A Guide to Pilates and the Health Benefits
words by Grace Hurry
I am a complete Pilates addict. I have been lucky enough to do Pilates for 22 years, and to teach it for the past 12 years and I continue to love it more every day. It has really become a way of life.
WHAT IS PILATES?
Pilates was developed by Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the 1920s, who originally named his method ‘Contrology’. There is still some conflicting accounts and mystery surrounding how Mr. Pilates and his wife Clara met and created ‘Contrology’, however in a nutshell their first studio opened in New York in 1926 and initially became very popular with dancers. Unfortunately, both Joseph and Clara Pilates died before witnessing the huge growth and popularity of their method which is enjoyed all around the world today!
The practise of Pilates is often grouped with Yoga due to the mind-body connection that both methods encourage. Asana practice (physical Yoga poses) do share some similar shapes with the Pilates mat work repertoire, and no doubt Mr. Pilates was influenced by the ancient practice, however beyond that the two methods differ greatly.
As well as the mat-based practice, Pilates uses large equipment such as the Reformer, Cadillac, Ped-A-Pull and Wunda Chair to add spring resistance to exercises to assist, challenge and deepen the work.
There are also arc shaped equipment, the Ladder Barrel and Spine Corrector which facilitate the most amazing ranges for the spine in a beautifully supportive way. As well as smaller props such as the Foot Corrector, Neck Corrector and Breath-a-Cizer along with many others which all contribute to this holistic method. Joseph Pilates really thought of everything!
The mat based and equipment exercises encourage better alignment and function of the body by strengthening, mobilising, and stretching in a balanced and methodical way. It is, however, clear in his books Your Health and Return To Life that Joseph Pilates saw his method as a lifestyle, not just a list of exercises. In the books he gives all sorts of lifestyle advice like getting outside more, how to breathe properly, and even how to wash most effectively! It is a fascinating read and goes beyond a just workout. Here is perhaps where Yoga and Pilates align the most.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF PILATES
The health benefits of Pilates therefore are quite simple. Move better and move more whilst breathing well and you will be able to go about your everyday life a with little more ease and enjoy the things you love whilst feeling energised and strong. Pilates is not necessarily about pushing yourself to your limits and feeling tired and sore for days after, it’s about optimising the natural function of your body and feeling empowered to move beyond where you thought you could.
THE DIFFERENT STYLES OF PILATES
Over the years different styles of Pilates have emerged. The Classical Pilates style stays true to how Joseph and Clara Pilates taught their method. The Contemporary Pilates camp has evolved from the Classic style but is less rigid with sticking to the order of the exercises and perhaps incorporates movements which were not included in the original repertoire.
Within the Contemporary Pilates style there are many populations which have interpreted the method and benefit from the practice. Pilates is used widely in the world of rehabilitation, for pregnant and postnatal women, high performing athletes, the elderly, people with neurological disorders, dancers, and most recently for those suffering with Long Covid. Pilates really can benefit everybody!
PILATES FOR BEGINNERS
If you are interested in starting Pilates (you won’t regret it!) I recommend seeking out a comprehensively certified instructor who can offer you a one-to-one introduction whether you are enrolling with a mat or equipment-based studio. This will be an investment, but if you can stretch to it then I am certain you will hugely benefit from some private tuition. Some studios will actually require this before being able to attend group classes as it is so essential that you feel confident with the fundamentals of the technique which will then give you a much better understanding of how to progress and see improvements in your strength, alignment and mobility.
WHAT TO WEAR TO PILATES
When doing Pilates, it is essential that you wear the right gear and feel comfortable and can move freely without restrictions. I would recommend wearing leggings or shorts, and a fairly fitted top as this will allow your instructor to better assess your alignment. Some Pilates studios require that you wear socks for hygiene purposes, and grippy socks are always great to make sure you don’t slip! The socks from Pointe Studio are my favourite.
PILATES EQUIPMENT & ACCESSORIES TO ELEVATE YOUR WORKOUT
The larger studio equipment listed above are not very accessible for day-to-day home workout use, but there are some great, cost effective alternatives which can help replicate their magic and enhance your Pilates workout! The small ball, resistance band, Pilates ring/Magic Circle and light weights can all be awesome additions to your mini home Pilates studio!
As you may have gathered, I am a big fan of Pilates, and I am passionate about Pilates teaching more people who could benefit from its magic! Whether you are looking to enhance athletic performance, or just starting to dip your toes into the world of exercise to relieve aches and pains, Pilates can support you along the way. I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Joseph’s Pilates books ‘Return to Life’ as I believe it summarises the method perfectly:
“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure."