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  • Sharna Heir

What Is Pilates? - The Benefits, The Essentials



Pilates is a beautiful low-impact exercise which focuses on increasing your core strength, toning your muscles, helps with posture and alignment, as well as flexibility. As you move through a Pilates sequence, you engage your mind as well as your body - and in this moment you have full focus, and are refreshingly in complete alignment with yourself.


As well as being an excellent form of exercise for stronger, leaner muscles - Pilates is extremely helpful for your wellbeing, leaving you feeling extremely uplifted after just one short session. Come on in happy hormones.


Although low-impact, Pilates is no walk in the park, and you should expect to feel the burn. Perhaps in places you haven't felt it before due to certain muscle extensions and micro-movements. As you move through a Pilates sequence, you will likely come up against restriction - but you do your best and you breathe through it. And next time, you come back stronger. Your body is capable of so much, and by challenging it, you better it.


Pilates can be performed on a mat, working with just your body - or you can use specialist Pilates equipment (for example, Reformer Pilates, Magic Circle). There are also different variants of mat based Pilates, from Contemporary, to Classical and Cardio Pilates - and more.


No matter the variant of Pilates, it's safe to say that all are equally as challenging as another, but there are adjustments for those who are beginners or advanced - so they are suitable for any level - it really just depends on which you enjoy the most!


Read on to discover more about this powerful form of exercise.


What is Pilates?


Pilates focusses on lengthening and strengthening your muscles, and toning your body through a series of repetitive movements, micro-movements and pulses.


Through these slow and low-impact movements you target your core muscles, strengthening parts of your body though repetition and by adding resistance with the use of Pilates equipment.


There's variations to Pilates, some are purely mat based, some are mat based with the option to use props depending what class you are taking. For example, you can add dumbbells for arm workouts, bands for your legs, a Pilates ball for crunches, or a magic circle. Some Pilates classes are completely equipment based (Reformer Pilates).


We will come onto the different variations below.


The History of Pilates


Pilates was founded in the 1920s by physical trainer Joseph Pilates (1880-1967), from Mönchengladbach, Germany. Joseph's father was a gymnast and his mother a naturopath. The purpose of it's creation was for rehabilitation and strengthening of this mind. Joseph developed Pilates after being inspired by the classical Greek idea of being balanced in mind, body and spirit. It's known that some of the very first people treated by his founded form of exercise were soldiers from the war, as well as dancers of the time where Pilates was used to strengthen their bodies and help with their aches and pains. Popularity has since increased from here, with adaptions being made to his original craft, and is widely practiced in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.


Benefits of Pilates


Pilates challenges your body in the most interesting of ways, it not only targets your core muscles, but also many little muscles in the body you may not have exercised before. This leads to having more control and strength over your body.


You move slowly, mindfully, with control and focus. It's training for your mind, as well as your body. The more we can learn to stay with our discomfort, the more patience we can exercise in other avenues of our lives - and the more control we have over ourselves and our reactions in stressful situations.


The great thing about Pilates, is that you have the opportunity to activate so many muscles - and there are classes specifically tailored for different parts of the body. For example, if you just wanted to focus on your core and abs, or your arms, or glutes - I guarantee you can find a class for it.


Then there's the obvious - the aesthetic transformation. As your muscles strengthen, your body gets leaner and you will start to notice a more toned physique. It can be very rewarding to not only feel differences in your body, but physically see a transformation in the mirror too.


You can also expect improved flexibility due to this style of exercise which works to elongate muscle groups. Through muscle contractions and extensions, and pushing your body a little further than it went the previous session, you will start to notice a greater range of movement. Flexibility is an important aspect of fitness, as it has many positive results on the body. For example, it improves posture, mobility and reduces the risk of injuries.


It's true that there are so many Pilates benefits.


Who is Pilates for?


Pilates is great for any age, and there's lots of different styles and variations of classes, for example classes that focus on flexibility, stretch, cardio or strength - and more, depending on what you prefer.


