Fitness is valuable for life and so, you need to adopt an exercise routine or type that helps you meet your health goals but also stay safe at the same time. If your health goals include improving your balance, flexibility and strength, then Pilates may be a good option for you. 

Pilates is a low-impact exercise. In recent years, it is getting popular among fitness enthusiasts and models. The basic benefits of Pilates are building lean muscle by toning the body and improving the posture. The exercises involved in Pilates training are inspired by ballet, yoga and callisthenics. Pilates stretches the muscle groups in a coordinated fashion that promotes strength, flexibility and balance. It focuses mainly on building the core strength to provide an even body movement. 

Pilates can be taken up by people of all ages and fitness levels. There are many benefits you can get by taking up Pilates, including weight loss and improvements in strength, flexibility and endurance. However, it is important that no matter how healthy you are, you should consult a doctor before taking up any exercise form. Perhaps the most notable thing about Pilates is that it is a form of low-impact exercise, which means that the risk of injuries is lower than those of high-impact exercises. Even so, safety precautions and a trained instructor are necessary if you take up Pilates. 

Read this article to find out everything you need to know about Pilates.

(Read more: Aerobic exercise)

  1. What is Pilates?
  2. Types of Pilates
  3. Benefits of Pilates
  4. Pilates vs yoga
  5. Side effects of Pilates
  6. Safety precautions for Pilates
Doctors for Pilates: Types, benefits, side effects and precautions

In 1923, a German trainer, Joseph Pilates introduced a new form of fitness regimen to the world. During the latter part of World War I, Pilates helped some non-ambulatory soldiers move therapeutically using springs on their beds. The doctors treating those soldiers noted a significantly speedy recovery of their condition. Pilates then went on to help athletes and dancers recover from injuries. His fitness method ensured that they had a safe return to their regular fitness routine, sports or dancing rehearsals. 

Over half a century later, Pilates - as a form of exercise - started gaining more popularity among the general public with classes being held in many parts of the world, including India. Pilates consists of a combination of about 50 repetitive exercises that helps in physical and mental conditioning. Pilates is based on the following five essentials to train the body:

  • Rhythmic breathing
  • Neck alignment
  • Shoulder and chest stabilization 
  • Hip mobility
  • Working the deep core muscles

(Read more: Floor exercises to stay in shape)

There are two basic types of Pilates:

  • Mat-based Pilates: This type is performed by sitting or lying on a mat. The exercises are performed by using gravity and bodyweight as the sources of resistance. 
  • Reformer-based Pilates: This type is performed on a specialised Pilates equipment called a reformer. A reformer is a box frame with a horizontal platform that slides. On this platform, people can perform Pilates routines while sitting, standing, kneeling or reclining.

(Read more: Exercises to do at home during the COVID-19 pandemic)

Over the decades, there have been many studies on the benefits of Pilates. These benefits are both therapeutic and preventative in nature, meaning that they can not only help you improve your current health and fitness status but also prevent further health complications in the future. The following are all the benefits of Pilates you should know about.

Pilates promotes overall fitness

These exercises work on several muscle groups, especially the core. This promotes overall strength, endurance and balance. It increases the range of motion and flexibility of joints. It requires proper breathing and mindfulness while practising the exercises. Therefore, it targets the body and mind as an integrated whole.

(Read more: Farmer’s walk exercise)

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Pilates improves flexibility

Whether you already have some degree of body strength and flexibility or not, Pilates can help you improve this aspect of your fitness. Because it is a low impact exercise form, it doesn’t exhaust the muscles with bulky weight. Instead, a variety of exercise sequences are performed in low repetition. This process slowly but surely lengthens and stretches the muscles to increase flexibility. 

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Pilates increases core strength

Pilates workout is a core-centric training regime. Every Pilates move is slow, controlled and works the muscles, especially the core muscles (deep muscles located roughly in the abdominal, back and sciatic areas). The core muscles are essential for maintaining proper posture and practising other advanced exercises or athletic performances. This way of training helps strengthen and tone the core muscles. Maintaining and balancing Pilates positions therefore improves muscle coordination and balance. 

(Read more: Exercises for sciatic pain)

Pilates improves posture

Since Pilates stimulates the core muscles in the abdomen, back and trunk regions, it can help correct your spinal alignment while keeping you aware of correct postures and improving your flexibility. This helps in stabilising the backbone and postural structure, suggesting that Pilates is great for improving your posture.

(Read more: Back extension exercises)

Pilates aids weight loss

Pilates helps in gaining lean muscles and having more lean muscles helps burn more calories faster. As you progress as a Pilates practitioner, your exercise intensity levels also increase, which means that you are likely to burn more fat than before if you continue to practice Pilates in the long term. Moreover, a combination of regular Pilates with other dynamic forms of aerobic exercises along with eating a healthy, balanced diet can help you to lose weight easily.

(Read more: How to lose weight fast and safely)

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Pilates reduces back pain

When you have back pain, especially chronic pain in the lower back region, it can lead to regular problems in movement and even become a cause of disability and lower quality of life in the long run. Pilates has been shown by many studies to have a therapeutic as well as preventative effect on people with back pain, meaning that not only can it provide you with better flexibility and muscle strength to reduce chronic back pain but also ensure that your condition does not get any worse. However, you must get the right trainer to ensure your pace and improvement is properly guided.

