Among modern stress relief therapies that involve physical exercise, Pilates is one of the most popular, overcame maybe only by yoga, which is an older technique and more widely-spread. Invented in the 20th century by Joseph Pilates, it first functioned as a medical strategy to help wounded soldiers recover after the First World War, and was, for a long time, used by recovery centers to help their patients. Only recently it has become a common practice for healthy people as well, who choose to practice it for the many benefits it offers in terms of body strength and balance. Emma Stone is a big fan of the technique, and we’ve all have seen what excellent posture she has.
But is it for everyone? And how often should you hit the apparatus to get those stunning abs everybody is talking about? Is this technique truly worth the effort? These questions are entitled, but the answer isn’t always the same. Our bodies are different, our resistance to effort is also different, as well as our determination, so the results may appear after a few sessions or in months or even years. However, what will change immediately will be your energy level, as a single session is enough to get you pumped with serotonin.
But the benefits go beyond that, as Pilates is a method that implies both the body and the mind, so let’s take the time to explore them closely.
Some people look at it and see some sort of yoga that requires equipment, while others see the gear and think that some sort of bodybuilding exercises must be practiced on them. But Pilate is neither yoga nor bodybuilding, although it encourages relaxation like the first and challenges the muscles like the second one. It is, in fact, a low-impact type of exercise that consists of a series of exercises, designed to increase mobility and balance. When its inventor designed the routine, some special equipment pieces were built as well and are still in use today. This is why you may need to try the cadillac or the reformer in your sessions. But Pilates can be practiced using only a mat as well if you choose these types of classes.
Unlike yoga, which employs longer and more repetitive moves, this technique uses shorter moves, and the accent is put on carrying them through perfectly. In fact, you will rarely do the same exercise in the same session. This routine challenges both your muscles and your brain, which needs to be attentive to the movements the whole time. Thus, a disconnection occurs, and you get to forget your mundane preoccupations while exercising.
Most people who have tried Pilates for the first time describe their first session as challenging but highly energizing. “A single set of exercises is enough to make you feel better about yourself”, says Maria Henderson, who has been practicing this technique for 7 years now. “But it is the long-term commitment that brings the transformation, changing you at so many levels.”
Other people found relief for chronic pain or fatigue while others used this method to maintain healthy body weight. Moreover, as more studies are performed in this field, it becomes clear that Pilates can improve health at all levels of the body.
Here are some of the most important benefits it offers:
The first thing you will learn during the sessions is how to maintain balance and a good posture while executing the routine. This means that you will concentrate on keeping your spine straight, your head up, all while becoming aware of the role your muscles play in movement and stability. It is the most important thing in Pilates, and, in time, it will become part of your every-day life. You will find yourself sitting straighter on your chair at work or keeping your back straight while walking on the street. This is an effect of your muscles becoming stronger as well.
Although yoga can prove better at this chapter, Pilates is still an efficient way to boost flexibility. Body elasticity is given by the muscles and the joints, so, if you don’t train them regularly, they will, in time, become stiff, and the age is an important factor in this process. Therefore, regular exercise will keep your blood flowing and your muscles lean and long, allowing you to move easier and more graciously.
One of the most famous exercises of the routine is the Hundred, which targets directly the tummy. Moreover, most of the exercises are about alignment and stability, so your stomach will always be challenged and worked up. In only 12 weeks of training, most people see the difference, which shows up not only in the abdominal area but all over the body. Suddenly you start feeling fitter and discover that your core muscles have grown stronger, making you feel more confident and healthy.
Besides that, your balance becomes improved, and you discover that all the clumsiness has gone away. It’s like you are a whole new human, walking on new feet with an airy body.
If your body is struggling with chronic pain, but the cause is impossible to treat, what do you do? You can suffer through it (in some cases it is purely impossible) or use drugs to make it go away (they have limited effect though, and can cause dependence, so long use is not recommended). The third option would be to strengthen your body so it can fight pain better, and here is where a Pilates routine can help you. Regular exercises will add support to your core while preventing the muscles from getting stiff. Apart from that, as the technique requires full concentration, you will completely forget about the pain during the session.
This method, just like yoga, implies the use of a breathing technique, designed to keep you focused while executing the exercises. However, what you may realize or not from the first sessions is that your body is not the only one getting trained but your mind as well. It takes concentration to maintain your posture throughout the routine, so your mind will shift its attention from other factors and direct it toward the body, and this leads to a peaceful harmony between the mind and the physique.
Moreover, this practice will eventually teach you how to stay focused on other tasks as well, so it can help you improve your work or school performance. Not to mention that a mind that is focused on only one thing instead of one hundred will be more relaxed, so you can use Pilates as a way to fight stress as well.
Even if the movements aren’t rapid and the routine doesn’t imply jumping a lot or running, it is still soliciting enough to set your blood flowing and get your heart pumping. These types of exercises help, in time, to reduce blood viscosity and make it circulate better. As better circulation leads to lower blood pressure, it means that you will be less exposed to the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. Additionally, better blood circulation leads to improved organ function and encourages cell growth, so your body will become stronger and able to fight other illnesses as well.
Like any exercise routine, it needs to be practiced several times a week for best results. But how many times are recommended? And does it depend on the person’s training level? The answer here is that it depends a lot on how resistant to effort your body is and if you are doing only this type of exercise or you are alternating it with aerobics or other sports. Nevertheless, here are some guidelines that will help you assess how often your sessions should be:
Most gyms offer sessions of 55 minutes or 1 hour, but if you are working with a personal trainer, they can establish a personalized routine for you and reduce the time to 30 minutes, at least until you become accustomed to the effort. If you are practicing it at home, it is also recommended to start with 30-minute sessions and increase the duration as you get more advanced. This will allow you to do a good number of exercises and get the best results without getting yourself exhausted.
Now that you’ve gotten yourself informed about how this method can transform your body, you can join a class, get in touch with a personal trainer, or use all the information to design your own schedule and get exercising. Moreover, note that this is a technique that will always surprise you with new moves, so if you are training on your own, don’t hesitate to join an online Pilates community or buy the latest books, which will help you make the best of it. It may seem a bit hard at the beginning, but what isn’t? Just keep working out for your health and well-being.