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Is Pilates the Workout for You?

Have you heard of pilates? This core-centric workout has been around since the early 1900s and is more popular than ever. Find out why.
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Pilates can help you build core strength and gain better control over your entire body. Created a century ago, this workout has had a new surge in popularity in recent years for its ability to sculpt long, lean bodies.

But is it for you?

A History of Pilates
The pilates method was developed by Joseph Pilates. Born in Germany in the late nineteenth century, Pilates suffered from many health problems as a child, including asthma. He started focusing on fitness in his early teen years, taking inspiration from multiple health disciplines and combing them to create his unique method. During World War I, he taught his technique to wounded English soldiers to help them recover more easily. He moved to New York City and opened his first studio with his wife after the war and would go on to write two books about his method and develop a series of machines unique to pilates practice. These machines include the reformer, Wunda chair and Cadillac, which utilize springs, pulleys and bands to add resistance and improve range of motion. Pilates continued to teach and practice his method until his death at age 87 in 1967.

The foundation of the pilates method is learning to control muscle movement with the mind for improved coordination, flexibility and strength. This is done using a series of slow movements linked to the breath -- students are instructed to breathe in through the nose, drawing in their naval as much as possible, and then exhale through the mouth while continuing to engage the stomach. All parts of the body should be active no matter the area being focused on. Arms and legs should be kept as straight as possible (unless the move dictates otherwise) to elongate and engage the muscles.

This type of exercise is loved for its emphasis on building core strength as well as flexibility and balance. Dancers and athletes often use it as a way to build strength as also as a therapy for mending injuries. Students typically begin by working on the floor on a mat to build core strength. Eventually, they may move on to using machinery and props designed for the pilates method to help them advance their practice.

Benefits of Pilates
You can reap many physical and mental benefits from practicing pilates regularly. These are some of the areas pilates is known to improve when performed correctly:

  • Flexibility -- All of the pilates movements encourage stretching and opening of the joints to help you gain greater flexibility and range of motion. All that flexibility can mean less joint pain and inflammation.
  • Strength -- Pilates builds up the strength of your core, which is your entire abdomen. Aesthetics aside, muscle burns more calories at rest than fat, which is a major benefit for weight management.
  • Circulation -- The dynamic movements and concentration on the breath really get your blood pumping to all parts of the body for improved circulation.
  • Posture -- Regular practice of pilates builds body awareness in addition to muscle strength that impacts how you sit, stand and hold yourself and can reduce back pain. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy showed four weeks of pilates training to strengthen the lumbar-pelvic region improved disability and pain more dramatically that traditional care.
  • Coordination -- By developing better control over your body as you adjust to the movements and improving your core strength, you'll become more coordinated and better able to keep your balance.

Pilates has also been studied as a possible treatment for those with fibromyalgia syndrome. A 2009 study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found pilates improved pain and patients responses to the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) after 12 weeks. This requires further study, as patients didn't report any further pain reduction by week 24.

Tips for Success
Everyone's practice, whether it be with pilates or another form of exercise, is unique to them. Here are some ways to improve your practice for better results:

  • Props can be used to help you master the proper form in the beginning and add more resistance later. Popular props for pilates include resistance bands, medicine balls, rings and even towels.
  • Wear clothing that is breathable and will move with you. For classes, instructors usually prefer slimmer fitting clothing to check your form, but don't pick something so tight you'll be fussing with it.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout. Try coconut water after you're finished to replenish electrolytes instead of a sugary sports drink.
  • Don't forget to add cardio to your routine at least three times a week. Go for a walk, run or even dance to burn fat and show off the muscles you've been toning.
  • While having a heavy meal in your stomach before doing pilates can be uncomfortable, you still need some fuel. Try a protein shake or a couple of plain rice cakes with almond butter.
  • You should feel a "burn" in your muscles as you exert them, but if you have any sharp pains, stop doing the exercise or modify it. 
  • Your lower back should always remain flat on the ground and placing your hands beneath your tail bone until you build strength will help.

From healthy snacks to workout gear, get everything you need for your pilates practice at eVitamins and let us know what you think!

 

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