Core strength and posture are the two most popular reasons to start Pilates. But research shows that it’s a great rehab partner. It may also help reduce pain from conditions like arthritis.
Pilates has always been popular with professional dancers. For them, it increases flexibility, strength and graceful movement. Which is a good reason for the rest of us to give it a try as well. It also helps you relax and reduces tension.
But what is it exactly? Pilates may look a lot like other exercises, but it’s a very specific system of work.
It uses series of repeated, low-impact movements. Almost all of them require engaging your core muscles. The movements are done slowly and precisely. Most of the exercises, especially the beginning ones, are done on a mat. A specialized Pilates school or class will also use some equipment that is unique to this exercise system.
You can do Pilates regardless of your age or fitness level because there are hundreds of possible exercises. You would also expect to perform them at a less demanding level at the beginning. Most importantly the emphasis is always on correct form.
The payoff of all that attention to form is that Pilates changes you for the better with everything else you do. It reminds you how to sit correctly, walk smoothly, and move with efficient purpose.
The Basic Tenets—All Benefits for You
Six basic concepts are always a part of a good Pilates system based on the work of its founder, Joseph Pilates.
These are centering, breathing, concentration, control, precision and flow.
- Breathing: Pilates begins its training with rhythmic breathing to benefit deep muscle tissue.
- Concentration: It demands tremendous concentration as performing each step of each exercise correctly is critical.
- Control: The entire principle is based on maintaining even muscle tension and speedthroughout the full movement with the body always in proper position.
- Centering: The Pilates approach has a starting place in the core - the center, the “powerhouse” in Pilates lingo.
- Flow: Pilates aims for fluidity and grace in movement. The exercises should flow into each other to improve strength and stamina.
- Precision: Postural alignment and movementof each exercise is more important than counting reps or moving quickly on through the exercises.
Because of these ideals, you should work on Pilates with a coach or in a small class at first if at all possible. It’s best to have someone there to point out when your stance or movement is not exactly as it should be.
Pilates is fairly simple. It’s easy to start and learn. But you do have to do every step of every exercise correctly to get full “Pilates” benefits. Pilates that is done incorrectly is not really Pilates.
Since it is such a healthy program with so many benefits, though, most gyms and many hospitals and community programs offer instruction.
Once you have the basics, Pilates is easy to practice at home.
Pilates for Pain
As a rehab tool,Pilates has been found very useful for treating pain and reducing some disabilities.
In several studies on Pilates for rehabilitation, the exercises were found to be effective for groups of patients with arthritis, ankylosing spondosis, osteoporosis, scolitis and other disabilities.
It’s also used quite often to help with low back pain. Where there’s no injury, low back pain is usually linked to weak abdominal muscles. Pilates can definitely fix that problem!
Pilates for Flexibility
While the core is the foundation, the routines also increase flexibility from the head to the toes.
According to the American Council on Exercise, flexibility training may have a number of advantages.
- Greater freedom of movement
- Better posture
- Increasing physical and mental relaxation
- Releasing muscular tension
- Reduces soreness
- Lower risk of injury
Now to the Core
The core is literally the core of Pilates. Strength in your core is where control and stability arise so that the exercises are effective. It’s also the reason Pilates is useful for conditions like back pain, which is often caused by weak abdominal muscles. Core strength also supports flexibility, posture, and graceful movement.
The core includes all of the muscles in your midsection, including those muscles in the front, back, and sides. The goal of the Pilates system is to activate the deep belly muscles. These deep stabilizing muscles are critical for spine and organ health. They are the steadfast support behind vitality and quality of life.
A stronger core may help you avoid back discomfort and many aches and pains of getting older. At the same time, improved mobility can give you renewed confidence to move freely, without fear of hurting yourself. It also helps you maintain an upright posture and enhance your balance.
Pilates makes everyday actions far more manageable. Imagine having the confidence of bending over or twisting your body without the slightest discomfort. Slouching will become outdated. With time, you will find that you are standing taller, with greater self-confidence.
Benefits Translate to Life
By improving flexibility and joint mobility, your way of life will be made better. Even basic daily tasks like putting groceries away become routine. Reaching for your foot that once seemed light-years away to put a sock on is manageable.
Pilates can also make your other fitness routines more efficient. Increased flexibility allows for an increased range of motion that benefits any program. Your running strides are longer. Weight training exercises become more fluid.
It’s best to start a Pilates practice at a gym or studio, but if you don’t have access, then you can do several of the basic exercises on your own with the help of a manual or video. Go slow and pay attention to all the pointers. Pilates is outstanding even if you stay with the basics. A yoga mat, openness to new ideas, and reasonable goals will get you started.
Byrnes K, Wu PJ, Whillier S. Is Pilates an effective rehabilitation tool? A systematic review. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2018 Jan;22(1):192-202. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2017.04.008. Epub 2017 Apr 26. PMID: 29332746.