Pilates aims to strengthen the body in an even way, with particular emphasis on core strength to improve general fitness and wellbeing. Pilates exercises are done on a mat or using special equipment, such as the Reformer, the Cadillac and Wunda Chair. With its system of pulleys and springs, handles and straps, the apparatus can provide either resistance or support, depending on your needs.
Pilates was developed by German-born Joseph Pilates, who believed mental and physical health were closely connected. His method was influenced by western forms of exercise, including gymnastics, boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling. Pilates immigrated to the US in the 1920s and opened a studio in New York, where he taught his method – which he called contrology – for several decades.
Who is Pilates for?
Pilates has something to offer people of all ages and levels of ability and fitness, from beginners to elite athletes. The apparatus can be used to provide support for beginners and people with certain medical conditions, as well as resistance for people looking to challenge their body. Before starting any exercise programme, it's advisable to seek advice from your GP or a health professional if you have any health concerns, such as a health condition or an injury.
What are the health benefits of Pilates?
There are many reports on the health benefits of pilates. However, few of these have been subjected to rigorous scientific examination and there's a need for more research in this area. Practitioners say regular pilates practise can help improve posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension. For elite athletes, including dancers, pilates can complement their training by developing whole body strength and flexibility, and help reduce the risk of injury.
Can Pilates help reduce back pain?
There's some evidence that pilates can provide pain relief to people with non-specific lower back pain. The use of apparatus enables someone with back pain to perform exercises with support. For the exercises to be effective, they need to be tailored to the individual and vetted by an appropriately qualified health professional. Pilates teachers are not medically qualified and cannot prescribe, treat or offer therapy.
Can Pilates help me lose weight?
Pilates is classed as a muscle-strengthening activity, which can help you maintain a healthy weight. Classes can vary in intensity: they can be gentle, or dynamic and offer a solid workout. If you want to lose weight, you're advised to combine pilates with a healthy diet and some aerobic activities, such as swimming, walking and cycling.
Can I injure myself doing Pilates?
Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise, so injuries are uncommon. However, it's important that you find a teacher and a class suited to your level of fitness and ability. Pilates teachers aren't medically qualified, so if you're recovering from injury, you are advised to check with your GP or relevant health professional on the suitability of certain exercises or movements before starting a class.
What's the difference between Pilates and Yoga?
While the methods are different, pilates and yoga both develop strength, balance, flexibility, posture and good breathing technique. Both systems emphasise the connection between physical and mental health, although yoga places more emphasis on relaxation and uses meditation. Pilates is performed both on apparatus and mats, whereas classic yoga doesn't require any equipment. Pilates exercises are performed in a flow of movement without the static poses associated with yoga.