Pilates is an extremely popular fitness approach that delivers a unique workout and a number of health benefits, including improved strength, balance, posture, concentration, endurance, and mental clarity, as well as improved circulation and lung capacity, rapid healing, lowered stress levels, and weight loss.
The word Pilates has been in the public sphere for nearly a century, and with over 10 million active practitioners of this physical fitness method, it remains a very popular option for many people. Originally developed by Joseph Pilates, who was highly influenced by both Eastern and Western approaches to wellness, Pilates is a system of more than 500 exercises intended to strengthen the connection between the mind and body. The central idea of this exercise philosophy is the link between body and mind, and there is a strong holistic, Eastern feeling to Pilates practice. These exercises are often accompanied by various apparatus, including springs, mats, supports, resistance bands, and other complements to your own body weight to maximize the effects of the exercises.
Pilates has been somewhat controversial in the personal health field because there is limited scientific study that conclusively proves its potential, but the millions of practitioners all around the world would disagree. Pilates focuses on strengthening your core and improving balance through repetitive, controlled movements, resistance training, and the efficient flow of movement and energy. Concentration, breathing and precision in your movements is important to experience the full effects of Pilates. Pilates is primarily practiced in the western world, in areas like Canada, Europe and the United States, but practitioners can be found on every continent. Now, let’s take a closer look at the many benefits of Pilates!
Benefits of Pilates
Posture Protection: The fundamental movements and positions for Pilates exercises, as well as the mat and band exercises, promote proper posture for extended periods, and it is only through proper body posture that full energy circulation and Pilates benefits can occur. You will often see the graceful and smooth movements of Pilates practitioners who let that posture boost last far beyond the walls of the studio or gym.
Flexibility Boost: The slow, controlled movements that define Pilates can significantly increase flexibility in its practitioners, and many people begin their practice of this fitness style specifically for this benefit. Over time, the body’s muscles can adapt to the demands being placed on it, so regular Pilates time can easily lengthen and stretch the muscles by improving the range of motion in many joints.
Core Strength: Although Pilates is a physical activity that is appropriate for everyone, it will require a decent amount of core strength once you get beyond the very basic levels. This is the source of our endurance and stability, and many of the exercises in this fitness regimen are designed to test your core strength and push it to the limit – all in a controlled and methodical way. When the core of your body is strong and stable, it will reduce the strain on your shoulders, spin, neck, and joints, allowing you freer and more elegant movement.
Energy Enhancer: Exercising may seem like it requires a lot of energy, but it also boosts natural energy levels and floods the body with endorphins, which make you feel good (you know that feeling of satisfaction after a good workout?). It also gets your blood flowing and your breathing optimized, so your body is functioning at peak performance levels, giving you energy for the rest of your daily activities.
Stress Reliever: Clearing your mind for a long meditation session is a bit similar to what is done in Pilates. The amount of focus and concentration you need to control your body’s movements and ensure a safe and efficient flow of energy can push any other thoughts out of your mind. This can help reduce stress, while the yoga-like movements and exertion of the workout can help to detoxify the body and re-balance your levels of stress hormones. This is one of the keys to the body-mind connection that Joseph Pilates proposed as the end goal of his fitness method.
Cognitive Improvement: Another term for the exercise patterns of Pilates is “mindful movement”, and that unique and focused approach to fitness movement can boost our memory retention and cognitive performance. For example, cognitive studies done after a mindful movement-type exercise showed that the subjects’ brain function was much higher than after a typical anaerobic exercise.
Lung Capacity and Circulation: One of the key components of Pilates is breathing, and to achieve the slow, measured movements of this style, it is essential that you keep your body oxygenated to prevent muscles from cramping. Over time, this can increase your endurance and lung capacity, in addition to stimulating circulation of the blood and keeping your organ systems operating at their full potential.
Balanced Muscular Strength: The unique design of the Pilates exercises requires practitioners to use their whole body in a symmetrical way. Unlike traditional strength training, which is often limited by endurance and existing muscles (typically causing dominance on one side), Pilates is a strict and rigid system that keeps the body’s muscles building at a consistent rate.
Weight Loss Efforts: Pilates has been directly linked to increased fat-burning and weight loss, so although the movements do not seem as intense as traditional workouts, it can boost the metabolism and be highly effective for those interested in “mindfully” shedding some pounds.
Comprehensive Workout: Most workouts focus on specific sections of the body, resulting in alternating days or weeks of bodily focus. Pilates, on the other hand, is a full-body workout and engages almost every muscle system in a precise and effective way. Connecting the mind and body means linking the entire mind with the entire body, so no aspect of the body is ignored in the 500+ exercises of this system.
Chronic Pain Management: One of the proven uses of Pilates is to eliminate back pain and chronic inflammation in certain joints by increasing strength and flexibility. Many people use this fitness style to ward off chronic pain, such as from an old injury or surgery. By ensuring that your body’s systems are optimized, but avoiding high-impact exercises, you can continue strengthening parts of the body without the risk of re-injuring them, thus warding off chronic pain.
Helps With Emotional Control: Controlling the body requires controlling the mind, and as this fitness style’s founder suggested, the two acts are closely linked. Therefore, experienced Pilates practitioners are better able to control their anger and disappointment, operating on a more level emotional field, thinking critically about how they respond to certain situations, and using careful control in their decisions.