Pilates: what is it and what are its benefits?

November 17 2016

Abi Rowland has been teaching exercise classes in gyms and health clubs for 13 years, and she is currently a personal trainer at Fitness First in Stirchley in the West Midlands. Abi, who has also been practising Pilates for the past 3 years, delivers one-on-one Pilates classes to the majority of her clients but also teaches classes in the Fitness First studio to up to 35 people at a time.

If you've never tried Pilates or have no clue as to why the practice can benefit your health and wellbeing, below Abi explains the history of the practice, how it is performed, and how it, over time, it can improve your fitness:

I always joke with the clients who take part in my classes that Pilates is as important as breakfast. However, I really do believe this. Pilates has so many benefits, the main one being that it can improve the quality of your life.

So, from where does Pilates originate?

Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates back in 1920. He originally named it Contrology, and based it around the principle of understanding how to control and isolate the core muscles in order to strengthen them.

Joseph was born in 1880 in Germany, and wasn’t a healthy child – he suffered from numerous conditions including rickets, rheumatic fever and asthma to the extent that it was feared he would die prematurely. As result of this, Joseph began studying and practicing yoga, martial arts and weightlifting in order to improve his health, and he then went on to become fitness instructor.

During the First World War however, Joseph worked as a nurse treating injured soldiers. Using his knowledge and experience from battling his own health issues, Joseph treated patients using exercise, which helped improve their muscular strength and flexibility. It was at this time that Pilates was created. After emigrating to the US, he used his Pilates exercises on dancers at the New York School of Ballet and Pilates became increasingly popular. The practice was then introduced to the UK in 1970.

How can it benefit me?

Pilates is a low-impact, mat-based class, which is done at a very slow pace. It is suitable for people of all ages and abilities.

Pilates helps to strengthen your core, and aims to increase mobility and lengthening through the spine. Not only will it give your body greater definition, but it can also reduce the risk of injury and pain, especially if you play a lot sport. Pilates will improve your posture and help develop body awareness.

The exercises done in Pilates practice are also used to help rehabilitate patients after injury and surgery, and practising Pilates has also been known to help reduce stress and anxiety.

As a result of sedentary work places, bad eating habits, and more people owning cars and fewer people walking regularly, there are more aching joint (back, neck, hip etc) sufferers than ever before. Being inactive for many of the hours of the day means that important stabiliser muscles such as the Transverse Abdominis and the glutes are often under-used, and as a result of this, these muscles lose the ability to ‘fire up’ when needed, sometimes causing pain or injury. Pilates can help to reactivate under-used muscles, and therefore reduce the chances of injury and discomfort.

How does Pilates differ to yoga?

While Pilates focuses on core strength, toning and body control, the ancient practice of yoga (which was founded in India around 5,000 years ago) focuses more on flexibility, spirituality and covers a broader range of muscles, such as the hands, wrist and ankles. Unlike Pilates, yoga can be done at various intensities and paces, and involves meditation and chanting.

What can I expect from a Pilates class?

Joseph Pilates created 34 exercises to help improve core strength and increase mobility. These are all mat-based and require no equipment, though there are some classes where equipment has been integrated into the exercises. Once you’ve been to a few Pilates classes and learned some of the basic holds and movements, you can then include them in your regular workout, either as part of your core training, your warm-up or your cool-down session.

To try Pilates at your local Fitness First, sign up for a free class here.

For fitness tips and inspiration, you can follow Abi at CreateYourselfFitness on Facebook.