In Pilates, the emphasis is on quality of movement over quantity. That’s what makes the workouts difficult — and so effective.
“Pilates is one of the best methods for improving your posture and spinal health because it mobilizes your spine and strengthens the supportive muscles,” says Kathryn Coyle, Life Time’s national Pilates program manager. “Everyone has something to gain from Pilates.”
The method targets the body’s core, which includes all the muscles from your chest to your hips, all the way around your body, including your deep abdominals, back, and pelvic floor. With all movement originating from the core, the low-impact exercises also emphasize postural alignment, dynamic stretching, and powerful breathing.
A 2016 study found that eight weeks of Pilates classes improved abdominal endurance, flexibility, and balance. These benefits can also boost performance in other sports while helping prevent or rehab injuries.
Plus, the muscle-balancing exercise protocol handily counteracts the effects of long days of sitting at a desk.
Still, Pilates can be intimidating. It involves twists, rotations, isometric holds, pulses, body-weight lifts, and an often complex lexicon.
Exercises can be performed on a mat or with equipment. The reformer, for instance, uses spring resistance to not only increase load but also support the body through varied ranges of motion. A more portable support tool is the Pilates ring (also called a magic circle), which can assist with alignment and engagement.
But it can be tricky to correctly activate the muscles needed to perform Pilates exercises.
“Pilates has a learning curve,” says Tina McAlpine, Pilates coordinator at Life Time in White Bear Lake, Minn. “My advice is to give it time.”
These technique tips and drills can help you elevate your practice.