Fitness trends and classes come and go. Class formats literally include everything from A to Z: Aqua Aerobics to Zumba! One class that you may have come across in the past few years is Pilates. What is Pilates? This article takes a look at the popular Mind-Body class, its origins, class types, and the benefits of Pilates.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a Mind-Body class that focuses on strengthening the core (abdominal and back) muscles. However, it also includes exercises that strengthen other muscles and helps increase flexibility. The Pilates class format is based on six principals outlined by the founder of the discipline: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. All six techniques require students of Pilates to remain focused on the moment as they participate in the class, hence the Mind-Body connection.
The Origins of Pilates
Today’s Pilates class was created by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900's in Europe and was originally referred to as “Contrology.” The Contrology name was fitting because Pilates movements are performed with slow and controlled motions. Joseph Pilates emigrated to the United States in the 1920's and opened a fitness studio with his wife in New York City where his method gained popularity with the dancing community. Joseph Pilates continued to teach his fitness classes until his death in 1967. The fitness format was then passed on by his original students from New York to Los Angeles to Puerto Rico and is currently found in fitness studios throughout the world.
Class Types and What to Expect
Pilates classes found in studios today come in two general varieties: Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates classes. Both types had a place in founder Joseph Pilates’ own practice. Each Pilates class has its own benefits and is worth exploring if you have a studio located near you. However, both will have the 6 Pilates Principals and a focus on strengthening the core muscles in common. Below we’ll describer the two main class formats and what to expect when you attend one.
Mat Pilates classes are the most common and least expensive Pilates classes.
This type of class can be found in most gyms today and will usually be part of your gym membership. In larger facilities Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi and other Mind Body formats will be held in a studio separate from those hosting aerobics and strength training formats. Be sure to ask where the Mat Pilates studio is located before taking a class. Classes will require a fitness mat, which is usually provided, however, you are welcome to bring your own. Some classes use props such as a weighted ball or Pilates ring, however, many just use your body weight to help you increase your strength and flexibility.
The exercises included in your class will vary depending on your instructor. You may start class standing or sitting. However, your first moments of class will review basic breathing methods and a description of “The Powerhouse,” the center of your body between the bottom of your ribs and your pubic bone. The Powerhouse will be the focus of the class and should be engaged at all times. From there, you may perform some wall or standing exercises that focus on the legs or arms. However, these aren’t always included . Exercises such as the Pilates Hundred, Single Leg Stretch, the Plank, and various Leg Series are staples of the method and should be expected. Most abdominal exercises require you to keep your head lifted to help keep the Powerhouse muscles engaged. However, you’ll be given modifications along the way. Your class should conclude with some stretches and a brief period of relaxation. Be sure to let your instructor know of any injuries or issues of potential concern before class starts.
Pilates reformer classes are a lot more private than their Mat Pilates counterparts and therefore, more expensive. Additionally, reformer classes are not as common as Mat Pilates classes. While some gyms will have their own Pilates Reformer studio, most reformer classes are found in stand alone Pilates Studios. The Pilates reformer is the most commonly used of several other Pilates machines and as such is the main machine we’ll discuss here.
Pilates reformer classes will still require awareness of your breath and acknowledgement of the six Pilates principles. However, instead of using your own body weight as the main form of resistance to help you strengthen your core, legs, and increase flexibility; a reformer class uses springs to challenge the body. You’ll know you’ve found a reformer machine when you see something in your gym that looks strangely similar to a torture device. The Pilates reformer machine is about the size of a single bed. On top it has a sliding carriage and includes various pulleys, cables, bars, and straps that are used to create resistance. Don’t be afraid! You can take private sessions to learn the ropes and pulleys on your own and then graduate to a small group class. While specific exercises will vary slightly from Mat Pilates exercises, you’ll still see others like the Pilates Hundred show up here.
Benefits of Pilates
In addition to gaining popularity among celebrities, Pilates has been used to train athletes has and found its place into physical therapy practices. Pilates has many benefits because of its ability to balance muscles and its goals of flexibility and strength training. Athletes from all sports benefit from the focus on the core muscles, which are crucial in providing stability to the whole body and preventing injury.
Not a celebrity, dancer, athlete or physical therapy client? Pilates will still benefit you. In fact, Pilates students with desk jobs find the method to be very helpful in reducing back issues caused by sitting most of the day. In our busy worlds, the Mind-Body aspect of Pilates allows it to be an effective form of stress-reduction. The most convincing testimonial of Pilates, however, comes from the founder himself. Joseph Pilates claimed “after 10 sessions you will feel better, after 20 sessions you will look better and after 30 sessions you will have a new body!” Who wouldn't want that? Of course, to have a whole new body you need to do more than one session a week and watch what you eat, however, Pilates can be very effective at producing a longer, leaner physique.
Have you tried a Mat Pilates or Reformer class? Share your thoughts with us by posting a comment below: