Pilates Fitness, its Benefits and More
Pilates is a blend of precise moves and specific breathing techniques which are effective in strengthening and toning the core and increasing flexibility. Developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, Pilates took off as a fitness craze across the UK and USA and gradually became part of mainstream workout. Pilates fitness is based on six principles (concentration, centering, and control, flow, breathing and precision) which must be mastered properly in order to achieve desired results. As a precise and controlled form of exercise, Pilates depends on correct movement and breathing to strengthen the body evenly and to exert its influence through core strength, body stretching and alignment.
How It Works
Pilates is a series of movements and breathing exercises which require concentration and focus to move the body through a precise range of motion in order to stabilize and strengthen your core. The exercises are performed in a specific order (one after another) with the aim of lengthening and stretching all major muscle groups of the body in a balanced fashion. The specific exercises have names, such as “Criss-Cross”, “The Swan”, “The 100” and “The Elephant” and need prescribed placement, breathing pattern and rhythm. In fact, while the moves look simple, they require a lot of control and precision and come with strict emphasis on technique.
Specific features of Pilates fitness workout include:
a. Medium intensity: While Pilates is demanding, it is never the kind of workout that will drain your energy and make you sweat profusely. And even though you will feel it in your muscles with each exercise, it is more about concentration and precise breathing.
b. Areas targeted
(i) Core: Your core is the main target of the workout.
(ii) Legs: You will use your upper legs when engaging your core.
(iii) Glutes: You will use your glutes during poses that stabilize your core.
(iv) Back: The workout focuses on strengthening and stabilizing your back as you look to strengthen your abs.
c. Type of workout
(i) Low-impact: You will engage your muscles strongly but gently.
(ii) Flexibility: Pilates fitness exercises boost flexibility and mobility.
(iii) Strength: The workout improves the strength of muscles.
Note: Pilates is neither aerobic (not a cardio workout) nor a sports workout.
Since the aim of Pilates is strengthening of the entire body (though special attention is given to core strength), work starts from the center of the body, known as the “powerhouse” (which includes abdomen, upper and lower back, hips, buttocks and inner thighs) and is typically slow-paced to allow all practitioners to achieve their goals in their own time. Breathing is quite crucial to Pilates as full inhalation, forced exhalation or lateral breathing help to engage and tone deep abdominal muscles.
Types of Pilates
There are two principal forms of Pilates:
a. Mat-based Pilates: Are a series of fitness exercises performed on the floor by using gravity and your body strength to provide resistance. Mat-based Pilates fitness exercises condition deeper supporting muscles of the body, resulting in better balance, coordination and posture. Mat-based exercises can be performed either in a class or at home, using DVD aids.
b. Equipment-based Pilates: Are a series of fitness exercises done using specific equipment (such as Reformer, Cadillac and Wunda Chair) that work against spring-loaded resistance. For example, the Reformer is a portable cart that can be pushed and pulled along its tracks to deliver the necessary resistance for a proper Pilates session. The equipment is supplied with a system of springs and pulleys, handles and straps, which provide either support or resistance, depending on user needs. Some forms of machine-based Pilates include weights (like dumbbells) and other kinds of equipment that provide resistance to the muscles. Equipment-based Pilates fitness exercises are offered in gyms or studios under instructor supervision.
Pilates exercises are performed in low repetitions, often 5-10 times, over a session of 45-90 minutes. They are suitable for everyone, from beginners to advanced, people with limited mobility, elite athletes, those with limited fitness levels and pregnant women, but the method used must be customized to meet the specific needs, concerns and expectations of the user. To achieve maximum benefit, a person should do Pilates at least 2 or 3 times per week. Postural improvements are usually noticeable after 10-20 sessions.
Benefits of Pilates
(i) Improved flexibility
(ii) Improved posture and stabilization of the spine
(iii) Increased muscle tone and strength, especially the muscles of lower back, abdomen, buttocks and hips.
(iv) Balanced muscle strength on both sides of the body, and greater muscle control of the back and limbs.
(v) Better physical coordination and balance.
(vi) Prevention or rehabilitation of injuries associated with muscle imbalances.
(vii) Prevention of musculoskeletal injuries, and safe rehabilitation of spinal and joint injuries.
(viii) Improved concentration and body awareness
(ix) Relaxation of shoulders, neck and upper back.
(x) Stress management and relaxation.
(xi) Increased lung capacity and improved circulation through deeper breathing.