It's important to keep our bodies strong and supple, especially as we age - so Pilates is great all through adulthood, and Pilates for back pain has been known to be extremely helpful for those who suffer with such condition. It's important to consult a Pilates trainer if you do have any injuries, as they can advise on whether this is right got you, and make any necessary modifications.


Pilates for children can help them to become stronger and more flexible, but it should be approached with caution as too much stress on the body can have a negative impact on growth whist they are still developing. With this in mind, it's important again to speak to a Pilates instructor for their expertise on the appropriate coaching for children.


Variations of Pilates



If you are interested in Pilates, then it's great to have a general overview on the different styles, as Pilates as developed since Joseph Pilates' original work.


Mat Pilates


This type of Pilates takes place on a mat, using just your body and aims to develop strength from the core. It's one of the easiest styles, and is a great style of Pilates for beginners. In some cases, you may find that there are mat based Pilates with the inclusion of equipment, such as a small Pilates ball or magic circle.


Classical Pilates


This form of pilates refers to the exact form and style of Joseph Pilates himself. Teachers are known to teach his original exercises in the exact order they were performed in. This applies to both mat and reformer styles of pilates. Pilates styles have since been developed to meet the advancements of the current era which I'll mention below.


Contemporary Pilates


Contemporary Pilates is based on Joseph Pilates original method - but it has been modernised. Exercises have been adjusted to align with more up to date information and includes influence from physiotherapy and biomechanics. Many of the exercises are the same, but there have been different types of exercises added into the mix - as well as options for injury rehabilitation. Contemporary Pilates may also include props, like balls, resistance bands and foam rollers.


Reformer Pilates


This type of dynamic Pilates exercise is equipment based. The Reformer machine is more intense than a mat base class, as more resistance is added to the various exercises via the springs which form part of the machine. It can look daunting at first, but it's actually really fun and effective form of exercise, and the machine is made to assist and support you. After one session your confidence will increase as you learn how to work with the tools.


Online or physical sessions?



The great thing about the mat based sessions, is that you can access this type of Pilates online with minimal investment in equipment, or a gym membership. Many trainers offer on-demand style of Pilates, where you can simply pay-per session, but Youtube offers a whole array of free options.


But if you are a beginner, it's best to have the first few sessions in person, where the trainer can keep a close eye on you, and modify your position to avoid injury - plus is you are more motivated in a group class dynamic, then this might be the better option for you.


Some people work better with accountability, so joining a Pilates membership may be best for you, to motivate you to get moving.


Whatever your preference, I guarantee there's a class for you.


What you need for Pilates


Comfort and convenience is key, so you'll want to invest in a nice stretchy outfit and few pieces of Pilates equipment that will ensure you maximise each session.

Sports Tights



These seamless sports tights from H&M are snug, stretchy, thick, supportive and extremely comfortable. Tick, tick, tick! They are my absolute go-to and I've had lots of compliments. £19.99, H&M.com





Sports Bralette




This is the matching seamless sports bralette, which is super supportive, comfortable and washes well. £14.99, H&M.com






Sports Top




If you prefer to be a little more covered, then you might like this cropped seamless sports top. It's makes a great addition to the set and it's super flattering. £12.99, H&M.com






Ankle Weights




These ankle weights are brilliant for adding extra weight to your wrists or ankles, making you work a little harder. They are also so aesthetically pleasing. £24.99, Amazon.co.uk







Pilates Mat





The perfect pilates mat (which can also be used for yoga and other mat based classes). It is non-slip, has good grip, and comes with a carry strap. Amazon.co.uk





Dumbell Weights




Some Pilates workouts call for a little arm burn. These dumbells are perfect for making your muscles work that little bit harder during Pilates exercises. £23.99, Amazon.co.uk










We hope you found this article useful, and we hope it may have ignited your desire to practice some Pilates! Please do share this article if you found it to be helpful!

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