Pilates is certainly on trend for 2023, with Reformer Pilates studios popping up left, right and centre. As a Pilates trainer, I'm happy to see the demand for this discipline, as we see more people beginning to understand its profound benefits. Originally known as 'Controlology,' Pilates is a method that requires an element of control, but not in the rigid manner this suggests. Instead we are looking holistically at improving the dynamic movement patterns that your body is capable of achieving, by building strength, improving mobility and flexibility, in conjunction with an effective breathing style. Developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, this low-impact method of exercise is designed to create optimal strength through muscle balance and fine-tuning your neuromuscular patterns.
Deceptively challenging, Pilates has inherited a bit of a reputation as a routine for the 'ladies who lunch' demographic, but do not let that fool you. Sure, we are looking at a method that helps to tone the body and create a lean aesthetic (when practiced consistently over time), but it is so much more than that, and I think that is what people are finally clocking on to in a much bigger way. The neuromuscular element of Pilates is an important one to highlight first and foremost, because it makes this not only a physical, but a mental discipline - like many sports, and it helps you to prime your body in a mind-body manner to be applied to the other disciplines that you practice. Studies have also shown Pilates to alleviate the effects of depression, to decrease symptoms of back pain, and to improve posture and mobility to improve everyday movements and overall quality of life as a result.
So if you're wondering whether or not to take up Pilates as a practice, here are 7 reasons why it can be incredibly beneficial.
#1 - Increases Core Strength
The notion of the 'core' is a debated one, as we are ultimately one structure and one integrated system. However, we do rely on a central point of stability from the trunk - the centre of the body from which our movement stems. Creating a strong core structure can help to alleviate common symptoms of back pain as well as hip weakness, and simply provide us with a more stable structure from which to drive daily movement and power. Guaranteed, Pilates will abs-olutely help to improve your core strength.
#2 - Enhances Neuromuscular Connection
Pilates helps to improve the body's neuromuscular connection, essentially, the mind-body link we hear about so often. The more you practice, the better equipped you are to connect this mindful awareness to your movement patterns. It's all about sensation and creating a sense of focus, on where and what you actually want to activate in your body, as you increase your awareness and ability to move mindfully and with the utmost intention.
#3 - Supports Sports Performance
Many athletes combine Pilates with their sports training. And this is because it helps to support and enhance the movement patterns they are focusing on building. Pilates works through slow precise movement patterns, and this level of specificity activates slow-twitch muscle fibres, with a direct focus on that particular muscle group, which is great for strength training with specificity in mind. You're also mobilising areas of rigidity, creating a lengthening effect through tight areas, which will help the body to avoid injury when under tension.
#4 - Improves Posture
Our bodies learn and adapt to our lifestyle habits over time, which moves us away from an 'ideal alignment.' Everyone is different, so I don't believe in a perfect posture, but we can certainly improve the way we move and the posture which we default to. Pilates helps with muscle imbalances, with our general misalignments by focusing on full-body movements and overall alignment, as well as working through an ideal range of motion at the joints, to create a natural fluidity, promoting healthy movement patterns for daily life.
#5 - Helps Prevent Injuries
We often wait until injury hits before focusing mindfully on a consistent prevention strategy, and usually the step following a trip to the Physiotherapist will be Pilates. So it helps to create this routine in the first place, as Pilates will work on strength training through a range of bodyweight-focused movement patterns, helping to stabilise and support your joints while moving. Essentially this style of training will bring balance to your body, so muscles are neither too weak nor too tight, because of the holistic approach it takes, with a focus on breathing - bringing your breath work to the forefront of how you move and create activation in your muscles.
#6 - Improves Your Breathing
I have heard countless times from clients that they simply don't know how to breathe properly. And as simple as it sounds, it's a common claim. A practice like Pilates will help you connect to your breathing on a deeper level, as you focus on intra-abdominal and 3-dimensional breathing to help you fully engage your respiratory system when you take each breath. This not only helps when exercising, but also during daily activities, and even when you simply need to take a step back to breathe, focus, and calm the nervous system.
#7 - Enhances Body Awareness
Pilates helps you to understand your body, and this is probably one of my biggest takeaways from my experience. An improvement in proprioception, or body awareness, will help to focus the attention inward and put you closely in touch with different sensations in your body - be that physical, emotional, it could be in relation to pain, and most definitely in terms of the energy of your surroundings and your environment, and the impact this has on you.
The Takeaway: This is Why Pilates Works
These are just 7 reasons to embark on a Pilates journey, and there are so many other reasons why this practice will benefit you. If you simply take the fact that you are enhancing both your physical and mental capabilities through this low-impact form of training, you will see over time how this increases your own understanding of your body, of how you move, how you feel, and how you can create a strong and healthy structure to live in over time.