By Jelena Krneta, Senior Group Exercise Instructor
For almost a century now, Pilates has been awakening our mind and body with its simplicity and power. This innovative workout has been a great tool in rehabilitation from the early stage of development. By the mid to late 1990s, mind-body fitness methods took off as people started seeking gentler paths to health and wellness. Pilates became popular amongst top athletes and Hollywood stars and soon spread worldwide.
So how Pilates works? In which way we can benefit from it? There can be a dozen reasons listed why Pilates should be a daily routine. Here are a few:
Pilates does not over-develop some parts of the body and neglect others. While Pilates training focuses on core strength, it trains the body as an integrated whole. Pilates workouts promote strength and balanced muscle development as well as flexibility and increased the range of motion for the joints.
Attention to the core support and full-body fitness, including the breath and the mind, provide a level of integrative fitness that is hard to find elsewhere.
Adaptable to Different Fitness Levels and Needs
Whether you are a senior just starting to exercise, an elite athlete or somewhere in between, the foundations of Pilates movement apply to you. Building from core strength, focusing on proper alignment, and a body/mind integrative approach make Pilates accessible to all.
With thousands of possible exercises and modifications, Pilates workouts can be tailored to individual needs.
Creates Strength Without Bulk
In Pilates, you are not looking to build muscles for show. You are building toned muscles that work perfectly within the context of the body as a whole, and the functional fitness needs of a person as they move through life.
One of the ways that Pilates creates long, strong muscles is by taking advantage of a type of muscle contraction called an eccentric contraction.
In Pilates, we work toward a safe increase in length and stretch of the muscles and range of motion within the joints. You won’t find quite as much “pretzel logic” in Pilates as you might in yoga, but a body that can stretch and bend to meet the flow of life is a very realistic goal.
Develops Core Strength
The core muscles of the body are the deep muscles of the back, abdomen, and pelvic floor. These are the muscles we rely on to support a strong, supple back, good posture, and efficient movement patterns. When the core is strong, the frame of the body is supported. This means the neck and shoulders can relax, and the rest of the muscles and joints are freed to do their jobs, not more.
Good posture is a reflection of good alignment supported by a strong core. It is a position from which one can move freely. Starting with Pilates movement fundamentals and moving through mat and equipment exercises, Pilates trains the body to express itself with strength and harmony.
It might seem like a paradox, but the more you exercise, the more energy you have and the more you feel like doing (to a point, of course). Pilates gets the breath and circulation moving, stimulates the spine and muscles, and floods the body with the good feelings one gets from exercising the whole body. Get started with this quick workout or a 5-minute Pilates pick-up.
Increases Awareness – Body/Mind Connection
Joseph Pilates was adamant that Pilates, or contrology as he called it, was about “the complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.” This is one of the secrets of Pilates exercise: we practice each movement with total attention. When we exercise in this way, the body and mind unite to bring forth the most benefit possible from each exercise. The Pilates principles — centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow — are key concepts that we use to integrate body and mind.
Basic matwork exercise great for improving core strength through external and internal oblique activation. In any of the 3 options (feet on the floor, tabletop leg position or legs to 45’) the spine comes to imprinted position. Arms remain parallel to the floor and active in pulsing mode while lifting shoulders off the floor.
Another matwork exercise to further improve core stability and strength. From tabletop position through open knees and leg extension, focus lies on the full core engagement keeping spine in imprinted position without pushing pressure on the same.
3. Abdominal crunch
Advanced exercise engaging abdominals whilst putting tension onto hip flexors and upper thighs (quads). Starting position with back straight, abs tight, chest lifted and chin tucked in. Upper body remains strong and controlled through core stability.
4. Balance with elastic bend
To keep energized and vibrant class atmosphere, it’s always nice to use elastic bends for advanced exercises and challenges. We start with strong base – front leg slightly bended, chest over the knee, arms straight to the side creating holding bend uptight. While stretching the bend, body weight shifts to the front lifting the back leg against the ceiling. Upper body stays controlled through hard abdominals.
5. Tricep activation
Similar starting position as in the previous exercise: front leg slightly bended, chest over the knee, straight back and tight core. Arms behind pulling bends up and down to create tension in the triceps.
Spine abdominal activation series exercise with focus not just on core engagement, but full body. Hands below the shoulders, feet parallel with hips in line with shoulders and knees. Progression with knee going out towards the elbow, shifting the body weight to the front while maintaining strong core and straight back.