstances like an injury.
2. Make Pilates Part of Your Routine
In order to get the most out of any exercise, consistency is very important.
It is very easy to workout for one day but making it a part of your lifestyle requires dedication and certain changes.
The biggest change that needs to be made is to add pilates to your daily routine.
Making time for pilates and adding it to your routine so that it is just as important as going to work or eating lunch will make it just as important as those things.
Since pilates is so popular, you can usually find a session to do most any time of the week or if you are really strapped for time, you can do pilates at home.
3. Make Space For Pilates
Making space in your schedule for pilates is important but making physical space in your home to practice pilates is just as important.
If you choose to practice in your own home rather than going to studio, that is great!
But if you do not have a specific place to do pilates in your home, getting it done won’t be easy or enjoyable.
You should find a quiet place in your home that is free from distractions and comfortable to practice.
Everything in your space from the art on the wall, to the music to the furnishings need to be carefully considered so your space is calming and comforting.
Having a place in your home that inspires you to do pilates will make doing pilates fun, enjoyable and more likely to be a permanent part of your new lifestyle.
4. Start Slow
Just because pilates is considered low-impact exercise does not mean it’s easy.
If you do not give this practice the respect it deserves you could reduce the effectiveness or even injure yourself.
Pilates is not only a physical workout but it also helps strengthen your mental and spiritual health too.
Take the time to learn everything properly, work into everything slowly and do it right.
If you don’t do it right, it’s not worth doing.
5. Be Forgiving
People who do not understand pilates think that it is very easy and not a real workout. But anyone who has done it will tell you that pilates is challenging in ways that many people do not even realize.
That being said, you will probably not get every move right the first time you try.
And that is fine!
Another aspect of pilates is spiritual and emotional health. This can be very difficult for some and it is important to not give up.
The mental aspect of pilates is all about self improvement and self acceptance.
One of the best ways to do that is to appreciate all that your body, mind and spirit does for you, no matter what.
6. Appreciate the Spiritual Aspect of Pilates
Pilates has many physical benefits but pilates also has spiritual and emotional benefits that should not be ignored.
In today’s society, these non tangible benefits are often overlooked but are just as important.
For people who are not familiar with spiritual and emotional health, it can be hard concepts to grasp.
This is another area where self forgiveness and acceptance comes into play.
7. Stay Hydrated
Being hydrated is very important in any sport that you do but it is particularly important in pilates.
Water keeps your joints lubricated and your muscles functioning optimally.
Generally speaking, you will not do a ton of sweating in a pilates session. But you are still working out and your body will still need to be hydrated.
Not staying hydrated during a workout can result in dizziness, muscles cramps and nausea.
Your body uses water to remove toxins and pilates helps to detoxify the body. In order to detoxify more efficiently, stay well hydrated. (36)
Many people will remark that the most difficult part of pilates is not the physical aspect but the mental aspect.
Focus is one of the most important parts of pilates practice. You must focus on the physical elements but you are also supposed focus inward.
All of these things can result in frustration on the part of the pilates practitioner, however, if you can remember to focus in the beginning, you will be able to have a stronger more beneficial practice as you progress.
9. Wear The Appropriate Clothing
The right attire is very important to doing a successful pilates practice.
You will want to chose something that is loose enough to allow for all of the movement that is needed.
It is also important for many to do the practice barefoot.
This allows a better connection and for good grounding.
Another thing to consider is clothing that fits well.
I can tell you from personal experience that clothing that is too tight or too short takes away from the practice if you are worried about flashing too much skin to other practitioners.
If you are constantly adjusting, you are not in tune with your mind and body and you are not able to enjoy the practice.
Have fun with your clothing!
If you love the clothes you are wearing to workout you will enjoy getting dressed and going to workout.
10. Don’t Overcomplicate Pilates
Pilates was not designed to be difficult but it does have the flexibility to be more challenging.
However, many people who start this out have seen the pictures of people in bizarre, seemingly unnatural poses.
The truth of the matter is that pilates is simple movements that are easily achieved or can be easily adapted to.
And that is that. There is nothing complicated about pilates until you choose to make it more complicated.