What is Pilates?

Health correspondent ( 11 February 2016 )

Pilates is a fusion of eastern and western ideas and is designed to stretch and lengthen muscles in a way that's entirely non-competitive.

There are around 500 different Pilates movements in total although few people learn all of them. You learn at your own pace, gradually building up your stamina, strength and suppleness.

Related: Five Pilates exercises you can do every day

What Pilates involves

  • learning correct breathing technique Pilates 
  • developing balance
  • physical co-ordination
  • body positioning
  • spatial awareness
  • improving strength and flexibility 

Pilates for body toning

Each movement should flow into the next and practising the sequences on a regular basis will soon have a noticeable effect on your stamina and cardiovascular fitness. It will also tone your body, improving your shape without giving you bulging muscles.

Related: How to reduce stomach fat

The benefits of Pilates

While anyone can benefit from learning Pilates, it is especially good for people who have not been used to physical activity or who may have had problems with back or joint injuries in the past.

Although most classes and teaching videos concentrate on fitness Pilates, some teachers also specialise in rehabilitation Pilates, designed specifically to help those with joint or other musculo-skeletal problems.

Related: 10 tips to take care of your joints

Pilates exercises at home

If you are learning Pilates at home, you will be doing 'floor mat' exercises, at least to begin with. These involve bending and stretching in a slow, controlled way with your body in the correct alignment and utilising the muscles deep within the abdomen.

Should you find that you really enjoy Pilates, you may later want to buy one of the special pieces of equipment often used by professional teachers or join a class where these are available.

Using a Pilates reformer

One of those most widely used is the 'reformer', a kind of sliding carriage which is used for pushing and pulling movements, incorporating foot bars and leg and arm pulleys. Either way, the aim is to exercise the whole body, with emphasis on coordinating the muscles in the abdominals and back while integrating overall trunk, pelvic and scapular stabilisation.

As well as its clear physical benefits, Pilates promotes mental and physical relaxation and can help to resolve minor injuries.

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