Pilates is famously known for its emphasis on the core, in fact, Pilates trains your body and mind as an integrated whole. This is the reason that Pilates is popular in rehab settings, as well as with professional athletes. It also improves your breathing and ability to focus.
There is a huge misconception that Pilates is a "women's exercise". Not many are aware that this exercise regime was originally intended for men. Joseph Pilates, a whiskey drinking, cigar smoking boxer, rehabilitated prisoners of war and helped many soldiers recover from their injuries using his method of ‘Contrology’ which is now known worldwide as Pilates.
Pilates is for everybody, regardless of gender, age, race, size, ability, or current fitness level. There’s something for everyone, whether you have a sedentary lifestyle, are a weekend warrior, are pregnant or postpartum, are rehabilitating an injury, or if you’re a professional athlete. It’s commonly used as cross-training workout and recommended by doctors for overall health, injury prevention, and rehabilitative purposes (Source, Source).
A Pilates class will either take place on a mat only or with specialised equipment pieces such as the Reformer, Tower, Wunda chair and Spine Corrector, but both variations focus on the breath, core function, and precise, controlled movements.
Since the exercises are targeted and controlled, I often have my clients tell me they've "worked muscles they never have before" and that's because speed and momentum are a way of compensating for lack of strength.
Keep scrolling for more of the benefits of Pilates that will make you want to switch up your workouts!
Precise Movements, Big Impact: The Benefits of Pilates
Pilates Relieves Back Pain
Studies have shown that Pilates increases body awareness and improves quality of life by decreasing back pain (Source). With regular practice many experience increased core strength, mobility and muscular balance in their lower back.
Your core is all of the surrounding muscles of your trunk that when strong and pliable, support your organs, create a strong, supple back, beautiful posture, and efficient movement patterns. (Source, 7, 8). Core strength is a key factor in decreasing back and hip pain, and decreasing pelvic floor dysfunction.
Pilates Enhances Sports Performance
Many high-level athletes regularly practice Pilates as part of training for their sport. Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, Tennis star Maria Sharapova, world champ surfer Stephanie Gilmore, and basketball legend LeBron James are just a few pro athletes who reportedly practice Pilates.
Of course, you don’t have to be a professional sportsperson to reap the benefits of Pilates’s game-changing benefits. Pilates is also an effective way to support your body if you’re a fan of triathlons, weight-lifting, swimming or running.
After all, Pilates is all about efficiency of movement, creating balanced muscles, and improving the mobility of your spine and other joints – and these are things all fitness enthusiasts can benefit from. (Source, 37, Source, 39, 40, 41, 42).
Pilates Improves Bone Density
The current lifestyle of more sitting and less moving is detrimental to our health and our bone density. Strong bone density prevents osteoporosis and osteoarthritis and can affect people of any age. Studies have shown Pilates to be effective in increasing bone density. (Source, Source).
The resistance exercises in Pilates cause the muscles to pull on the bones in order to create a tension. This tension causes the bone to fortify which helps to improve bone density.
Pilates Rehabilitates and Prevents Injuries
Pilates greatly facilitates recovery from injury and is very beneficial for preventing future injuries by enhancing body awareness, improving our quality of movement and strengthening the deep supporting structures of the body. Also, Pilates does not induce inflammation or overuse of specific muscle groups.
Muscular balance and symmetry is interrupted after injury or through bad movement habits. This means other muscles in your body end up compensating and being overworked. If allowed to progress this can then lead to further injuries, on an already strained system. Pilates creates a balance of all opposing muscles.
Throughout a Pilates session, I aim to identify any faulty movement patterns and guide you towards efficient movement patterns. You will learn your individual strength asymmetries and with practice, strengthen weak muscles and dampen down overactive muscles to create balance throughout your body. This is why my clients often say "I feel like I have had a massage" after certain sessions. The tightness is released with movement.
Pilates Improves our Posture
Good posture is a reflection of your optimal alignment supported by a strong core. It is a position from which the body can move freely. All exercises in Pilates are performed with optimal spinal and pelvic alignment. Pilates improves your posture by bringing awareness to and improving your whole body's alignment, finding your ideal range of joint mobility, and strengthening neglected postural muscles (6, 7).
It helps to reverse the adverse effects that years of bad habits can have on an individuals posture. For example, sitting at a desk all day can cause your upper back to round and your shoulders to hunch. With Pilates, you will not only reverse slouching, it will help you feel how you are misaligned and how to find postural support with your muscles.
Developing good posture has numerous benefits. These include: reduced headaches, less shoulder or back pain, appearing slimmer and better breathing mechanics which leads to increased core strength.
According to Brent Anderson, Pilates instructor, Physiotherapist and CEO of Polestar Pilates, having good posture can also make your muscles function properly. According to him, there is no need to “over-recruit” muscles, like your abs, to activate them. Instead “Your [muscles] will work, you just have to be in the right alignment.”
Equipment-based Pilates can also be beneficial when it comes to finding the right alignment for your body. This is because the equipment provides you with feedback, allowing you to feel for yourself when you’re out of alignment and self-correct. This then helps to reinforce good habits and makes changes to your posture long-lasting.
Pilates Improves Flexibility and Mobility
No wonder Pilates has been a favourite of dancers for decades. Pilates keeps us moving with smooth transitions between precise and controlled movements. Instead of stretching after a strengthening exercise, most Pilates exercises are a combination of the two. This one-two punch of stretching and strengthening improves the mobility (range of motion) of our joints. So you become more flexible yet stable as you progress in your Pilates practice.
