Updated: Mar 18, 2021
And every body.
Pilates is a fantastic choice of exercise for any fitness level. Whether you are an elite athlete or completely gym-shy, the practice can be tailored to meet personal goals and physical needs. It is often recommended by physios and osteopaths for rehabilitation after injury or operations such as hip replacements, to help rebuild the local stabilisers and deep tissue muscle for support and strength. Pilates is wonderfully complementary for athletes such as runners and cyclists who often neglect their core, negatively affecting their lumbar spines. It is part of many athletes’ exercise regimes, including Andy Murray and Lebron James.
Created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, Pilates is a whole-body health system. It aims to promote length and strength throughout the spine and joints by building deep core muscles in the centre of the body, referred to as “the powerhouse”. Born a sickly child and bed bound for years, Joseph took inspiration from gymnastics, boxing and yoga to develop the exercises that form the basis of modern practice. He presented his method as the art of controlled movements, which if performed correctly should challenge the body and feel like a workout. Pilates, when consistently practiced, improves flexibility, builds strength and develops control and endurance in the entire body. Fun fact: it was originally known as Contrology.
Initially, Pilates can seem a little daunting. Laced with nuance, technicality and complexity, not to mention terrifying-looking reformer machines (!), it can be a little overwhelming. However, with practice it can be mastered and deliver incredible benefits. In our modern day lives, many of us spend far too much time hunched over desks and screens, more recently in lockdown over desks not set up ergonomically, inadvertently damaging our spinal muscles and eroding our posture. Practicing the Pilates method helps to rebuild the deep muscles that support our spine and pelvis and correct posture to help avoid back pain and potential injury. In fact, you’ll find muscles you didn’t even know you had! As Joseph himself said: “A man is as young as his spinal column”.
Pilates requires concentration - one of the six key principles. Our challenging, modern world taxes our mental and physical health. Concentrating on complete immersion in the exercises - just for an hour - is restorative, allowing your mind to rest whilst making your body better.
Like anything that we choose to undertake, progress takes practice. Whether you choose to do mat or reformer Pilates, aim to start with twice a week. Don’t be put off by the idea that you are not ‘in shape’ enough to get through a class. A good instructor will introduce and modify exercises to suit your ability and build you up from there. As a result, you will be sufficiently challenged, whilst building confidence and strength.
Pilates is suitable for everybody and every body. Whether you just want to be fitter and more flexible, are in need of therapeutic rehabilitation, post-natal strengthening or are looking to build muscle for sport or dance at a high level, there is a class for everyone.