Why this century-old method of exercise has proven itself in today’s modern world.
By Doris Ward
Pilates is a method of exercise that focuses on strengthening the core, proper alignment, precise breathing, mind-body connection and joint mobility. Exercises can be performed on a mat or on a machine called a reformer. The mat series of Pilates exercises is organized into levels of beginner, intermediate and advanced—also known as levels 1–6 in some contemporary Pilates studios.
Some Pilates classes offer mat classes with props and small equipment such as flex-bands, stability balls, fitness circles or toning balls all in an effort to increase intensity and add variety for the participants.
There are five principles of Pilates: breathing, pelvic placement, rib cage placement, scapula movement and stabilization, and head and neck placement. The principles are the focus of all the exercises. Together, they increase body awareness and technique and work together to create safe and effective exercises in a mindful way. Understanding and applying the principles of Pilates is key to a successful practice.
Once participants have built a solid foundation in the essential mat exercises and have understood and integrated the five principles of Pilates, they can increase the intensity or progress using the reformer.
The benefits of Pilates
There is power behind Pilates! Research has found many health benefits for women. They include:
Improved core strength
According to a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, women who did Pilates increased their rectus abdominus (the six-pack) muscle strength by an average of 21%! However, the core is not just the rectus abdominus. It includes the internal and external obliques, transverse abdominus, hip muscles and spinal erectors—any muscle that connects directly to the pelvis.
Pilates strengthens these muscles as a whole. When they’re working right, the core muscles protect your spine during all types of movement: forward, back, to the side and rotation. Improved core strength improves pelvic stability, balance and posture. This helps with everything from completing daily tasks with more ease to enhanced sports performance.
It’s easy on your jointS
Pilates is a perfect pairing for your high-impact cardio because it has little-to-no impact. It’s important to balance your workouts throughout the week and Pilates offers a workout that is slower and more controlled, with minimal impact on your joints. It’s a smart choice for limiting pressure on your back, hips and knees.
Reduced lower back pain
Pilates does a wonderful job of strengthening the entire core in a balanced way, reducing pressure on the lower spine. According to the Musculoskeletal Medicine Journal, a strong, stabilized core and lumbar-pelvic region helps to alleviate stress on that area and improves mobility.
Mind – body connection
There is no room for your mind to be on auto-pilot in Pilates — and that is a good thing! During Pilates practice, your focus is tuned into the five principles—connecting the breath to the movement with each exercise. It’s incredible how much you improve your body awareness and mindfulness when you concentrate simultaneously on both breathing and movement.
The key Pilates exercises
The Pilates method has many effective abdominal strengthening exercises. For example:
The 100 and oblique’s exercise will challenge your breathing and coordination along with providing the added benefit of muscular endurance and overall core strength.
The shoulder bridge is an excellent exercise for the posterior chain (back of the body). It emphasizes the lower back, gluteals, hamstrings, pelvic stabilization and overall core strength and balance. Improved posture and reduced knee and back pain are just a few of the benefits you can enjoy from adding this exercise to your routine.
The side bend move focuses on strengthening the obliques, shoulders and back while performing lateral flexion of the spine, increasing spine mobility. Another significant benefit of side bend is the stretch it provides for the muscles on the sides of the body – the obliques and quadratus lumborum.
Whether you’re seeking a new challenge or want to add more variety in your healthy lifestyle, Pilates may be the great new addition you are looking for!
Doris Ward is a trained STOTT Pilates instructor with 10 years of teaching experience. She is also a certified personal trainer and has earned other specialized certifications including Schwinn cycling instructor, group fitness instructor, BOSU trainer and YogaFit level one instructor. Doris has worked in the fitness industry since 2003 and has successfully trained hundreds of clients across Atlantic Canada. She resides in PEI.