Thankfully achieving and maintaining a strong, toned and healthy body doesn't have to involve nightly gym sessions. Pilates is a whole body workout that improves balance, strength, control and relaxation. Here's what you need to know.
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, including the abdominals 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.
What are the benefits?
Low impact fitness
One of the most appealing things about Pilates is that it is suitable for everyone, no matter what your level of fitness. And because it's a low-impact and gentle way of getting fit, it can very helpful for those with poor mobility, those suffering from aches and pains, and anyone recovering from an injury. There is also evidence to suggest that it can help to relieve non-specific back pain as it helps to strengthen the muscles, as well as improving alignment and posture.
Since it works largely with the core muscles (the abdominals, pelvis and back), Pilates helps to strengthen and balance the body. The core is the 'trunk' from which the body's 'branches' stem, and it is therefore at the centre of a fit and healthy body. A strong core helps to improve posture, muscle strength and flexibility.
Of perhaps equal importance is that Pilates teaches you about body awareness. Those who take regular classes learn to control their movements using the whole body, and as the core strengthens and changes your body, you begin to realise how day-to-day activities affect it. How you stand, sit, work at a computer all affect your body, and as flexibility and posture improve, the benefits of core strength become clear.
Although Pilates is not designed as a weight loss fitness programme, it can change your body shape by streamlining your appearance and creating longer, leaner muscles. More to the point, the stronger body and improved circulation, not to mention deep breathing techniques, will quickly prove more than helpful when you combine Pilates sessions with cardiovascular exercise.
While not specifically designed to relieve stress, a Pilates class will certainly ease tension. Deep breathing, mindfulness and the process of removing tension from the muscles will have an affect on your stress levels, and many of the body awareness and relaxation techniques can be readily transferred to other areas of life.
Where do I sign up?
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.
Are you a Pilates regular? What have you found to be the greatest benefit of the method? Leave your comments below...