What is Pilates, and is It for Me?

“Ideally, our muscles should obey our will. Reasonably, our will should not be dominated by the reflex actions of our muscles.” – Joseph Pilates

pilates woman on reformer

I started practicing Pilates regularly in 2012 at BodyROK Studios in Carlsbad, CA, and have never looked back. What do I do when I love a workout? I get certified to teach it! As an instructor, I’ve found that a lot of people have some preconceived notions about Pilates. I’m hoping to clear up a lot of the confusion regarding the method and perhaps inspire you to finally hit a Mat or Reformer if haven’t already!

What is Pilates?

Understanding some of the history of Pilates helps us to understand it better as it is today. The founder of Pilates exercise was Joseph Pilates. He originally called his method “Contrology” and Pilates is just that: the art of body control. It only became known as Pilates after Joseph’s death in 1967. Control is one of the key principles of Pilates; others include centering, concentration, precision, breath, and flow.

Joseph Pilates had poor health as a child, and this inspired him to spend his life studying health and fitness. He originally began training circus performers and developing equipment to assist in their sessions, such as straps, ropes, and pulleys, much like we use today on Pilates equipment. Contrology then became popular with boxers, dancers, and other athletes; it helped to both build their strength as well as rehabilitate their bodies. Joseph’s books advocate that lack of connection of mind and body are the cause of most injuries and illnesses. Based on my experience as an athlete and as a fitness instructor, I would have to agree with that.

Joseph Pilates

Know that there are a lot of fitness classes out there today with “Pilates” in the name with a lot of variety in the types of exercises taught. I think this is so fun and cool; I love going out and trying new classes! However, the exercises Joseph Pilates created over 90 years ago are also still taught today just as he intended them. This amazes me that they are still so effective and relevant to us today.

What are the Primary Benefits of Pilates?

The benefits of Pilates for fitness and health are well documented by mainstream medical experts like The Mayo Clinic:

  • Improved core strength and stability.
  • Improved posture and balance.
  • Improved flexibility.
  • Prevention and treatment of back pain.

Three of the best articles out there are 9 Benefits of Pilates You Need to Know About on Fitandme.com,  The Benefits of Pilates in Balanced Body, and an article in Fitness Magazine, Benefits of Pilates: 8 Reasons Every Woman Should Try Pilates. Like yoga, there are both physical and mental benefits to Pilates. As an athlete, the emphasis on a strong core is crucial. Pilates is one of the best core workouts around!

Should I do Pilates?

Pilates is truly for everyone – it just comes down to choosing the right type of Pilates for you. It is a low/no impact workout since it is slow and steady movements. It is resistance training, so you’ll build strength, but it is very unlikely that you will “lift too much”. It is not only a good strength workout, but it can also be an intense cardio workout.

Pilates improves your flexibility, and is designed as restorative exercise from injuries. In fact, you may want to consider beginning a Pilates practice if you have injuries that limit you from enjoying other activities like contact sports or heavy weight lifting. Pilates is incredible as there are so many layers. You can be 80 years old and still practice Pilates!

As I mentioned above, there are so many different types of classes you can experience. I currently teach two of the many styles of Pilates: Mat Pilates and SPX Pilates developed by Lagree Fitness. Although these are founded on the same principles – slow, controlled movement – they might as well be night and day.

Mat Pilates

Mat Pilates is based on the exercises Joseph Pilates created. It is very slow because it is focused heavily on refined alignment. I find that Mat Pilates can appear easy to the naked eye but is SO hard when you do it right. If you like working with an instructor one-on-one you will enjoy a private mat Pilates session during which your instructor can give you a lot of corrections and modifications specific to what is going on in your body.

Mat Pilates

SPX Pilates & Group Fitness Classes

SPX Pilates, developed by Sebastien Lagree, the founder of Lagree Fitness is Pilates on steroids! Shape Magazine has a good description of SPX Pilates.  This format includes an exciting mix of strength training and cardio exercises done on the Megaformer machine, which uses weighted springs to add a little or a lot of resistance to exercises.  The Megaformer machine resembles a traditional Pilates Reformer, but it has more springs and pulleys, a longer gliding carriage, and two sets of bars.

If you enjoy the energy of a group fitness class, I would suggest a more upbeat, fast-paced style of Pilates like Lagree Fitness or a traditional Pilates class on a Reformer. In my group Pilates classes I play music you would hear out in the club!

Pilates Class Reformer

If you are interested in trying Pilates, email me blairwriter@gmail.com for more information on where to begin.

Blair Atkins
Written by

Blair Atkins is a yoga teacher, Pilates instructor, and writer living in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA. When Blair isn’t teaching or sweating herself, she can be found hanging out at the beach. To see what Blair is up to, follow her on Instagram @beachgrownblog.

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