A beginner's guide to Pilates

When it comes to exercise and fitness, any of us baulk at the thought of pounding the streets or slogging it out at the gym, and with many types of exercise, it's all too easy to succumb to injury.

Guide to Pilates

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With Pilates, however, you will not only give your whole body a workout, but you'll also improve balance, strength, and learn control of the body and relaxation.

What is Pilates?
Developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, it is a complete exercise method that focuses on building strength within the core muscles, ie. the abdominals, hips and back.

It involves precise movements designed to strengthen the muscles, increase flexibility and teach awareness body awareness and control, based on eight principles - relaxation, alignment, control, precision, routine, breathing, centering and flowing movement.

Advantages of the Pilates method
Aside from the obvious appeal of a more toned body and stronger muscles, there are a number of reasons Pilates makes for such a great workout.

As the core muscles are strengthened, you will find that your posture improves and that in turn can help to re-align the spine making it particularly good for those with back pain.

Similarly, it is a great way to work the pelvic floor muscles which are often weakened during childbirth so is an excellent choice for mums hoping to get their fitness back after a baby.

And since it is a gentle, non-aerobic form of exercise, there is no strain placed on the joints so is ideal for anyone unable to cope with other high-impact fitness regimes.

Add to that the improved balance, flexibility and co-ordination (not to mention stress relief and relaxation) that comes with regular Pilates workouts, and it's easy to see why so many have turned to the method to keep fit and strong.

What do I need?
If you are new to Pilates you really need no special equipment to get started. Much of the exercises designed by Pilates work by using the resistance provided by your own body weight, so at most an exercise mat is enough to begin with.

As you progress and require more of a challenge, Pilates bands (available in a variety of resistance levels), rings, balance discs and exercise balls can all add a unique dimension to your workout, provided they are used properly.

Alternatively, equipment such as a foam block or roller can make some exercises a little easier, and as your muscle strength improves you may find you no longer need them.

Where do I start?
If you are looking to learn more, taking a class is the best way to start. Like most forms of exercise, you will learn more quickly and make the most of the method if you are under the watchful eye of an expert.

Happily, the popularity of Pilates is such that classes take place throughout the UK so pop down to your local sports centre or take a look in the local paper to find one to suit you. Pilates instructors will often provide any equipment necessary too

Of course, there are also plenty of books and DVDs that cater for absolute beginners so if you are unable to get to a class for whatever reason, there is an alternative.

Are you a Pilates convert? How has it helped you? Leave your comments below...