From ballet dancers to elite athletes, casual exercisers to newcomers, Pilates provides a variety of benefits.They aren't just reserved for the physical body however as this form of exercise provides mental and spiritual benefits as well.
This whole-body approach is what draws so many people to Pilates as it as the ability to positively impact a person regardless of their goals. Perhaps someone is coming to Pilates for core-strengthening, looking to improve performance, or prevent injury, well all these can be achieved. It truly is a unique form of exercise.
Before we can explore the various benefits in-depth, it's important to remind ourselves exactly what Pilates is. We've previously explored the rich history in our first article, What is Pilates?, but here's a little recap. Pilates began life as Contrology in the late 19th century, pioneered by Joseph Pilates. As a child, Joseph suffered terribly from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. With unshakeable resolve, the teenage Joseph studied yoga, martial arts, boxing and weightlifting, determined to reach peak physical condition and cure himself of his ailments. It’s this journey that led him to the development of Contrology, which eventually became Pilates after this death.
Based on Joseph's own experiences and the hands-on work he did with others, it's clear that Pilates has the immense potential to positively impact lives. So, what can it do for you?
"Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit" - Joseph Pilates
Surprisingly, large-scale studies about the effectiveness of Pilates, as an alternative therapy, are hard to come by. Of the studies that do exist however, results show that Pilates can be effective at improving posture, flexibility, abdominal and lumbo-pelvic stability. It has also shown to be effective for older people, in some cases, as a tool for fall prevention. So, while empirical evidence does not yet exist to confirm Pilates is better than other forms of exercise (yoga, running etc) or medication for conditions such as low back pain, for example, studies do confirm that it is much more beneficial than doing only doing mild exercise or no exercise at all.
There are many schools, brands and methods of Pilates available and the landscape may seem confusing and overwhelming to a newcomer at first. Thankfully, regardless of the methods, any practice of Pilates uses six fundamentals are always adhered to. They are: breathing, concentration, control, centring, precision and flow.
Joseph developed 34 original exercises (e.g. the Bicycle, the Saw, the Hundred, Rolling Like a Ball etc) and irrespective of whether you're practising at home or taking part in an instructor-led class, there are options for every skill level and exercise ability.
To summarise, here is a far from exhaustive list of the benefits of Pilates:
Stronger pelvic floor
Greater core strength/stability - often the go-to reason to do Pilates for many
Reduced lower back pain
Reduced stress levels
Fall prevention techniques
Stronger immune system
Increased joint stability
Getting started really is a matter of getting yourself mat and being open to the possibilities.
About the author
Josh Douglas-Walton is a health and fitness writer for HFE, the UK's leading provider of personal trainer courses and fitness qualifications. In his spare time, he's a keen marathon runner and frequently uses yoga and Pilates to supplement his training.