What is Pilates, anyway?

I'm in love.  100% in love with Pilates.  I haven't been practicing for that long, but I fell so hard and so fast, that I've decided to get certified and take a 600-hour course so that I can practice myself and share my love with other (aka teach).

Prior to February, I'd taken a few Mat classes, done a handful of DVD's and downloaded an app on my iPhone, all dedicated to the practice.  But it wasn't until I took a reformer session at Kinesis that I took a look at the history and had a better understanding of the core-based workout. Let's take a look at the timeless workout.

Named after its creator, Joseph Pilates, who developed the exercises while in an internment camp in the Second World War, a typical Pilates routine includes 25 to 50 repetitive strength training exercises (though there are more than 500 Pilates exercises in total) that use your body weight and a range of Pilates equipment to lengthen and strengthen your muscles. The beginner system, when you're first starting the practice, show you how to make the movements from your "powerhouse," or your core (think the box on your body, with the four points being shoulder to shoulder, shoulder to hip, hip to hip and hip to shoulder.) It’s particularly good if you have lower back pain or suffer from bad posture, or simply need a strength-training regime to get you back into shape. 

Pilates creates long, lean muscles (like a dancer) because it doesn't break down the muscle fibers as intensely as weight lifting, rather it strengthens the muscles by drawing them more closely to the bone, resulting in joint stabilization, greater bone density and increased range of movement. It takes time to develop -- it's not something that you do a few times and see immediate results, but the Pilates promise says "After 10 sessions you'll feel better, after 20 sessions, you'll look better and after 30 sessions, you'll have a whole new body." Here are a few key benefits of the practice:

  1. It's ageless, sexless and timeless // there are 20 year old women and 90 year old men who practice Pilates, and it's been around for 70+ years -- it's not a fad workout.
  2. Once you put in the work, you'll keep the long, lean muscles.  Sure, you may not be as strong after taking 3 months off, but like riding a bike, the muscle memory comes back quickly.
  3. Everyone can do it // a Pilates mat work class is the foundation of all Pilates and the best place for all beginners to start. Through a series of floor exercises powered by your breath, you work on strengthening your core stomach muscles and then work through exercises that focus on every area of the body. 
  4. Private sessions are available if you want a more personalized experience // A apparatus session works through similar exercises but at a faster pace and on a piece of equipment known as a reformer. This has springs and pulleys attached to it to make the exercises more intense and more dynamic, but also allows for easier mobility in allowing the practitioner flow through movements otherwise unavailable to them (if they have limited range of motion, tightness or weakness in certain parts of the body). The springs and pulleys work by adding resistance to the exercises and so make the technique more powerful.

What are your thoughts or experience with Pilates? Have a question that wasn't answered in the post? Leave a comment below!

[Photo: Laura Metzler for Kinesis]