Over the last decade Pilates has become increasingly popular among dancers, athletes, models and celebs. Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Liz Hurley, even John Cleese. These are just a few of the big names who swear by Pilates and have helped to fuel the ever growing popularity of this “wonder workout”. But what is Pilates, what are the benefits, and how do you choose a Pilates instructor?
What exactly is Pilates?
Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates during the First World War to help rehabilitate returning war veterans. He recommended a few, precise movements emphasizing control and form that help to strengthen, stretch, and stabilize key muscle groups. These movements focus particularly on what he called the “powerhouse” – the abdomen, lower back, hips and bum. Fitness professionals call this part of the body “the core”, and as any Pilates instructor or personal trainer will tell you, it is the starting point of all strength, balance and posture.
Unlike gym workouts
that focus on repetition, Pilates exercises focus on fluidity of motion as you perform each pose with slow, graceful movements, starting from the mid-section and moving outward. Breathing, concentration, muscle control and precision of movement are central principles of the Pilates method, making it slower and less aerobic than other fitness classes. For this reason Pilates is suitable for people of all ages and abilities, and is recommended for those suffering from osteoporosis, as well as those who are overweight.
What are the benefits of Pilates?
Muscle Toning- the flowing and controlled movements of Pilates help to firm up and lengthen the muscles, resulting in a sleeker shape and more toned look to the body.
Body Control - the emphasis on precision of movement helps to improve your mind-muscle connection, which means better control over your body in day to day life.
Core Stability- by targeting the mid-section Pilates helps to strengthen the core muscles, which not only improves balance, but also flattens and tones your waistline.
Injury Rehabilitation- the low impact nature of Pilates helps to develop strength and flexibility without straining the muscles, making it ideal for rehabilitation.
Improved Posture- by correcting muscle imbalances and strengthening the back and spine, Pilates improves posture and lessens the risk of back injury and neck pain.
Increase Wellbeing - In a similar way to yoga, Pilates is a balanced, holistic approach that relieves stress and anxiety by working on the mind as well as the body.
Before starting a Pilates class it's a good idea to book a home or studio session with a private Pilates instructor. Ideally look for a REPS Level 3 Pilates Instructor, or one who is registered with The Body Control Pilates Association. A one-to-one Pilates session will give you an idea of what a Pilates class feels like, but with a lot more personal focus. Your Pilates instructor will be able to show you where your body's strengths and weaknesses lie, and give you some exercises you can try at home. If you enjoy and feel the benefits of the exercises then you might want to join a local Pilates class, or combine a class with one-to-one sessions.
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