Pilates: what it is and why it’s good for you

Yoga, yoga, yoga… the new sports trend has hit big-time in Beirut.

However, another form of exercise everyone is failing to talk about and is just as beneficial, if not more, is Pilates.

Not long before he died, in 1967, Joseph Pilates predicted that, one day, everyone in the world would have heard of his method of exercise. It took the dedication of a handful of committed clients and teachers to keep the Pilates Method alive through to the 1990’s, but by the start of the new millennium, Pilates had finally exploded onto the fitness scene. Now firmly established, Pilates continues unabated in its worldwide growth.

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Joseph Pilates

What is it about Pilates that draws clients back to classes week after week? Perhaps it is no surprise that Pilates came to the fore around the turn of the century as people began searching for a more thoughtful way to exercise, a method that combines mental and physical conditioning, and that delivers its promise of a sound mind alongside a strong body.

“In 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference, in 20 you’ll see the difference, in 30 you’ll have a whole new body” Joseph Pilates, Return to Life through Contrology.

The principles

 In order to practice Pilates effectively, one needs to grasp the basic philosophy behind the method. Joseph Pilates taught that one of the main results of his method is gaining complete control of your body. The 8 principles are:

  • Concentration (Body and mind work together)
  • Relaxation (Focus on releasing area of tension)
  • Alignment (Precision of movement, neutral zones of the spine and pelvis)
  • Breathing (Synchronizing the breath to movements is a key part of Pilates)
  • Centering (Core stability or using your powerhouse, recruiting deep core muscles)
  • Coordination (Control, mobility, and strength)
  • Flowing movements (Efficiency and fluidity)
  • Stamina (Muscular endurance)

 How is it performed?

You will need:

  • A padded non slip mat
  • A folded towel or small flat pillow

Pilates can be performed on the mat with a series of exercise ranging from beginners, intermediate to advance. It can also be performed on different apparatus, like the chair, the barrel, the cadillac, or the spine corrector. However, the most famous of all is the reformer.

The reformer is a piece of equipment that was developed back in World War I, by Joseph Pilates. He used pulleys and ropes (with resistance) on beds to train injured soldiers to bring back their strength and regain control of their bodies.

It is designed so that one can lie down to a fully extended spine. The individual working out has to pull the straps, press on the foot bar, and pull the carriage away, this promotes resistance and control. One of the many advantages of the reformer is that it allows a full-range of motion in the joints, it allows the body to work against resistance, and it provides feedback from the machine that enhances your proprioception. During this exercise, the muscle lengthens which permits the attainment of lean muscles.

The benefits

Pilates focuses on improving flexibility, strength, and balance for the total body, specifically in the lower abdomen and back muscles (as seen in the sketch below).

While practicing this sport, you will:

  • Improve flexibility
  • Increase muscle strength and tone, particularly in the abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks (the ‘core muscles’ of your body)
  • Balance muscular strength on both sides of your body
  • Enhance muscular control of your back and limbs

Who can benefit from the Pilates Method:

The Pilates Method is an exercise regime that benefits people of all fitness levels, and is especially useful for those recovering from orthopedic injuries. It avoids any stress to your body, jarring or bouncing, while also offering the ideal form of exercise for people who, because of joint pain or muscle weakness, shy away from exercise.

Anyone can practice Pilates: people of all ages, from children to seniors, including athletes and fitness enthusiasts, as well as individuals with specific medical conditions or injuries. In addition, everyone can achieve amazing results through its practice.

The Pilates Method (especially Pilates on the mat) is a very convenient form of exercise as there’s no need for any heavy, expensive equipment, which enables one to practice it, anytime, anywhere. However, in order to maximize Pilates’ benefits and avoid any injuries, Pilates should be practiced in an equipped studio under the careful supervision of a certified instructor, either one-on-one or in small group sessions.
This is especially important when you are new to the method, as a good instructor will help ensure that you are in good shape and are performing the exercises correctly. Essentially, this is the key and the success of its practice.

In order to really see and feel the results quickly it´s recommended doing 2–3 sessions per week. Each session lasts approximately one hour. Within a few months of regular practice you will feel invigorated and rejuvenated, or as per Joseph Pilates’ words, “active, alert and disciplined”.

Pilates for specific populations

There is a specialized form of Pilates designed for specific populations. Among them we can find: Pilates for low back pain, for pregnancy, for bone health (osteoporosis), for older people, children, golfers, equestrians etc…

This article will cover 2 main categories: Pregnancy and Low Back Pain.

  • Pilates for Pregnancy

Prenatal Pilates has become a famous sport for pregnant ladies. The top benefits are the following:

  • Stronger connection to the pelvic floor muscles, which are crucial to keep intact while the baby is growing in the uterus
  • Helps women not only feel the contraction of the muscle but teach them the ability to release it
  • Helps women make sure that they’re flexible and strong
  • Provides them with better breath control, which is fundamental while giving birth
  • Allows women to feel more comfortable as their body changes. Having a growing bump has some repercussions on the mother’s body
  • Strengthen the muscles in order to maintain a stabilized posture

Finally, Pilates during pregnancy helps future mothers to recover quickly after giving birth, and allows them to return to their pre-pregnancy body, at a faster pace.

  • Low Back Pain

Low back pain (LBP) is a very common health problem worldwide and a major cause of disability, affecting performance at work and the general well-being of the population. LBP affects people of all ages. It is the leading cause of activity limitation. The causes are rarely addressed, alternative treatments include physical therapy, rehabilitation and spinal manipulation, while disc surgery remains the last option.

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Low Back Pain Area

LBP is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to Global Burden of Disease 2010, as we are moving into a sedentary lifestyle where sports isn’t part of our daily routine as much as it should be.

Pilates is indeed very beneficial in order to treat this disability. A back problem does not necessarily mean that one feels pain, in fact, the pain may be referred.

A referred pain can be described as occurring pain in one part of the body while the problem is actually occurring somewhere else, such as the groin, buttock, leg, foot, pelvic floor or abdomen.

Pilates can help with back problems by teaching you how to move safely and pain free again.

The benefits that come with Pilates are quite a handful. It contributes to flexibility, strength while gaining muscle tone capability.

Therefore, if you’re searching for a mind-body practice that comes with a few pleasant side benefits – Pilates is certainly worth a try.

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