Pilates aims to strengthen the body in a balanced way, with particular emphasis on core strength to improve general fitness and wellbeing. Pilates exercises are done on a mat or using special equipment, such as the Reformer, the Cadillac and Wunda Chair. With a system of pulleys and springs, handles and straps, the apparatus can provide either resistance or support, depending on your needs.

Pilates develops much of what exercisers need – strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance, and good posture – with a much lower chance of injury than in other forms of exercise. The discipline emphasizes correct form instead of going for the burn.

Pilates moves require you to engage almost your whole body. At times, you may try to strengthen one muscle while stretching another. The moves take lots of concentration; you can’t simply go through the motions like you can on gym equipment. Then, for every move you think you’ve mastered, Pilates has another version that’s a little different and a little harder. With so many exercise variations and progressions, you may have a hard time getting bored with Pilates.

The Benefits of Pilates?

By practising Pilates regularly, you can achieve a number of health benefits including:

  • Improved core strength and stability
  • Improved posture and balance
  • Improved flexibility
  • Prevention and treatment of back pain
  • Longer, leaner muscles (less bulk – more freedom of movement).
  • Enhanced functional fitness, ease of movement. 
  • Balanced strength and flexibility.
  • Heightened body awareness
  • No impact exercise easy on the joints
  • Customizable exercise to suit everyone from rehab patients to elite athletes
  • Improved performance in sports (golf, skiing, running & cycling etc.)
  • Improved balance, coordination, and circulation
  • Increased core strength, stability and peripheral mobility
  • Injury prevention

Pilates also complements other methods of exercise.

A system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness.

Pilates can be adapted to provide gentle strength training and a stability program or a challenging workout for seasoned athletes.

Practitioners say regular Pilates practice can help improve posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension. For elite athletes, including dancers, Pilates can complement their training by developing whole body strength and flexibility and help reduce the risk of injury. 

There’s  evidence that Pilates can provide pain relief to people with non-specific lower back pain. The use of apparatus enables someone with back pain to perform exercises with support. For the exercises to be effective, they need to be tailored to the individual.

Pilates is classed as a muscle-strengthening activity, which can help you maintain a healthy weight. Classes can vary in intensity: they can be gentle or dynamic and offer a solid workout. If you want to lose weight, you’re advised to combine Pilates with a healthy diet and some aerobic activities, such as swimming, walking and cycling.

Pilates has something to offer people of all ages and levels of ability and fitness, from beginners to elite athletes. The apparatus can be used to provide support for beginners and people with certain medical conditions, as well as resistance for people looking to challenge their body.

Before starting any exercise programme, it’s advisable to seek advice from your GP or a health professional if you have any health concerns, such as a heart condition or an injury.

Examples Of How Pilates Can Complement Your Activity

“Sports are wonderful for the constitution generally,” Joseph Pilates states in Cutting a Fine Figure, Reader’s Digest, October 1934, “but they are of little value for correcting what’s wrong with you – and there’s something wrong with almost everyone. ‘Corrective Exercise’ is the only way to build a beautiful, strong, youthful body.”

Photo credit to Solitary Images (Shaun Peter)

Pilates & Biking

Whether for a high intensity workout requiring focus or a casual recreational ride, cyclists benefit from Pilates. Why?

Cyclist stay hunched over their handlebars, sometimes for hours at a time with their spine in flexion. Many do not use the right form, scrunching their shoulders up by their ears. This leads very often to back, shoulder and neck issues. Although cyclists shift their upper bodies from side to side for momentum, their lower bodies only move from front to back. With little lateral movement going on, those muscles become neglected.

Many injuries are also caused by ill-fitting equipment, such as a hand-me-down bike that’s the wrong size. They can throw off your body alignment, resulting in IT (iliotibial) band or knee problems (so it’s important to get a bike fitted properly).

Pilates training with cyclists to open up their chest and shoulders, as well as encourage flexibility and strengthen in the back. Exercises outside the sagittal (forward) plane are also important for balancing out the body. It’s also key to have a strong upper body for support. To stay in that flexed position, arms should help hold you up so you’re not just depending on your back. Specific arm work is also necessary.

Let your fellow riders see you at that next race and compliment you on your stable pelvis, because with strengthening through Pilates method, you won’t be rocking back and forth wasting valuable energy and setting the stage for hip or leg injuries.

You will learn how to keep your upper traps engaged and slide your shoulder blades down to lengthen your neck and back, avoiding pain.

Efficiency on a bike is key. The more power a cyclist can produce using the minimal amount of effort, the faster you can travel for longer.

As for form, the longer you are able to maintain good form, the more efficient your energy use on the bike will be. Pilates will strength your deep postural muscles to help stabilise you on the bike, improve your handling and balance as well as working on your flexibility and posture. Elite cyclists such as Bradley Wiggins incorporate Pilates in their training to keep their muscles and spine flexible, improve strength and general body awareness thus avoiding injury and improving overall performance.

Pilates & Running

Whether you are pounding the pavement, trail or treadmill, Pilates can take your running to the next level.

Pilates provides core strength and hip stability to help you go faster and prevent common injuries.

You may think that running only focuses on the lower body, however, maintaining proper form requires total body strength and flexibility. Do you find yourself slouching during your run? Many do when you get tired, resulting in restricted breathing. You tend to compromise you’re lower-body alignment and that can result in lower back pain.

The pounding and jarring effect of running can take a lot out of your body and chance injury – a result of a weak powerhouse and lack of flexibility. Ever had IT, shin, feet, knee or lower back pain?

So along with protections for your entire body, Pilates also helps you pick up your pace. You run far more effectively and thus faster. Keeping an upright posture, you are able to work at your stride and breathe better, helping reduce fatigue.

For the best results in competitive running practice try doing Pilates 2-3 times a week and running 3-4 times a week on non-consecutive days.

Are you training for a marathon or just wanting to increase your distance/ performance? Pilates can help runners suffering from back, knee and hip problems. Incorporating Pilates into your training programme will strengthen your muscles, improve flexibility and joint mobility. Pilates for runners will concentrate on the functional movement of running and exercises will be performed in a variety of functional positions.

Photo credit to Megan Bishop-Keyser