Pilates: Benefits And Beyond

The Workout That Keeps Madonna Looking in her 20's at Age 50

by Janet Smith, PEERtrainer Health and Fitness Writer

Madonna swears by it. Jennifer Aniston credits it with keeping her in shape. Even Jim Carey has gotten in on the act. What is it? It is Pilates. Maybe you’ve heard about Pilates but don’t know what it is- or perhaps you’ve read about how it is the hottest thing in fitness and wanted to find out more.

Pilates is a fitness system developed by Joseph H. Pilates, and designed to holistically strengthen and balance the entire body. The Pilates system includes more than 500 specially designed exercises that use the body as resistance and focus on slow, controlled movements to achieve increases in muscular strength and flexibility. Most of the exercises are performed on the floor or a mat, although some studios do use specialized equipment.

The philosophy behind Pilates is that of balance. In the course of our daily lives, we are constantly using our muscles in varied and imbalanced ways. Everyone uses one side of the body more frequently than the other and this, combined with our ingrained habits of sitting and performing other daily activities, can create great disparities in muscular symmetry. When one side of the body is stronger than the other, our muscles began to lengthen and shorten to compensate, and we end up with all sorts of aches and pains- most commonly, lower back and neck pain and sciatica. Pilates exercises force the muscles to work in unison and correct these imbalances. In fact, many chiropractors actually recommend Pilates as adjunct to treatment for back problems.

Aside from increasing muscular symmetry and strength,  Pilates offers a host of other benefits. Pilates emphasizes deep breathing, which decreases stress, increases oxygenation to body tissues and decreases blood pressure. Additionally, because of its emphasis on strengthening the ‘core’ stabilizing muscles of the body, Pilates workouts will give you better posture and with it a more lean appearance. The muscles that you build during a Pilates workout will be long and lean, similar to the musculature of a trained dancer.

Although this is a challenging workout, Pilates can be easily modified to the individual. Beginners will receive guidance in proper form to maximize effectiveness while reducing the chance of injury or muscle strain. There is no question that a regular Pilates practice will make a huge difference in the way you look and feel. Joseph Pilates, the developer of this exercise system was famous for saying, “In ten sessions you will feel the difference, and in thirty you’ll have a whole new body.”