Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise with moves that help strengthen your muscles while improving posture, mobility, and flexibility. This exercise program, which was developed in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates, is designed to coordinate your breathing with your body movements resulting in more body control.
Originally known as “controlology,” Pilates offers a number of health benefits including improving your mobility, helping to manage pain, and building muscle endurance. Typically, workouts last about 45 minutes or longer in a class setting, but there are some Pilates workouts you can do in 20 to 30 minutes at home.
Keep reading to find out how Pilates can impact your health as well as how to implement a program at home.
Pilates is a low-impact exercise program that’s good for any age. Whether you are bored with your current fitness routine or you are just looking to exercise more and improve your flexibility, Pilates may be exactly what you are looking for. Here is an overview of some of the potential health benefits of Pilates.
Improves Balance and Mobility
If you are looking to improve your functional movement—the type of movement that helps you complete everyday tasks like walking, sitting, standing, and carrying things—then you may want to consider Pilates. Not only can it help your movements become more fluid, but it also can help you develop more balance and stability.
In fact, a study found that people who practiced Pilates for 1 hour, three times a week for eight weeks showed increased balance, stability, and mobility. What’s more, the study participants showed more improvement—or scored higher on their functional movement screenings—than the group performing yoga.
Increases Muscle Strength and Endurance
Pilates also is great for anyone looking to build muscle strength and endurance. This is largely due to the concentrated effort and control it requires to perform the moves.
For instance, one older study found that people who did 1 hour of Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks experienced significant increases in both abdominal endurance and upper-body muscular endurance.
Meanwhile, another study found that people who completed two Pilates sessions a week over three months showed improvements in lower body strength and postural balance. And, a study of postmenopausal women found that Pilates helped strengthen their upper body, lower body, and abdominal muscles.
Helps Manage Pain
There is emerging research suggesting that Pilates may be useful for coping with different forms of pain. In fact, in one preliminary study on those with fibromyalgia found that people who consistently participate in Pilates may experience less anxiety and more pain relief.
There also is some evidence that Pilates may be useful in reducing pain caused by osteoarthritis. A randomized controlled study found that people with knee pain benefitted more from doing Pilates than conventional therapeutic exercise.
Pilates may even be useful during pregnancy and lead to better labor and delivery outcomes. For instance, a randomized clinical trial of pregnant women found that those who participated in Pilates twice a week during pregnancy had improved labors with fewer C-sections, episiotomies, and obstructed labor. They also had lower blood pressure and more flexibility.
Boosts Mental Health
Like many exercise programs, Pilates can boost your mood and help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some of this boost in energy and mood may be related to the mind-body connection that occurs when practicing Pilates, as well as the fact that working out can boost your endorphins—or those feel-good hormones.
What’s more, there are plenty of studies illustrating the positive impact Pilates can have on your mood. For instance, a meta-analysis of eight Pilates studies found that those who practiced Pilates reported fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. They also had more energy and were less fatigued.
Improves Quality of Life
Researchers note that Pilates may be particularly useful for those who live sedentary lifestyles. Not only is it a low-impact way to stay active, but it can be particularly instrumental in improving quality of life.
In fact, one small study of sedentary women ages 61 to 67 showed that those who did 30-minute Pilates mat and equipment-based sessions twice a week for six months experienced significant improvements in their quality of life.
While Pilates and yoga are both low-impact, bodyweight workouts that emphasize the mind-body connection, they were created with different roles in mind. For instance, Pilates has a greater focus on building strength and stability in your core and your spine and was initially introduced by Joseph Pilates to dancers and other athletes recovering from injuries.
Meanwhile, yoga—which began in India thousands of years ago—has more of a meditative focus. It blends the use of different poses (or asanas) with breathing techniques. And although both Pilates and yoga build core strength, yoga is more focused on stretching and expanding your consciousness through movement.
You can benefit from either discipline, especially because both build flexibility and strength, but Pilates is often more useful for physical rehabilitation. It also can help build your core strength. Meanwhile, yoga may be better for cardiovascular health, especially vinyasa yoga, which tends to be faster paced.
If you are interested in giving Pilates a try to see if it is right for you, you may want to try a few exercises at home first. Doing so, can help you get familiar with the movements and help you decide if you like it before joining a class or finding a studio.
What’s more, there are plenty of online resources that allow you to practice the discipline in the comfort of your home. Here are some Pilates moves you can try, but keep in mind there are many more options than what is listed here.
Perhaps one of the most popular Pilates move is “the hundred,” which is named after the 100 beats your arms make while holding your legs extended and your head and shoulders off the mat. Many times, this move is used at the beginning of a Pilates class. Here is how you do the hundred.
- Lie on your back with your arms at your side.
- Curl your head, neck, and shoulders up and lift your legs off the mat at a height that is comfortable for you.
- Make sure your abs are engaged but that your lower back is not lifting off the mat.
- Pump your arms up and down, breathing in for five counts and out for five counts, which totals 10 breath counts.
- Repeat the arm movements and breath counts 10 times.
Shoulder Hip Bridge
If your goal is to target your backside including the hamstrings, inner thighs, and obliques then the shoulder hip bridge is the move for you. Here is how to do the move.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Place your hands on the floor along your sides.
- Lift your hips, tilting your rib cage upward. Then, lift one leg to the ceiling.
- Assume the bridge position on your shoulders and hold briefly.
- Move your raised leg to the side keeping it straight (crossing over your other leg). Then, return back to the center.
- Keep your pelvis stable during the movement without tilting when your leg moves.
- Complete 15 to 20 repetitions while keeping the hips lifted.
- Repeat on the other side.
Supported Roll Back
People who are looking to really challenge their abdominal muscles, often want to try the roll up. That said, if you are new to Pilates, the best place to start is with the supported roll back and then transition to roll up once you have built up some strength. Here’s how to do the supported roll back.
- Start sitting up with your knees bent in front of you.
- Place your hands around your thighs just below the knees
- Drop your shoulders and relax your neck.
- Pull in your abs to initiate the move and start moving backward.
- Go back until your lower back touches the mat and your arms are straight. (Your feet should not lift off of the floor.)
- Pull with your abs to return to upright keeping your back in a C-curve as long as possible.
Once you have mastered the supported roll back, you may want to give the roll up a try. However, if you have low back pain or a low back injury, this exercise may not be right for you. At least talk with a healthcare provider before giving it a try.
Based on how difficult it is to master the roll up, it is not surprising that proponents of Pilates claim that this move can be more effective than traditional sit-ups or crunches. Here is how to do the roll up.
- Lie down on your back with your legs straight.
- Extend your arms so that your hands are reaching toward the wall behind you.
- Roll your torso up slowly breathing out as you come up.
- Try to engage your abdominal muscles and not rely on momentum to come up.
- Reach for your toes keeping the head tucked and the back rounded. (If you need to modify this move slightly, you can allow your legs to bend).
- Return to your starting position by rolling down slowly, one vertebrae at a time.
- Repeat six times.