It’s much more than the oversimplified marketing that promotes a “long and lean” figure, and more than the misconception that it’s primarily for women.
Pilates is for everybody, regardless of gender, age, race, size, ability, or current fitness level.
The Pilates repertoire, which includes mat and specialized equipment exercises, is made up of over 600 exercises and variations.
There’s something for everyone, whether you have a sedentary lifestyle, are a weekend warrior, are pregnant, are undergoing rehab, have anxiety, or if you’re a professional athlete.
Studies have shown that Pilates improves quality of life by having a positive effect on depression and pain, most notably decreasing back pain.
It’s commonly used as cross-training workout and recommended by doctors for overall health, injury prevention, and rehabilitative purposes.
What is Pilates?
Originally called “Contrology,” Pilates is a method of whole body exercise designed to improve daily activities and livelihood.
Though there is an emphasis on core work, core strength alone is not the end goal. Rather, using that core strength to develop functional and sustainable movement patterns throughout the body is the goal.
Created in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, the exercises coordinate movement and breath together to work the smaller and deeper stabilizing muscles of the body as much as your prime movers.
Pilates aligns your entire body’s overall structure and supports its joints. What appears to look simple can be deceptively challenging and incredibly effective when done correctly with good form.
Pilates is a low impact exercise that creates optimal strength through muscle balance and fine-tuning neuromuscular patterns.
The optimal strength gained from a consistent Pilates practice is nonrigid, balancing strength with mobility and flexibility. It helps you move and breathe through your daily activities with more freedom and power and less pain.
Pilates is a challenging low impact exercise method that balances strength with mobility, aligns the body, fine-tunes movement patterns, and strengthens the deeper muscles of the core.
19 benefits of Pilates
1. It increases core strength
Pilates is famously known for its emphasis on the core — the center of the body from which all movement stems. The core is all of the surrounding muscles of the trunk that when strengthened and pliable, support and stabilize the body.
Pilates improves core strength and function (5). Core strength is a key factor in decreasing back and hip pain, decreasing pelvic floor dysfunction, and is the area from which explosive movement derives, hence its nickname “the powerhouse.”
2. It improves posture
Your parents had the right idea when they told you to stop slouching and sit up straight.
Improved posture is the difference between weak, imbalanced muscles, headaches, shoulder or back pain, and sitting or standing tall with ease.
Pilates focuses on the full body’s alignment, ideal range of motion at the joints, and a balance of all opposing muscles. It improves posture by bringing awareness to your alignment and strengthening neglected postural muscles.
3. It decreases back pain
Pilates targets the deeper abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor to both contract and release — a true sign of strength. These muscles work like a brace to lift and support the organs and protect and stabilize the back.
4. It prevents injuries
Pilates balances the muscles of the body so that they are neither loose and weak nor tight and rigid. Muscles that are too loose and weak or too tight and rigid can make the body more susceptible to injury.
Pilates focuses on developing dynamic strength, which means you are better able to support and stabilize your joints while moving. Research has suggested that Pilates is an effective method for reducing injury risk in sport.
5. It increases energy
By focusing on breath, Pilates improves cardiorespiratory capacity. This stimulates feel-good hormones, oxygen flow, and blood circulation.
Pilates achieves all of this and, due to its low impact nature, rarely leaves you feeling fatigued. Instead, it gives you a boost of energy.
6. It enhances body awareness
Pilates is a mind-body practice that enhances proprioception, or body awareness. The attention inward and ability to focus on the sensations in your body heightens your awareness of comfort or pain, your emotions, and your surrounding environment.
With enhanced proprioception, the body is better able to respond to stimulus, which can prevent injuries and falls. Better body awareness may even help you prevent overeating, as you’ll be more in tune with your body’s hunger signals.
7. It decreases stress
Continuing from the benefit of body awareness, the inward focus and use of breath from Pilates can down-regulate the nervous system. This, in turn, can take you out of fight-or-flight mode, lower cortisol, and decrease stress over time.
8. It reduces menstrual pain
Dysmenorrhea is the condition of painful menstrual periods, and if you’re someone who’s experienced it, you know how debilitating it can be. Research has suggested that Pilates can help reduce menstrual pain.
9. It improves flexibility and mobility
First, let’s define the difference between flexibility and mobility.
Flexibility is the amount of passive stretch in a muscle. Mobility is the range of motion at a joint. Good mobility requires flexibility but also strength.
Mobility is something you should strive for, while flexibility in and of itself isn’t functional. You need a balance of strength and flexibility to optimize mobility.
A Pilates practice keeps moving with smooth transitions between precise and slow, controlled movements. Instead of stretching after a strengthening exercise, most Pilates exercises are a combination of the two, which improves strength, flexibility, and mobility.
10. It improves balance
Balance is important at any age and necessary for everyday activities involving coordination, like walking, or any of life’s nonlinear movements, such as reaching up and twisting.
Pilates improves balance and gait not only through core strengthening but because of its focus on alignment and whole body exercises.
11. It boosts your immunity
Research shows that Pilates helps boost immune system functioning, especially in older adults.