Mobility requires a balance of flexibility and strength at each of our joints. Good mobility is something we should strive for, because it can reduce our risk of injury, help us to work out more effectively and feel better in day-to-day life. (Source, Source, 22, 23).
A review published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2011 of 16 studies found “strong evidence” that Pilates is an effective way to improve flexibility, muscular endurance and dynamic balance.
Pilates Helps Maintain Bodyweight
If you practice Pilates regularly, it will change your shape. It's known for giving you the appearance of being taller and slimmer due to the improvements in your posture. In this 8-week study of 37 women who were overweight or had obesity, Pilates helped participants lose weight and reduce BMI.
Losing bodyfat involves regular quality sleep, good stress management, and most importantly, creating a caloric deficit. As a full-body conditioning programme, Pilates can help you on your journey to maintain a healthy weight thanks to its focus on building lean muscle, aiding in the regulation of the nervous system to decrease stress levels and contributing to your calorie deficit.
Pilates Relieves Stress
As the wise Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
Of course, no kind of exercise is going to replace treatment for anxiety or depression, but Pilates can be a great mood booster. That’s because exercise can stimulate the production of endorphins in your brain, causing a general feeling of well-being, according to a review published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science.
Plus, the inward focus and breathwork from Pilates can down-regulate the nervous system. This, in turn, can take you out of fight-or-flight mode, lower cortisol, and decrease stress over time (16, 17). Studies that specifically explored the mood-boosting benefits of Pilates have found that subjects experienced a reduction in anxiety, fatigue, and depressive symptoms, and a release of negative thought patterns (Source, 29).
Pilates Improves Balance
If you’ve ever tried Pilates then you’ll know that exercising on a moving reformer platform or lunging on the Wunda chair with no handles challenges your balance!
A small 2007 study in Exercise Physiology of 34 healthy adults found that those who completed 10 sessions of Pilates saw a significant change in dynamic balance (the ability to maintain balance while moving or changing positions) compared to those who did not do Pilates.
How, exactly, does Pilates accomplish this? Balance is heavily informed by your core strength, proprioception (awareness of where your body is in space), and interoception (awareness of how you feel as you move). Pilates improves all three of those skills, translating into better balance and gait (Source, Source, Source).
Pilates Develops Body Awareness
Joseph Pilates was adamant that Pilates was about the "complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit." You’ll be challenged to stay aware of your breath, posture, and movement while you’re performing the exercises. Over time, you’ll become more in tune with your body, both on and off the mat.
Pilates enhances proprioception, or body awareness (13, Source). Enhanced proprioception heightens your awareness of comfort or pain, your emotions, and your surrounding environment and your body is better able to respond to stimulus. Better body awareness may even help you prevent overeating, as you’ll be more in tune with your body’s hunger signals (15).
With better body awareness, you will have a stronger idea of what your body truly needs day to day. For example, maybe you’ll notice your hip flexors feel tight from sitting all day and you'll either stretch or take a walk to relieve this.
Pilates Improves Lung Capacity
Joseph Pilates actually struggled with asthma (as do I) and various other medical conditions as a child but was determined to heal himself through movement. Joseph believed that by coordinating breathing patterns with movement and strengthening your core, it would improve your pulmonary function.
Pilates emphasizes the sideways (lateral) expansion of the rib cage during inhalation. This lateral breath keeps your lungs healthy by encouraging air to flow to the lower parts of the lungs (basal lobes). These parts of our lungs are often neglected as we frequently take shallow breaths as we go about our day.
And years later, research also supports this! A systematic review conducted in 2019, confirmed that Pilates improves lung volumes, flow rates, and respiratory endurance (11, 12). This stimulates feel-good hormones, oxygen flow, and blood circulation.
Pilates Boosts Energy
My clients often say they feel both relaxed and invigorated by their Pilates session. And while this may seem contradictory, there is now research to back up these feelings. Pilates trains your muscles without overstimulating your nervous system or fatiguing your body. This means you come away from a class or private session feeling worked out, relaxed and more alert – all at the same time.
Pilates Improves Focus
Pilates exercises require precision and control, complete focus is needed to execute them well and gain the most benefits of Pilates. This boosts your focus in the moment and can carry over into other parts of your life. Studies have shown improved cognitive functioning after Pilates training. (29, 30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
Pilates Helps you Sleep Better
Research suggests that Pilates can significantly improve sleep quality, especially in people under the age of 40 (Source, Source, 29). One study found that postpartum women benefit from better sleep when adding Pilates into their weekly routine (Source). Better sleep leads to better moods. It’s a win-win situation!
Benefits of the Pilates Reformer
The Pilates reformer is a sleek pulley system consisting of a sliding carriage and springs with varying degrees of tension. A 2016 study concluded that Pilates equipment has an edge over mat exercises in regards to injury rehabilitation (8).
The Pilates Apparatus may look intimidating, but they provide feedback that can help you understand how you’re moving your body in space. They can also help your body get into the correct alignment and make challenging moves feel a little less intense.
Thinking about giving Pilates a try?
Incorporating a Pilates practice into your training regimen can greatly support and enhance any endeavour you take on. Whether you’re seeking to cross-train, build muscle mass and bone density, or simply feel better and tone up, Pilates will positively affect your quality of life.
Pilates is suitable for everyone regardless of fitness level, age, size, or any other factor. If you think Pilates would be helpful for your body, you can join me in a few ways. At my home studio in Dundalk to work out on the Pilates apparatus or online from anywhere with my live Zoom matwork classes or my do anytime On Demand library.
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