What is Pilates? 8 Things You Need to Know!

Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
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If you've always wondered what Pilates is but never took the leap and tried a class, it might be time to change that. For good reason, this low-impact exercise class has been in the fitness spotlight for many years, with incredible benefits for strength, core, posture and flexibility. At first glance, it might appear that Pilates exercises require a certain skill threshold in order to join in, but this exercise caters to all abilities, from very beginner to expert.

Adopting an exercise that is right for you can help introduce lifestyle habits that are easier to maintain and can provide a foundation for getting started on your journey. With this in mind, we've compiled the eight things that you should know before starting your Pilates journey.

So, you want to know what Pilates is? 

First, let us look at what exactly this form of exercise consists of and what you should expect during and after a class. This information is important in deciding if it is the right exercise for you.

1. There are two mains types of Pilates courses

Reformer Pilates

The first thing you think of when you imagine Pilates exercises is probably the machine apparatus known as the reformer. The name may sound a little scary, but this sliding platform with pulleys is essentially used to allow a degree of resistance training to your workout. It can also be a lot of fun, too! The resistance of the bands focuses the body on control and form, which allows for slower and more measured movements. The fact that the reformer allows the ability to be adjusted and altered means there are many more options when it comes to maneuvers – including from a standing position. Using adjustable machines also offers the ability to scale for difficulty, meaning that if you want to push yourself, the reformer is probably the best way to go.

Mat Pilates

The second type of class involves what looks like a yoga mat -- it's actually a little bit thicker -- that allows for some cushioning for your body. Apart from the mat, this style of pilates requires nothing other than your own body.

Instead of using the straps and springs for resistance, the mat version uses the weight of your body rather than resistance machines. Instructors usually recommend that beginners start with the mat class first to start slowly. Because you need much less equipment, you'll probably find the mat courses more often.

2. A session works many muscle groups

The main reason most people turn to Pilates exercises is to strengthen their core. The core is located around the middle of the body and includes not only your abs, but also many of the muscles surrounding the diaphragm and lower back. Strengthening your core is important for more than just getting abs -- it's also excellent for preventing an array of injuries, lessening back pain and improving posture.

The core is undoubtedly one of the most important muscle groups in the body, and the benefits that Pilates can provide for this part of the body are incredible . Alongside your core, the benefits also extend to other parts of the body, some of which can be found in the list below.

  • Back: Problems with back pain are becoming more and more common. The stressors of modern work life, including office chairs and poor posture can have a negative affect on your back. Pilates benefits include a workout that strengthens these back muscles that help provide support for your spine.

  • Hips/ pelvis: Your hips and pelvis are the support on which your core rests. If you slouch because of a weak core, there is residual pressure put on your hips and pelvis which over time could lead to damage or injury. Many exercises help to strengthen your hip and pelvis as well, which become weaker with age.

  • Abdominal muscles: Although technically part of the core, the abdominal muscles are important for numerous reasons, especially for stabilizing the back. This is important for keeping your back flexible as well as reducing the risk of injury.

Pilates exercises for everyone

3. There are a few basic Pilates exercises 

When you have been doing Pilates exercises for a while, you'll naturally be able to progress to more advanced exercises, but for now, here are some basic moves that form the foundation of pilates as we know it.

  • Rolling Like a Ball: The exercise of rolling helps to stimulate the spine and is a fantastic exercise to work on those abdominal muscles. Plus, it's fun to do!

  • The Hundred: This is a classic move for the mat that helps to strengthen the core as well as build stamina and coordination.

  • Swimming: Quite a challenging basic move, this exercise works lots of the body, but concentrates on the muscles in the back.

  • The Roll Up: This basic move opens up your back and works the abdominal muscles. It is known as one of the flat-ab movements and is more intense than sit-ups.

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4.You'll feel the burn

Although you can attend classes with people of varying experience levels, Pilates exercises can be quite intense the first time. The good news is that you'll know straight away that your exercise is working because you'll feel the burn. Because a lot of the movements are held, your muscles are working at a high intensity and it is not uncommon to wake up the next day feeling a little sore. This is usually a good thing – you're working muscles and parts of the body that usually do not get a lot of attention.

Pilates benefits and your health

5. There are many benefits

Pilates has many physical benefits and it's a great way to work a lot of the body at once, especially including parts that we don't get to use in everyday life. Below you'll find a list of Pilates benefits and why they are important for overall health and fitness.

  • Increases flexibility: Pilates benefits include the development of better flexibility in the body. It is incredibly important to stretch these muscles to improve the physical integrity of the body and reduce injury.

  • Improves posture: Posture is a big problem in this day and age. Lifestyles that promote sitting while working and commuting can lead to bad posture which can be an indication of poor spinal alignment. Practicing pilates is a great way to improve your posture over time.

  • Increases energy levels: The stimulation of your blood circulation can provide you with a boost of energy, making you feel more awake and ready to tackle the day ahead.

  • Improves body/mind connection: The founder Joseph Pilates was adamant that the his practice promoted coordination of the body, mind and spirit. The attention required to practice each move focuses the mind and can be seen to provide a link between the three.

6. It's for any age and fitness level

One major benefit of pilates is that it appeals to a very wide range of fitness levels and ages. This accessibility makes it the perfect activity for people who are new to fitness. Whether you're older and looking to get back into regular exercise to strengthen your body or\ you're a professional athlete trying to stay in shape, the basics of the movements and exercises apply to you. Its low-impact nature and higher intensity exercises provide the perfect balance for anyone looking to increase their fitness.

What is the difference between yoga and Pilates?

Although both of these exercises are very similar, we get asked what the difference between yoga and Pilates is all the time. They're both based on resistance training with a focus on stretching and breathing, but what else separates the two? Let's find out.

7. It has different goals:

Although the end goal of both exercises sometimes overlap, it may not always be the case. Yoga tends to be focused more on flexibility as well as strengthening a broad spectrum of muscle groups, as opposed to Pilates exercises that concentrate primarily on strengthening the core. Another difference between yoga and Pilates is based on their history – yoga has been around for thousands of years and Pilates was invented in the early 20th century to help athletes with injuries return to exercise after a period of strengthening. While yoga often has a spiritual element within the practice, pilates is typically more on the secular side.

8. There's a special way of breathing:

The difference between yoga and Pilates in terms of breathing is that yoga has a much more concentrated exercise on using different breaths for different situations. The breathing technique used in yoga is referred to as 'pranayama' and is a mix of different techniques, inhaling and exhaling with each pose. Some aspects of yoga class involve purely breathing exercises, with classes learning ujjayi also known as the victorious breath. 

On the other hand, when practicing Pilates, breathing is a consistent feature, with no varying technique needed for each exercise. The idea is to practice inhaling through the nose and out the mouth. There are also no dedicated classes for breathing, either.

Although the difference between yoga and Pilates is small, it is important when you make a decision to think about which is more appropriate for your goals: meditation and spiritual connection or core function and strength-building?

The final stretch...

It is easy to see why exercise classes like Pilates have gained such momentum in recent years. It provides a great mixture of low impact exercise and strength building tailored to every skill level, age and ability. . If you are looking for tailored workout and nutrition plans that are easy to follow, why not sign up to the 8fit Pro app today and start your wellbeing journey!

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