But while much research has been done on older adults, these findings suggest all ages could experience a boost to immunity through Pilates, mainly because of improved circulation.
Along with improved circulation comes improved immune system function. A good immune system is a function of properly flowing blood and lymph — both of which are boosted by Pilates).
12. It improves cognitive functioning
Studies have shown improved cognitive functioning after Pilates training.
Several markers were assessed, such as new neuron development, blood flow to the brain, increased neurotransmitters, and longevity of neurons responsible for learning, memory, and executive thinking.
13. It can improve motivation
Along with improved cognition, one study found Pilates was effective for improving motivation in a student population.
Another study explored the type of motivation that drives those who practice Pilates, and found that Pilates practitioners are more driven by intrinsic motivation rather than external validation.
14. It improves your sex life
Pilates can make a romp in the sack more enjoyable for more than one reason. First, it builds endurance, strength, mobility, and flexibility that can enhance your bedroom adventures by allowing you to get into and hold positions longer.
But also, Pilates is an effective tool for improving pelvic floor strength and function, and a strong pelvic floor correlates with increased sexual pleasure.
15. It enhances sports performance
Whether you’re a professional athlete or weekend warrior, Pilates can elevate your sport or activity.
Pilates balances the body by strengthening muscles, mobilizing what’s rigid, and lengthening tight areas. This, in turn, enables you to react quicker and prevent injury.
Research performed on athletes in multiple sports demonstrates improved speed, gains in muscle mass and trunk strength, a more stable core, improved vertical jump, and better flexibility when kicking.
16. It strengthens your bones
The current lifestyle of more sitting and less moving is detrimental to our health and our bone density. Strong bone density prevents osteoporosis and osteoarthritis and can affect people of any age.
Studies have shown Pilates to be effective in increasing quality of life, relieving pain, and increasing bone density.
17. It boosts your mood
Exercise of any sort offers that magical elixir of endorphins.
But studies that specifically explored the mood-boosting benefits of Pilates have found that subjects experienced a reduction in anxiety, fatigue, and depressive symptoms, and a release of negative thought patterns.
18. It improves sleep
Studies suggest that Pilates can lead to better sleep, especially in people under the age of 40. One study found that postpartum women benefit from better sleep when adding Pilates into their weekly routine.
19. It encourages playfulness
Last but not least, many people think Pilates is a fun change of pace from other workouts.
Where else can you “roll like a ball,” be a “seal,” hang like a “monkey,” or just play with trying new positions? Finding a sense of play can enhance your physical health in several ways.
Not to mention, the most beneficial exercise regimes are those that you enjoy doing — because then you’ll keep exercising.
Pilates is a whole body exercise that has numerous benefits, from injury prevention to improved flexibility to a better sex life.
The benefits overlap and are the result of the influence and connection of the whole body.
Benefits of the Pilates reformer
The Pilates reformer, after mat exercises, is the most popular and used piece of Pilates equipment. It’s a sleek pulley system consisting of a sliding carriage and springs with varying degrees of tension.
The reformer is an adaptable machine full of variety that is perfect for beginners, challenging for the avid fitness enthusiast, and suitable for those recovering from an injury.
The reformer can build muscular endurance efficiently in a non-weight bearing manner, making it more comfortable for the joints. A 2016 study concluded that Pilates equipment has an edge over mat exercises in regards to injury rehabilitation (8).
Pilates is best known for its mat exercises and the reformer machine. There are a variety of reformer exercises suitable for beginners to advanced fitness professionals, and reformer work may be better for rehabilitating and preventing injuries.
Benefits of Pilates in pregnancy
Modified Pilates supports the ever-changing body throughout pregnancy. It alleviates the pressure from a growing baby with its target on the muscles of the butt, core, and pelvic floor.
Specific prenatal Pilates exercises can aid with managing diastasis recti (the separation of the abdominals, which is common in pregnancy) and its recovery postpartum.
Prenatal Pilates, through its focus on the breath, body awareness, and strengthening benefits, can prepare you mentally and physically for labor and birth.
Prenatal Pilates is beneficial throughout pregnancy in preparation for labor and delivery, and as a rehabilitative method for diastasis recti postpartum.
Benefits of Pilates for weight loss
Pilates can change your shape through toning and its emphasis on alignment and improving posture. It’s known for working from the inside out and can give you the appearance of being taller and slimmer.
While you can work up a sweat from Pilates, on its own it isn’t the most effective way to lose weight. Losing weight involves quality sleep, decreased stress, and most importantly, creating a caloric deficit.
Pilates supports weight loss goals through the mind-body connection. By aiding in the regulation of the nervous system to decrease stress levels, increasing body awareness, and increasing motivation, you will be prepared for other cardio-based activities.
Pilates can support any weight loss goals, but it isn’t as effective as a standalone.
The bottom line
Pilates has tremendous benefits and is suitable for everyone regardless of fitness level, age, size, or any other factor.
Incorporating a Pilates practice into your training regimen can greatly support and enhance any endeavor you take on.
Whether you’re seeking to feel better, tone up, build muscle mass and bone density, or cross-train, Pilates can positively affect your quality of life.