The power of Pilates: Low-impact exercise for a healthier you

Fitness & Sports Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Apr 9, 2024

Feeling in a rut with your current workouts? If you’ve been looking for something new to add to your exercise routine, specifically one that can help improve your strength, mobility and flexibility—Pilates may be the answer.

As it is an easy workout you can do in your own home, the popularity of Pilates started to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many more people started performing Pilates exercises during the pandemic and then began to see and feel the benefits of the exercise form,” said Pasqual Mendoza, MS, EP II, ACSM-CPT, an exercise physiologist at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Fort Worth.

So, what is Pilates, what are the benefits and how can you incorporate it into your workout routine? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a low-impact exercise that focuses on core strength, proper breathing and controlled movements. It was first created by Joseph Pilates in 1923 and the exercise program aims to improve:

  • Abdominal and lumbopelvic (hip and spine) stability
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Muscle strength

There are six key principles to Pilates, which are often the focus of each class. These aim to create a strong mind-body connection:

  • Breath
  • Centering
  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Precision
  • Flow

What is Pilates good for?

There are many known benefits of Pilates. It's an excellent way to improve your every day functional movement, strengthening muscles that you use to walk, sit and carry things. And like any exercise, it can lead to:

  • Decreased stress
  • Increased energy
  • Immunity boost
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Improved sleep and mood
  • Increased bone density

But, there are also several distinct reasons why Pilates has grown in popularity recently.

“Pilates has several benefits that separates it from other exercise modalities,” said Pasqual. He explains that the unique qualities of a consistent Pilates routine include:

  • Decreased back pain
  • Improved balance
  • Improved flexibility and mobility
  • Improved posture
  • Increased "core" (abdominals, lower body and glutes) strength
  • Injury prevention
  • Reduces cortisol levels

What is reformer Pilates?

A typical Pilates workout will be performed on a mat and will include a combination of strength and flexibility exercises using full-body resistance training. But there has also been a rise in the popularity of a specific type of Pilates that uses a machine known as a “reformer.”

Pilates with a reformer machine can be more intense and dynamic than a mat Pilates class because the machine adds resistance to each of the exercises. This makes reformer Pilates a great option for people looking for muscle rehabilitation or to prevent injuries.

While both train similar muscle groups, reformer Pilates also offers more versatility in Pilates training.

“The reformer offers the ability to either add resistance to the movements or assist with the movements. While doing mat Pilates, you just have your body and there isn't an easy way to add resistance or offer assistance to the Pilates movements,” Pasqual said.

What are the different types of Pilates classes?

If you’re considering trying a Pilates class, you might notice there are several different types to choose from, your options aren’t just limited to “mat” or “reformer” classes.

  • Classical Pilates: Known as the original form of Pilates formulated by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, this type of Pilates typically combines mat and apparatus work following a sequence, which is designed to move the body through a full range of movements.
  • Contemporary Pilates: This is a variation of Classical Pilates combined with newer forms of exercise, such as physiotherapy, while also incorporating modern knowledge of the body and movement. This form of Pilates is great for rehabilitation or prevention of injuries.
  • Clinical Pilates: Clinical Pilates is used for patient-specific treatment after an injury or surgery. This class type considers your specific injuries and physical needs, making the workout geared to you. Pasqual describes clinical Pilates as the best form of Pilates for injury rehabilitation because you are typically working 1:1 with a trainer or instructor.

Is Pilates good for weight loss?

Pilates, just like any form of exercise, can be great for weight loss. It’s effective for toning up, building lean muscle and improving posture, which all benefit your overall well-being and weight loss goals. But it’s important to remember that a variety of movements and activities is key to achieving any weight loss goals.

“I have found that for weight loss, the type of exercise you perform doesn’t matter as much as exercising consistently and eating in a calorie deficit,” Pasqual said.

If Pilates is a type of exercise that you enjoy and you do on a regular basis, it is a great way to exercise for weight loss. You’ll also be more likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you find a workout that brings you joy. For optimal results, try combining Pilates with a well-balanced diet. If you need some guidance on building a healthy diet, a dietitian can work with you to meet your goals.

How often should you do Pilates?

When trying a new workout that works different muscles, such as Pilates, it’s common to feel sore. Recovery is very important with training. Pasqual recommends allowing 48 hours for muscle groups to recover before training them again. So start slow and build up strength over time to avoid injury.

Pilates for beginners

Pilates has many benefits and is suitable for everyone, regardless of fitness level, age or gender. As with any new exercise class or routine, it can be intimidating if you’re new and unsure what to expect. It’s best to start in a setting where you can get as much instruction as possible, whether that be 1:1 with a certified Pilates instructor or in a small class. The hardest part is getting there!

Pilates is a great option for anyone who is looking for a way to improve their strength, mobility and flexibility. The nearly century-old practice is a great addition to any workout routine. Just remember to start slowly and before beginning any new exercise program, check with your doctor.

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