The Amazing Benefits of Pilates Exercise
May 14, 2013
Table of Contents
- Quick Look
- Strength Training
- Healthy Joints
- More Energy
- Complete Workout
- Exercise Freedom
- Quick Workout
- Mind/Body Integration
- Back Rehab
- Dynamic Stretching
Though Pilates exercise is now one of the most popular fitness methods, the world has yet to fully recognize the genius of Pilates. In this article you are about to discover why Joseph Pilates is the Einstein of fitness. Quite simply, no other exercise method gives you more benefits, setting it completely apart from all other fitness programs.
- There are three muscle groups in the center of the body that are virtually ignored by every other exercise method.
- When these and other muscles in our 'core' are strengthened, everything changes, improving our posture, balance, strength, mobility, and athletic performance.
- Nearly 100 years after Pilates first created this exercise method, elite athletes now include it in their conditioning programs.
- Most back problems disappear by strengthening core muscles, specifically the inner (transverse) abdominals rather than the back. This Pilates idea has been scientifically confirmed and is a key principle in physical therapy.
- Placing attention on your movement rather than ignoring it with music or TV is a hallmark of the Pilates method.
- A Pilates workout makes you feel energized rather than exhausted due to a special breathing method.
- Exercising with fluid and controlled movement which is central to Pilates does not harm the joints.
- Dynamic stretching as found in Pilates is more effective than any other type of stretching.
- Strengthening core muscles is more effective for the relief of most back problems than surgery or medication.
- Pilates primarily involves eccentric contraction which is more beneficial than concentric contraction found in most other exercise methods.
Unique Strength TrainingPilates used the word ‘center’ to describe all the muscle groups that surround our mid section – inner and outer abs, inner and outer obliques, lower back muscles, the glutes, and the iliopsoas. Our outer abs and obliques are generally well developed and bulky. By strengthening less developed muscles, we no longer rely so much on bulkier ones, and when all the muscles work in consort we are much stronger, leaner, and lighter. Best of all, most back problems disappear!
Traditional strength training builds short and bulky muscles, and concentrates on certain muscles while neglecting others. Imbalanced and bulky muscle development is a recipe for injury, particularly chronic back pain. Pilates strengthens the entire body, even the ankles, wrists, and neck.
The prevalence of eccentric contraction in Pilates creates leaner and longer muscle tissue which is equally as strong. By developing muscle groups that we rarely pay any attention to, we decrease our reliance upon fewer and bulkier muscle groups such as the outer abs and obliques. The result is a lighter, leaner, and stronger body, and improved sports performance, particularly in those activities that rely upon core strength such as golf, running, dance, skiing, and equestrian sports, to name just a few.
With a lighter, leaner, and more balanced body comes a decreased risk of injury. This is why professional athletes now include Pilates in their training program. And for the non-athlete, everyday movement becomes easier, such as walking, standing, lifting, and sitting.
Let me make this point with a quick story. I like many kinds of exercise. As I get older I notice the wear and tear from exercise, particularly on my knees and lower back. Thus, I foresee a time in the not too distant future when I won’t (or can’t!) do certain activities anymore, particularly running and hiking.
Not so with Pilates! The controlled and fluid movement central to this method is the safest way to move our joints, and thus, it is exercise that we can do for the rest of our lives! That’s not true for so many exercise activities that we do, not just running and hiking. What kind of exercise will you be doing in your 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond? Pilates may be the only one!
While we’re on the subject of joints, here’s great news for the older body. I’m in my late 50’s and whether from a lifetime of athletics or just getting older, I often start the day stiff and 'feeling my age'. There is absolutely no better antidote to joint stiffness and pain than exercise! This is particularly exciting news for arthritis sufferers. Recent research shows that strength training is as effective for pain relief as medication. Any strength training exercise is effective, but with Pilates we don't cause any harm! Just 30 minutes of Pilates when I’m stiff and I feel young again!
You’ll be surprised by a feeling of greater energy and vitality at the end of a Pilates workout. Contrast this with the exhaustion so typical of other exercise methods. This exhilaration is due to special breathing throughout the Pilates workout. Breathing oxygenates the bloodstream and every cell of the body, and movement stimulates circulation of the nervous and lymph systems. In other words, the more you exercise, the more energy and wellbeing you feel.
Complete WorkoutI like a lot of different kinds of exercise, but Pilates is my favorite because it’s complete. What do I mean by “complete”?
