The Pilates "method," as it is now known, is an exercise system focused on improving flexibility, strength, and body awareness, without necessarily building bulk. The method is a series of controlled movements performed on specially designed spring-resistant exercise apparatus or on the floor (mat work), and specially trained instructors supervise the sessions. Pilates is resistance exercise, not aerobic, although the heart rate will certainly rise for a de-conditioned individual. It is closer to weight lifting than it is to running or cycling so you should consider it resistance exercise.
Two of the key elements of Pilates are core muscle strength and spinal alignment. The core musculature is loosely defined as the spine, abdomen, pelvis, hips, and the muscles that support these structures. Some of the main core muscles are the erector spinae, the internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, the rectus abdominis and hip flexors.
You will be taught to consciously concentrate on your core muscles, as well as on your breath, the contraction of your muscles, and the quality, not quantity, of your movements. The objective is a coordination of mind, body, and spirit or "contrology” as put forth by Joseph Pilates himself.
Pilates practitioners swear by the method, and in some circles, it almost reaches cult like status. It is true that there are many benefits to Pilates, but some of the benefits, even if they do occur, are unfortunately unproven in research. Even so, Pilates is an intense workout since the movements are slow, controlled, and deliberate.
An alternative or complement to weight lifting.
Need supervised resistance-exercise sessions.
Want a change of pace and would like to try something new.
Longer, leaner muscles (less bulk, more freedom of movement).
Improves postural problems.
Increases core strength, stability and peripheral mobility.
Helps prevent injury.
Enhances functional fitness, ease of movement.
Balances strength and flexibility.
Heightens body awareness.
No-impact, easy on the joints.
Can be customized to suit everyone from rehab patients to elite athletes.
Complements other methods of exercise.
Improves performance in other sports.
Improves balance, coordination, and circulation.
There are no studies to prove that Pilates contributes to weight loss. The bottom line to weight loss is that you must consume fewer calories than you burn no matter how much exercise you do. Even if you run a marathon every day you, will not lose weight if you consume more calories than you burn.
Pilates mat work is a series of exercises that are done on the floor without Pilates machines. The attention to the flow of movement and to the core muscles is the same as when you do Pilates on the machines, and mat work is a challenging workout in its own right.
Lie on your back, with the soles of your feet flat on floor, knees squeezing together, arms overhead stretching behind you. Inhale and exhale and allow your spine to sink into the floor. Bring your arms forward, and let your head and torso follow. Roll up to a midway point between lying down and sitting up and hold that position (your abdominals should be working the entire time) for three seconds. Let your arms go back, and then lower your torso and head to the floor. Repeat six to eight times.
Lie on your back, and pull your knees to your chest. Exhale as your chest and abdomen sink into the floor. Straighten your arms along your sides, and lift your legs straight up to the ceiling. Lift your head and shoulders so that you are looking toward your feet. Squeeze your buttocks and inner thighs together so that you cannot see between your legs. Start moving your arms up and down along your sides about 12 inches in a rapid motion. Breathe in and hold for five seconds, and then exhale for five seconds as you try to reach forward even more. Lower your legs halfway down toward the floor (legs should be at a 45-degree angle from your hips). Continue to move your arms up and down and hold for a count of 50 to 100.
Lie on your back with your arms at your side. Inhale and exhale and allow your spine to sink into the floor. Straighten your leg toward the ceiling and point your toe. Keep your opposite leg straight (the one on the floor). Move your leg across your body, draw a small circle with it, and bring it back to the starting position. Make sure to keep your hips flat on the floor. Move your leg in the opposite direction (away from the center line of your body), draw a small circle with it, and then return to the starting position. Repeat six to eight times on each side.
Lie on your back with your arms at your side. Straighten your legs toward the ceiling, keeping your thighs and knees close together. Inhale and exhale and allow your spine to sink into the floor. Inhale and move both legs to one side and draw a small circle with them while keeping them close together. Make sure to keep your hips on the floor when you circle. Return to starting position, and then repeat on the other side. Repeat five to six times on each side.
Lie on your back with your hands behind your head. Lift your head, and bring your knees toward your chest. Straighten your right leg and then lift, and twist your torso until your right elbow touches your left knee. Hold the position for one to two seconds. Repeat with the other side. Exhale fully as you hold each position. Keep your shoulders as high off the floor as possible. Repeat eight to 10 times on each side. Finish by pulling both knees to your chest, and then roll up to sitting position.
While on the floor, sit up very straight (try to make a 90-degree angle at your hips). Straighten your legs out in front of you and squeeze them together.
Straighten your arms out to your sides at shoulder height and parallel with the floor. Breathe in and try to pull your belly button toward your spine. Exhale and rotate your torso toward one side while keeping your upright posture. Keep your buttocks on the floor and look behind you. Hold for one to two seconds and then inhale and return to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Any activity that expands your fitness choices is worth the effort, and if you think you need variety to stay motivated, then give it a try!