Pilates increases lung capacity

While Pilates is predominantly used across the world to strengthen the body, improve its flexibility and ensure you don’t have problems like back pain, most people tend to overlook the pulmonary benefits of Pilates. Some studies have shown that Pilates, by engaging deep muscles inside the body, also stimulates the muscles in your heart and lungs. This not only helps improve respiratory capacity and endurance but also positively affects your lung volume and oxygen flow rates.

(Read more: How to improve running stamina)

Pilates improves heart health

Any exercise form that is dynamic and intense enough to help you burn calories is great for blood circulation. Pilates improves your overall blood circulation levels as your heart pumps faster when you perform it. The positive effect of Pilates can also be seen in lowered cholesterol levels as this exercise form helps burn fat and creates more lean muscle mass. What’s more, being a low-impact exercise, Pilates also decreases physical and emotional stress, improves respiratory and metabolic functions and is, therefore, one of the best workouts for your heart health.

(Read more: Heart disease)

Pilates helps injury rehabilitation

It’s easy to understand how practising Pilates can prevent injury in the short and long terms by increasing mobility, muscle strength and flexibility. What you may not know, though, is that Pilates can also help in the rehabilitation of those who are injured. Pilates improves functional movements of the body that can help a person with injuries (especially muscle injuries) gain the lost strength of the muscles and joints. This not only speeds up the recovery process but also eliminates structural impairments that may emerge due to the injury in the long term. This is the reason why physiotherapists and practitioners of exercise medicine employ Pilates as a method of injury rehabilitation today.

(Read more: Workout injuries)

Pilates relaxes the mind

Like almost all forms of exercise and fitness regimens, Pilates does more than just improve your physical fitness and wellbeing. Pilates consists of slow and effective movements that require concentration and muscle-mind coordination. This technique helps channelise the mind to concentrate on the body and breathing at the same time. This ultimately helps build a connection between the mind and body, thus relieving stress. Practising Pilates, in the long run, can help you de-stress and find balance in your mental and emotional status too.

(Read more: Mental health)

Like Pilates, yoga too is a low-impact exercise form. Both exercise forms focus on using your own weight for resistance - so, they both require little or no equipment - and proper form combined with inhalation and exhalation. Pilates and yoga also require mental focus and concentration to reduce stress and can be adopted by anybody, no matter what their basic fitness level. These similarities can easily confuse you and make you think that there is not much difference between Pilates and yoga. 

However, one of the biggest differences between Pilates and yoga is that the latter has a considerable spiritual influence and is considered to be more of a lifestyle than just another fitness regime or workout type. It is also important to note that yoga focuses more on flexibility and Pilates highlights the need to strengthen, repair or rebuild muscles. The crux of the matter is that both Pilates and yoga are beneficial for your overall health, so taking up either or both under the guidance of trained instructors can be of great benefit.

(Read more: Yoga for mental health)

Pilates is a low-impact exercise form, which is why it is unlikely for you to sustain any injuries while practising it, especially if you have a good and certified trainer or instructor. Overall, there are not many side effects of taking up Pilates. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • Pilates is less effective as a weight-loss method as it is low-impact. If weight loss is your only goal then you must combine Pilates with other high-intensity forms of exercise. (Read more: High-intensity interval training)
  • While a Pilates mat may be easily available for all, a reformer for Pilates may be expensive and you may have difficulty storing it too. Reformer-based Pilates classes or rehabilitation programs may also be more expensive.
  • If you have absolutely no exercise or fitness experience or are an absolute beginner then you may experience some symptoms like muscle ache, soreness, pain, pain in the lower back and fatigue at the onset of Pilates. However, if you pace yourself and have a good instructor then these issues will soon recede.

(Read more: Dance workout)

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Pilates is considered to be safe for people of all ages and fitness levels. However, you must take proper precautions like consulting a doctor before taking up Pilates if you check any of the following:

  • You are obese or overweight
  • You have underlying medical conditions like heart disease
  • You have recently undergone surgery
  • You are recovering from a musculoskeletal injury
  • You are pregnant
  • Your age is above 45 years

Whether you have these conditions or not, you must only start Pilates under the guidance of a trained and certified instructor. Only such a trainer can show you proper form and ensure that you get all the benefits you can from Pilates.

(Read more: Exercise during pregnancy)

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  2. Kloubec, June. Pilates: how does it work and who needs it?. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2011 Apr-Jun; 1(2): 61–66. PMID: 23738249
  3. Cleveland Clinic. [Internet]. Cleveland. Ohio; Everything You Want to Know About Pilates
  4. Kloubec, June A. Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. J Strength Cond Res . 2010 Mar;24(3):661-7. PMID: 20145572
  5. Byrnes, Keira. et al. Is Pilates an effective rehabilitation tool? A systematic review. J Bodyw Mov Ther . 2018 Jan;22(1):192-202. PMID: 29332746
  6. Wells, Cherie. et al. Defining Pilates exercise: a systematic review. Complement Ther Med . 2012 Aug;20(4):253-62. PMID: 22579438
  7. Fernandez-Rodriguez, Ruben. et al. Pilates Method Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Clin Med. 2019 Nov; 8(11): 1761. PMID: 31652806
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