5 Benefits of Pilates That Might Convince You to Add It to Your Workout RegimenFeb. 22, 2022 - Katie McCallum
Chances are you know someone who does Pilates or you have at least heard of it. Still, you might not be totally sure what it is and how it might benefit your health and fitness.
Interestingly, Pilates wasn't initially created with the idea of everyday exercise in mind. It was actually invented as way to help aid dancers through injury.
"The goal was to take dancers who tended to have overuse injuries from training the same motor patterns over and over again and cross train these dancers by focusing on strengthening their core muscles," says Leanne Wonesh, an athletic trainer at Houston Methodist. "With stronger abdominal, hip and gluteal muscles, the hope was that the dancers would experience fewer overuse injuries."
It worked. Dancers who did Pilates suffered fewer such injuries.
Pilates' popularity grew from there, and it wasn't long before people realized that anyone could benefit from the low-impact exercise.
"When considering the benefits of Pilates, the same principles apply for non-dancers," says Wonesh. "We humans tend to live along a single plane of movement, working the same muscles every day. These repetitive movements are what make us so leg and chest dominant. The goal of Pilates is to balance your muscles by targeting and strengthening the ones you don't usually use in your day-to-day life but would benefit from them being stronger."
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a type of exercise in which you perform a series of controlled movements that flow into one another with precision.
As far as what muscles Pilates works, it's technically considered a total body workout.
In working the entire body, though, Pilates' movements are primarily designed to target your core muscles, including your:
- Abdominal muscles
- Hip muscles
- Gluteal muscles
- Lower and upper back muscles
- Inner thigh muscles
The goal is to be in total control of your body as you move. That requires beginning from your central core muscles and using the stability these muscles provide to smoothly control your arms, legs and other extremities.
This is no easy feat, which is what makes Pilates a great way to build strength and stamina.
So what's the difference between Pilates and yoga?
"Yoga can be pretty slow and focuses a lot more on mobility and stretching, while Pilates really emphasizes building functional strength," says Wonesh. "I think of Pilates as a whole-body workout that encourages you to think about yourself as a person who moves and the best way to support those movements."
Because it focuses on promoting functional strength, the benefits of Pilates extend beyond your workout, improving the way you move in your everyday life.
Pilates benefits: 5 reasons to consider adding it to your workout regimen
Considering giving Pilates a try? Here are five benefits of Pilates that might convince you.
1. It can help relieve tension in your shoulders, back and legs
Having strong core muscles promotes better posture, which, in turn, can prevent or relieve the muscle tension that builds up in our day-to-day routines.
"A lot of people have weak core and back muscles, and strengthening these postural muscles helps balance out the tension that results from this weakness," says Wonesh. "This is especially great for people who sit at desks for long periods of time because having stronger core and back muscles can help pull you out of those classic desk postures that cause tension and pain in your shoulders and legs."
2. It boosts your body's natural ability to burn fat
Pilates isn't the best exercise to burn calories quickly. But Wonesh points out that this doesn't mean it doesn't help your body burn fat.
"Pilates builds muscle, and this is important since building muscle increases your body's basal metabolic rate — which is how many calories your body burns while at rest," explains Wonesh.
3. It's a great way to cross train and prevent injury
Because it helps build strength and flexibility, Wonesh says Pilates is a great way to add some functional variety into your workout routine.
"Whether you're trying to get in shape or just improve your overall health, there's really no one type of exercise that can get you there," explains Wonesh. "In your overarching exercise regimen, you need a variety of workouts, including cardio, strength training, flexibility exercises and maybe even some high intensity interval training (HIIT)."
Including these various types of exercise in your fitness plan is called cross-training.
"Cross training is important because it helps prevent the overuse injuries you can get from repetitively using your muscles the same way over and over if you're only doing one type of workout," says Wonesh.
Lastly, it's also a great way to mix up your workouts — reducing the chance of the mental burnout that can cause you to stop exercising altogether.
4. It promotes mindfulness and body awareness
Another benefit of Pilates is that it encourages you to stay in touch with your body as you build strength.
Other strength training workouts, like weightlifting, encourage a mentality of pushing your body to its limits. This means you might not always be totally listening to your body, making it easier to ignore your body cues.
"Pilates is a type of strength training exercise that encourages you to identify and work within the limits of your body," explains Wonesh. "There's also an inherent mindfulness to it and a lot of breath work, which can help relieve tension and stress."
5. Technically, all you need is a mat
When you think of Pilates, those complicated-looking machines — called Pilates reformers — may come to mind, and seem intimidating. But doing Pilates doesn't require a machine.
"There are plenty of online classes that teach you how to do Pilates on a mat," says Wonesh. "If you decide to go for an online mat class, just keep in mind that it can be much more intense than you think! I actually recommend underestimating yourself when trying your first online mat Pilates class and always starting at the beginner level. The last thing you want is to try it out and give up right away because it seems too difficult."
If you have the financial resources, Wonesh recommends starting with a class that uses a Pilates reformer.
"A class is beneficial because the equipment can help support you — removing some of the tension so that you're only working the muscles that you need to work, rather than having to work all of your stabilizing and balancing muscles when using a mat," explains Wonesh. "The equipment just really supports you in a different way that I think can really transform your experience. Then, after a few reformer Pilates classes, you will probably feel more confident about moving to an online mat Pilates class."