Fitness research discovered that we all need three kinds of exercise for our health: strength training, stretching, and cardiovascular conditioning, better known as aerobics. Any one of these alone will not keep you healthy. For instance, if running is all you do for exercise, this is aerobics and your heart and lungs benefit greatly, but aerobics does not build muscle tissue, and by age 30 men and women are naturally losing muscle all over the body. Only strength training restores and builds muscle. And muscle provides a protective layer around all our joints. Without strength training a runner is at great risk for a variety of joint injuries particularly in the knees, back, and shoulders. Read more about these 3 essential exercises.
Pilates mat exercise is one of only a very few methods that combine all three of these essential exercises into one quick workout. I want to be careful about what I say here: strength training and stretching are clearly provided by Pilates whether you use machines or mat exercises, and whether you’re a beginner or advanced practitioner. However, only advanced mat exercises add that third important component: aerobics. It does this by moving from one exercise to the next without pause in order to raise your heart rate to a target level and sustain it for 30 minutes. This level of aerobic activity is recommended for a healthy heart. If you have to adjust machinery you never achieve a sustained target heart rate.
Exercise FreedomMat exercises allow you to workout anytime and anywhere without equipment or a gym. This is particularly convenient if you travel or if you’re homebound by bad weather or a sick child or a car in the repair shop. I’ve done Pilates in hotels, at the homes of friends and relatives, even in airports, because all I need is a space the length of my body, a soft surface, and 30 minutes! I’m not constrained by gym hours, class schedules, or expensive fees. It’s the ultimate in exercise convenience.
Quick WorkoutPilates emphasizes 3-5 repetitions for each exercise, except the first exercise known as “The 100”. At the advanced level you move from one exercise to another – more than 50 – without stopping, for a complete and rigorous workout in only 30 minutes.
Mind/Body IntegrationOne of the most striking differences between Pilates and all other exercise is that Pilates connects your mind and body. This is accomplished by shutting off the music and taking off the earphones, at least in the beginning. Music can be a wonderful support for your workout but only after we achieve a certain level of awareness. We also slow down our movement to coordinate it with full breathing, moving precisely and fluidly, and building greater flexibility. We’re paying attention to how the body feels and whether the discomfort is the healthy process of muscle growth and stretching, or the body saying, "Stop! This is harmful!”
This kind of attention is not only the best defense against injury, it’s a brand new relationship with the body. We're no longer ignoring or fighting the body, but rather engaging in a partnership, listening and responding respectfully, and being rewarded with strength, balance, painless joints, and a healthy back!
Joseph Pilates was the first to realize that most back problems are the result of weak abs rather than a weak back. His recommendation - strengthening our core muscles – is now common practice among physical therapists. Research confirms that exercise is the best medicine for most back problems. Our best surgical and pharmaceutical methods provide a 30% success rate contrasted with over 80% back relief with Pilates. As my teacher Mary Bowen often says, “Pilates saves lives!”
Safe WorkoutThe Cardinal Rule in Pilates is ‘If it hurts, don’t do it!’ Our fitness culture encourages us to ignore any body messages that hint of weakness with such common phrases as 'Work Through the Pain', ‘Tough It Out’, and ‘No Pain, No Gain’. Pilates challenges us to listen to the body rather than ignore it and become an ally rather than an adversary. It’s as rigorous a workout as you’ll find, but with an entirely different attitude.
I wasn’t sure it would work for my back problem, but I gave it a try and soon discovered the genius of Pilates. Placing my attention on my body taught me ways to move that are safer, more efficient, much stronger, and more balanced than I’d ever felt before. Most importantly, all this attention to the body protects me from injury, because now I avoid movement that doesn’t feel natural. No more war with my body!
Dynamic Stretching'Dynamic stretching' is a fancy term for stretching while you move as distinct from “static stretching” achieved by holding a position as in yoga. Dynamic is also distinct from 'ballistic' stretching or bouncing which is universally discouraged because of the high risk of injury.
Stretching research indicates that dynamic stretching is better in terms of increasing range of motion and reducing joint and muscle pain. There are even indications that dynamic stretching after strength training improves muscle recovery time.
Every Pilates exercise involves dynamic stretching.
In conclusion, Pilates delivers more health benefits than any other exercise method. Try it for yourself with my free lessons and with my breakthrough instructional method that makes it quick and easy to learn! Or get my complete set of lessons available now at a special 50% introductory discount!