Pilates: A Guide To One Of The Most Popular Fitness Routine
If you haven’t tried it yet and are curious why people are so devoted to a form of exercise, “religiously” devoted, perhaps zealous…and if that perplexes you, read on.
Pilates — we’ve all heard the word, we probably even know some people who do it religiously. We probably know it’s a type of exercise. We may have even heard somebody describe it as life-changing. Wait…life-changing? Exercise?
What Is Pilates?
Yoga-like in nature, Pilates comes by that similarity naturally. Joseph Pilates, the German originator of the discipline, was the son of a prize-winning gymnast and a naturopath. He studied Eastern and Western forms of exercise, including yoga. Pilates originally called his discipline “Contrology,” reflecting its essence, controlled movement. Believing in the interrelatedness of physical and mental health, Pilates created a system of exercises in the early 20th century intended to strengthen mind and body.
Taught correctly, Pilates is safe for everyone, all ages, and ability levels. There are over 500 exercises and six major pieces of apparatus. Among these many activities, a number are lying down and so are low-impact. Workouts progress from these low-impact exercises to sitting exercises then standing work.
Estimates of the number of people worldwide practicing Pilates today are in the range of 15 million with 15,000 instructors. Practitioners appreciate their stronger abdominal and back muscles, toned legs and arms, increased flexibility, greater endurance, improved posture and reduced stress.
More than that, these 15 million adherents experience Pilates as transformational. They revere as “elders” those who learned the method directly from Joseph Pilates, who died in 1967. And instead of dragging their feet about exercise time, they literally look forward to the moments they can spend each day doing Pilates.
An intense Pilates workout can burn up to 500 calories per hour.
What Are The Specifics Of Pilates?
This exercise system emphasizes alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance. How one performs the exercises is more important than the exercises themselves. Pilates involves six basic principles: control, centering, concentration, precision, breath, and flow.
- Pilates, originally Contrology, centers on muscle control. The exercises work against gravity and use resistance provided by the springs in the apparatus. The goal is to control one’s body movement and the apparatus.
- All movements in Pilates begin from the center (abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and inner thighs) and move out toward the limbs. In contemporary terminology, this area is your “core.”
- Pilates requires full concentration on performing the exercise, which in turn demands full concentration on the entire body. This concentration is what promotes stress reduction. We now know from studies what early practitioners of yoga and Pilates intuited, multi-tasking causes stress and reduces intelligence, effectiveness, and efficiency.
- Precision involves precise and perfect movement, focusing more on quality than quantity. The goal of this precision is to make it second nature, at which point it flows into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
- Pilates includes breathing instructions with every movement. In this system, breath is cleansing. Taking in oxygen and circulating this oxygenated blood to every part of the body cleanses and invigorates. As in yoga, one breathes in very specific ways, coordinated with the controlled bodily movements.
- The goal of Pilates is “elegant economy of movement, creating flow through the use of appropriate transitions.” As ability increases with practice, one exercise flows into the next, building strength and stamina.
Central pieces of equipment are the Reformer and theCadillac.
- The Reformer is “an unstable mat surface,” a kind of table with various springs that help with stretching the body.
- The Cadillac is something like “monkey bars” attached to a mat that allows leg and butt exercises.
- Both pieces of equipment help keep the body in alignment during exercise — and highlight for somehow out-of-alignment they are. These are not inexpensive pieces of equipment and won’t end up in most people’s home exercise set-ups.
What to wear: form-fitting clothing you can stretch in, have a bottle of water nearby, invest in a mat, or if you’re using a shared mat in class, wear sox.
Can You Practice Pilates At Home?
Luckily a Los Angeles Pilates instructor explains how we can manage to get a full Pilates workout without a Reformer when one isn’t available. “All you need is a pair of standard paper plates, which act like gliders when you use them on a non-carpeted floor” — and a couple of exercises with them you’ll find here.
Think you can’t find the time? Another Pilates instructor provides Huffington Post (and us) with a 30-minute video demonstrating a series of exercises you can do in, well, 30 minutes or…during commercials while you watch TV. Each exercise is about three minutes.
For top instructional videos, many you can follow at home with just a mat or a mat and exercise ball, check out #pilatesvideos or #pilatesvideo on Instagram. YouTube provides many 30-minute full body Pilates workouts and beginner’s routines if you’re just getting started.
Pilates. Is it worth a few minutes of your time each day to reduce stress and develop greater mental clarity, tone and strengthen, increase your flexibility and endurance, improve your posture and just generally feel great? 15 million people seem to think so! Maybe you’ll be 15 million and one.
Photo Credit: Bigstockphoto