Flexible Fitness:  The Benefits of Pilates

The three components of a balanced fitness program include cardiovascular exercise, strength or conditioning training and flexibility training. Cardiovascular exercise focuses on increasing cardio respiratory health – the strength of your heart and lungs. Cardio training will increase how effectively your body uses oxygen and burns a lot of calories. Examples of cardio training are walking, running, cycling, swimming, jump roping, etc… Conditioning training focuses on building muscle strength, hypertrophy (muscle size – think Popeye!) and definition. Examples of strength training include working with free weights, universal machines at the gym, body weight exercises such as push-ups, lunges, squats & crunches, and Pilates. Flexibility training focuses on increasing muscle length, the range of motion of the joints and mobility of the tendons & ligaments. Flexibility training includes different types of stretching and yoga.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a system of strength training defined by its focus on the core and working holistically. Different organizations define the core in slightly different terms. In most systems of Pilates it refers to the group of muscles that make up the abdominals – the transversus abdominus (TVA), the obliques, the rectus abdominus and the pelvic floor. Sometimes the core can also be referring to the abdominals, glutes (buttock muscles) and back muscles. In each exercise the core is always engaged while simultaneously working on strengthening other parts of the body. This not only tones the abs, but keeps the low back protected from compensating while other parts of the body are being trained. Working holistically means that in each exercise, the entire body is considered even though the focus may be on isolating and working one specific area the most. In the STOTT PILATES® Method, there are five Basic Principles that are thought about during every exercise – breathing, pelvic position, head position, rib cage position and shoulder blade position. Including attention to each of these areas promotes more effective results and decreases the risk of injury or putting unwanted tension into the body during exercise.

What are the benefits of pilates?

Pilates workouts are known for their emphasis on maintaining and restoring the three natural curves and articulation of the spine, and are therefore beneficial for improving posture and preventing or managing back pain. As with all conditioning modalities, Pilates develops all over tone and strength but since it also requires engaging the deep stabilizing muscles (such as the TVA and pelvic floor) and proper alignment of the entire body, achieving greater muscle and abdominal definition is often possible, too.

Finally, Pilates exercises progress to include more challenging movements and are designed move from one exercise to another in flowing, dynamic order. This builds co-ordination, increases energy and promotes grace. Men’s workouts are designed with their slightly different bone structure in mind, and include more streamlined exercises and a more athletic tone.

Types of Pilates: Mat vs. Reformer

While all Pilates workouts strive to give balanced attention to the entire body by exercising all major muscle groups, generally Pilates Mat workouts focus more on strengthening the core (abdominal, back and glutes) and Pilates Reformer workouts train the periphery – arms & legs. For basic Mat workouts all you need is a mat and your body. Small props such as stability balls, weighted balls, the circle, bands, barrels, etc… can be added to Mat workouts to increase exercise intensity, challenge balance or target specific areas of the body more effectively. The Reformer is a machine similar to a universal machine in the gym, but designed specifically for Pilates exercises. It includes a sliding carriage and a system of pulleys and springs that are used to increase weight. As many exercises can be completed while lying on the back on the carriage, working on the Reformer can be a safe way to strengthen the legs while keeping the low back stable. This sets it apart from many other types of exercise machines and is often a great form of exercise for those with back injuries or in rehab settings.

Pilates for everyone

There is something to be gained from Pilates training for everyone. A balanced fitness program will include a cardiovascular component, a conditioning component and a flexibility component.   For those who enjoy variety, incorporating core strengthening into a running program will reduce the risk of low back issues. For those who enjoy traditional gym workouts learning the special Pilates ‘Back Breathing’ style where the abs are engaged and breathing is directed into the back is beneficial for any type of weight training. Yogis will benefit from considering the additional attention to alignment from the principles in every pose. Strong abdominals are also important in balance poses, standing twists and to transition effectively into inversions.

If you are a Pilates purist, STOTT PILATES® includes workouts which incorporate cardiovascular and flexibility components. For more cardio, try ‘Cardio & the Core on the Mini-Tramp™’ or ‘Jumpboard Interval Training’ on the Reformer. To increase flexibility and enjoy a more gentle mind/body workout try Pilates Infused® Yoga.

Finding a movement practice that you’ll enjoy and want to commit to long term can take time. Enjoy exploring, and consider gaining adding a Pilates foundation as one aspect of your training.

STOTT PILATES®, Pilates Infused® Yoga, and Mini-Tramp™ are the Registered Trademarks & Trademarks of Merrithew Corporation, used under license.

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