I’d been a yoga devotee for a dozen years before I was invited to take a few free Pilates classes. I hated those classes — but I kept going back (and paying) because things began to happen to my body in a few weeks that a very expensive year with a personal trainer hadn’t even come close to accomplishing.
Now I take reformer-based group classes at least four times a week and continue to marvel at how, without a lot of effort, I can still move the needle on my fitness level. I hear the same from fellow students, whether they are new to the program or have been doing it for years.
Here’s what I’ve discovered about Pilates, a low-impact exercise method invented by a man that’s perfect for a woman.
The regimen’s namesake, Joseph Pilates, said, “In 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference, in 20 sessions you’ll see the difference, and in 30 sessions you’ll have a whole new body.” That was certainly my experience. In fact, I think it took only six sessions on the reformer (the specialized equipment used for Pilates) before I began to feel stronger physically and mentally.
There is no greater motivator to stick with something than results. Too often it takes too long to reap the benefits of a fitness plan, so we give up. Pilates is designed to strengthen and lengthen muscles, and it feels almost magic how quickly tone begins to show and clothes begin to look looser. Though it won’t bulk you up, it does build muscle, which in turn boosts metabolism, so you could end up thinner.3. YOU’LL FINALLY FIND YOUR BELLY
Twelve years of yoga and I never made that “belly” connection my teachers were always talking about. Six months of Pilates and not only could I find my belly, I could engage it in numerous ways. Because engaging the abdominal muscles is key to pretty much every advanced yoga pose, I began to see some very satisfying changes in my yoga practice. But belly engagement is good for everyday activities from standing in line for a long time to lifting your aging dog into the back of your SUV.
Pilates focuses on the core, which comprises not only the abdominal muscles, as commonly understood, but also the shoulder girdle, the pelvis, and the inner and outer thighs. Basically, everything from your collarbone to your kneecaps is your core, and that covers just about everyone’s trouble spots. One of the first things I noticed — and that other people noticed too — was that my hips and thighs were smaller.
With all its emphasis on the abdominals (hundreds, anyone?), this is a given with Pilates. But since it’s a concern for so many middle-age women, it’s certainly worth mentioning.
“Zip, zip, zip” is a instruction I heard a lot when I first started Pilates. Learning to zip up through the midline of your body, which lifts and tones the pelvic floor, is immensely important for older women.
Pilates strengthens the many tiny muscles that support the spine from deep inside the body, and, as mentioned earlier, the core also encompasses the shoulder girdle. Injury and atrophy impact our ability to stand up straight or sit for a long time. Establish a regular Pilates practice and you’ll do everything from a museum tour to a trans-Atlantic flight with less pain and fatigue than before.
Pilates isn’t yoga, but it does elongate and strengthen muscles, which improves muscle elasticity and joint mobility. Both of those things are important for feeling well and preventing injury.
By now everyone knows that weight-bearing exercise is essential for maintaining bone density, but so is muscle-strengthening exercise. Pilates involves a great deal of resistance training, whether with small weights, bands, or springs, which helps build bone. What’s more, a Harvard study found belly fat is a risk factor for osteoporosis. People who do Pilates tend to have less fat around their middles. (However, if you already have osteoporosis, do not take up Pilates without consulting your doctor first.
Control is one of the key principles of Pilates. In fact, Joseph Pilates originally called his methods contrology, or the science of control. There’s not a runner nor a swimmer nor a cyclist nor a weightlifter who will tell you that learning to control your breathing and your body won’t impact success. With added strength, flexibility, and control, every other thing you do is easier and more fun.
This article first appeared on thefinelinemag. It has been reprinted with permission.
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