Anything that involves moving, getting your heart rate up, and stretching, toning, or strengthening your muscles is likely good for your body. But there are some workouts that offer so much more than toned muscles—one being Pilates.
"Pilates is a form of body conditioning that focuses on balancing the body through a series of specific, alignment-focused exercises," explains Erika Bloom, founder of Erika Bloom Pilates. "Each exercise incorporates both eccentric and concentric engagements with focus on the small, intrinsic, postural muscles and the deep core."
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The exercise was created in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates and can be done on a mat or a machine called the reformer. It's important to note that one method isn't better than the other. "You may see changes faster using the reformer. However, when doing mat Pilates, you have to control your body more, so sometimes that might be a little harder for some," says Claudia Martin, founder of Claudia Martin Studio and Mama Be Studio. "The main difference between the two is that reformer adds resistance, and on the mat, you use your own body weight. Both are truly effective."
There are so many extra benefits aside from muscle toning and strengthening. Not only can Pilates transform your body, but it can also help your mind with stress and anxiety relief. Take a look at some of the benefits below.
1. Lengthens Your Body
2. Improves Your Posture
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This is crucial for a lot of people, especially if you spend most of your days sitting at a desk. Your posture can suffer, which could cause some back problems or pain later on. "It educates the body to work in a way that is healthy and functional," explains Bloom. "By doing this, it improves posture, alignment, and tone."
3. Tones Your Body
Of course, since it's a workout, you'll be able to tone your body through this exercise. But if you want to see results, it's recommended to practice a couple of times a week. "I say at least three days a week," suggests Martin. "However, it is safe to do every day as long as you can change up the routine."
4. Focuses on Particular Muscles
After doing Pilates for the first time, you might have activated muscles you didn't even know existed on your body. That might mean some soreness, but it's probably the good kind where you know you worked hard, right? "It targets every muscle in the body while teaching them to work together in a functional, efficient way," Bloom says. "One thing that makes it unique is its focus on the deep muscles of the core including the deep back muscles and its focus on the small supporting muscles of the joints."
The core is key here, meaning you'll be targeting your abs, lower back, hips, and butt, adds Martin.
5. Helps You Manage Stress and Anxiety
For a lot of people, working out is a form of stress relief, so it's no surprise that Pilates can help your mind as well. "The deep focus on how your body feels and moves creates a mind-body connection that is truly effective for managing stress and anxiety," explains Bloom.
6. Keeps Your Mind Focused
You might have a million thoughts racing through your mind at one time, which can feel overwhelming, so it's nice to discover new ways to quiet and calm your brain. "Pilates is a mind-body workout, so during your session, your mind is busy thinking about your movements and breath, which makes you focus on your practice so there's no room to think about anything else," Martin explains. "Also, you leave feeling happier because of the endorphins that are released during your workout."
7. Increases Blood Flow
This contributes to the mood-lifting part. Plus, it means better circulation, which is good for your overall health. "Increased blood flow and breathing patterns are proven to boost the 'feel-good' hormone dopamine," says Nadj.
8. Helps With Deep Breathing
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Taking deep breaths can feel so refreshing and calming. Pilates focuses a lot on this. Bloom says it helps restore your breathing patterns, which can create calm, reduce stress, and may even improve digestion and health.
"The breathwork in Pilates also is a wonderful way to lower the effects of stress," she adds. "Deep diaphragmatic breathing and slowing and deepening the breath can bring one out of a state of anxiety and teach lasting tools for reducing stress and its effects on the body."
9. Improves Balance
Nadj explains that a lot of balance comes from your core, and since Pilates focuses on core work, it will help you in that area.
"It works on proprioception, which lets your body know where it is and helps it connect to the floor more," says Bloom. "It works on foot and ankle stability and mobility, which are key to balance and to prevent falls. It works on awareness of alignment and strength in the joints, particularly the hip, which is key to standing on one leg. It awakens and strengthens the deep core, which assists in stability and balance. With Pilates, you will find balance in beautiful alignment with ease."
10. Increases Flexibility
Again, if you sit at a desk for most of the day, you can feel very tight and sore. Pilates can help relieve that. "Pilates works muscles in their full range of motion," Bloom says. "This eccentric lengthening improves both flexibility and strength. Pilates also creates balance in the myofascial system and improves neuromuscular patterning so that you are not creating tightness or shortness or weakness in areas of the body in your workout or in life's daily movement."
11. It's Accessible
The good news is that most people can do Pilates, regardless of age or fitness level, so you can keep up this practice for pretty much a whole lifetime. "Pilates has been around since the 1920s, and it started as a form of rehab; it wasn't until after that ballet dancers used it to create strength and improve flexibility," explains Martin. "I've trained clients as young as 14 and as old as 84—all different and all have benefited from this incredible program of exercises."
What to Know Before Your First Class
After reading this list, you might feel inspired to try your first class. Like any new workout, it may take some time getting used to, so cut yourself some slack if you are struggling, find it challenging, or are feeling self-conscious or awkward.
Martin recommends wearing formfitting clothes (which can help the instructor see your form and correct if needed) and grippy socks. She also suggests bringing water and a towel. And tying up your hair, especially if you're taking a reformer class because hair can get caught in the springs.
"Understand that Pilates is a practice, no one is perfect, listen to your body, and do what you can," she says. "Never feel discouraged. The instructor is there to help, so always let them know if you have any injuries. This will help them know when to modify for you. Lastly, listen to the instructions. It makes a huge difference when the exercises are done correctly. Breathe and have fun!"
Before your class, take a look at some activewear and gear finds below.