We all know there are many benefits to exercising. It gives us more energy, it’s great for our health, and it’s key in maintaining a healthy weight. When we think of exercise we often think of all-out, high intensity running, cycling or sports and aerobics. But it might surprise you to learn that one of the most effective ways to safely condition your body is by practicing Mat Pilates and Reform Pilates.
The method behind Pilates has been around for decades. It was originally used for dancers to strengthen their bodies without risking injuries or building bulk in the muscle. Pilates puts emphasis on alignment, breathing and flow of movement to improve flexibility, coordination and balance, build core strength and develop control and endurance in the body. Taking a regular class will benefit almost everyone, from a complete beginner to the very advanced. But it’s particularly beneficial for women – why? Well let’s just say there are certain preventative benefits… more on that later.
Pilates is great for increasing your strength without getting an increase in muscle size. The exercises focus on your posture and alignment and when performing these movements correctly, it will result in a nicely defined body.
In my experience as a Pilates instructor I have never seen an injury caused from safely performing a Pilates exercise. In fact, many people who decide to try Pilates for the first time do so to help regain strength after injury or as a preventative measure. In the gym most people only work on the muscles that you can see on the outside of the body (the ‘big’ muscles) through weight training, sports or running. Incorporating Pilates into your training program will also get you working on your ‘little’ muscles – the ones that help with balance, core control and stabilise your body.
Your core is not just your 6-pack muscles at the front of the torso. It’s your entire mid‑section including your abdominals, obliques, lower back, diaphragm, pelvic floor and more. The best kind of core exercises switch on all of these muscles (like a plank reach) and are not just isolated to the abdominals (like a tummy crunch). Pilates movements are taught nice and slow until your form is perfected. By learning to keep your spine in the right alignment you will aid your core to work more efficiently.
Hate to break it to you ladies, but problems like bladder leakage are the real deal – especially after childbirth. It’s never too late to get into Pilates, but if children are in your future, a regular Pilates practice will help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles in preparation for childbirth and the all the “fun” that comes with it. Although Pilates exercises are low impact it’s always a good idea for new mums to see a physiotherapist who specialises in post-natal rehabilitation to advise how and when it is safe to return to regular exercise.
When I was younger my mother always said to me “shoulders back, shoulders back!” She definitely had a point – posture is often linked to all sorts of problems like back pain and headaches. Having good posture will improve your breathing and oxygenate the body more efficiently. One hour of Pilates a week won’t reverse lifelong damage of incorrect posture, but it will re-teach your body on how to hold itself and begin to minimise the impact of lengthy sitting or staring at your mobile phone.
We are at our strongest in a neutral alignment, yet most people are unable to maintain a neutral curve in their lower back. Pilates teaches you how to hold neutral, which can be incredibly beneficial in other areas of your training – particularly to develop good form when lifting weights. For example, deadlifts are one of the most popular strength movements (and my personal favourite), but can also be the most dangerous if your spine is out of alignment. I love Pilates for the ways it makes me get stronger, move better, train harder and even dance a little crazier when out on the town. What has your experience been with Pilates? Have you ever thought about doing it and giving a class a try? Just like eating broccoli for its health benefits, practicing Pilates is doing something good for your body and you will most definitely reap the rewards.