Pilates is a system of exercise and physical therapy developed throughout the 20th century by a German man named Joseph Pilates. The premise of the exercise system is that the mind and body are inherently connected and that we can build flexibility, strength, and stamina through focused, controlled movements. Pilates is also used to stimulate the circulatory system, oxygenate the blood, help lymphatic drainage, boost the immune system, and release endorphins. The practice can be completed by all ages, fitness levels, and even by those with specific physical limitations.
Pilates is often looked at side-by-side with yoga. The difference is that yoga places particular attention on spiritual practice, while Pilates focuses more on stretching, strengthening, and body alignment. In order to explore the Pilates exercise benefits thoroughly, we should focus on the goals and benefits of the two most popular Pilates class types: mat and reformer Pilates. Other than reformers, cadillacs, chairs, and barrels are often used, but we’re primarily going to focus on mat and reformer Pilates.
Mat Pilates uses the original movements pioneered by Joseph Pilates to strengthen the core, arms, and legs. He developed over 500 exercises that can be completed anywhere without the use of equipment. The Pilates exercise benefits and versatility of this practice make it stand out as a viable option for any age or fitness level.
Beginners to mat Pilates should consider taking a class, reading Pilates books, and watching the plethora of online videos. Practicing at least 3 times a week is optimal for seeing lasting improvements in skill level and conditioning.
Mat Pilates Exercise Benefits
Beginning Pilates on a mat is a popular choice because it can be completed at home, in a class setting, or at a park or beach.
Also, mat Pilates is easy to modify. This basically means that for each exercise that may feel slightly too hard for beginners, there’s an easier or lessened version of the exercise. Many of the exercises can even be completed in chairs. These exercises are adaptable, to say the least.
Mat Pilates Exercises
- The Hundred – This is easily the quintessential mat Pilates movement. It’s excellent for the core, strength, and stamina. It fully engages the abdominal muscles while implementing a dynamic breathing pattern. This exercise is completed by lying on the back with the legs up and knees at a 90-degree angle. Next, the shoulders come up, the arms hover above the ground and are pumped up and down to ignite the core. Here is a video to more thoroughly introduce you to the exercise.
- The Roll-Up – It’s often said that a single strong roll-up is equal to six sit-ups! It’s challenging for the abdominal muscles and is one of the best Pilates exercises for them! This exercise is completed by lying on the back with the knees bent, stretching the arms out, and then sitting up and over the knees without lifting the feet up, if possible. The key here is to move very slowly rather than depending on momentum. Here’s a video for more thorough directions.
- Double Leg Stretch – The double leg stretch uses the core to move the entire body. For this one, lie down on a mat with legs stretched out and up, and arms up and overhead. Then, simply bring the legs to the chest, arms forward, and grab the knees before returning to the starting position. Here’s a video for further instruction.
Notice that Pilates is a very core-centric system. The exercises often tend to focus on abdominal strengthening mixed with spine mobility. Combined, these are the ingredients for a properly functioning core.
Using a reformer in Pilates is great for providing more resistance to movements (and thus more strengthening), or assistance to movements (making it great for rehabilitation and physical therapy). The reformer has a gliding carriage that moves on rails inside a wood or metal frame. The carriage is connected to springs, and there are pulleys, ropes, leather straps, or casters attached to the frame. The carriage moves when you push off the foot bar or pull on the straps. You can lie, sit, kneel, or stand while using a reformer.
Carriages can be found in reformer Pilates classes and can be purchased for personal, at-home use.
Pilates Exercise Benefits Using a Reformer
The Pilates exercise benefits of reformer Pilates are similar to that of mat Pilates, yet the advantages are expedited due to even more versatility with reformers.
The best thing about reformer Pilates as compared to mat Pilates is that reformer Pilates allows exercisers to really modify each exercise according to their needs. A reformer can be used to add an extra strength challenge to exercises, or, it can be used to support movements and make them easier. This is why reformers are often used for physical therapy and rehabilitation.
Here are some good introductory ways to get started on a reformer.
Reformer Pilates Exercises
- Footwork – This is similar to what’s commonly called the “leg press” at the gym, an exercise that uses a platform and weights to strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. On a reformer, the feet are placed on the bar and the legs are engaged to push you up and down on the carriage with the assistance of the shoulder pads. Here is a video to further demonstrate.
- The Hundred – Doing the hundred on a reformer provides more resistance via the use of the arm cables. The exercise is very similar to the previous, mat Pilates version, but this time, the arm cables are extended with the arms. Watch this video for further instruction.
- The Frog – The frog utilizes the arm cables to complete a set of strengthening leg movements. This exercise works the legs in a unique way. The legs undergo a series of positions that strengthen and stretch them. Watch this video for those positions in detail.
A Key Tip for Beginning and Benefiting from Pilates
As you may now realize, the Pilates exercise benefits are plenty. Pilates is a unique exercise system that focuses on full-body mobilization, core-strengthening, and physical therapy.
As with any exercise system, mindset is key for starting out. Consider your goals. Where do you wish to be with your body and health? Remind yourself of your answer to this while getting into Pilates.
Another key thing to remember is this: allow your body to be where it’s at. Just like with weight lifting and yoga, a fine balance should be maintained between working your body based on its current capabilities and adding a little extra push to strengthen it. Never push your body far beyond what you know its capable of, even if other people in the room are obviously farther along on their Pilates journey than you.
Remember that much of wellness comes down to self-love and meeting your body where it’s at. This will help expedite the Pilates exercise benefits!
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