What exactly is Pilates?
Pilates involves a collection of low-impact exercises that coordinate movement and breath. The focus is on building strength and mobility, improving postural alignment and strengthening core stabilizing muscles.
The concept was born in the 1920s when Joseph Pilates, a German physical trainer, started using low-impact exercises to finely-tune muscle balance and neuromuscular patterns and create optimal strength. While at first Pilates was used for rehabilitation purposes, it soon became popular with dancers and gymnasts. In the late 1990s, it hit the spotlight when celebs like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston were spotted heading to Pilates studios daily.
Since then, Pilates’ popularity has continued to flourish and this exercise trend favored by models and celebs has continually reinvented itself. Hot Pilates, HIIT Pilates, reformer Pilates, Stott Pilates, Winsor Pilates, Clinical Pilates, Classical Pilates … the list goes on. Whatever your exercise personality, there’s a Pilates workout to suit.
4 types of Pilates to try
Perfect for beginners, classic Mat Pilates provides a great introduction to popular Pilates movements. Using nothing but bodyweight, Mat Pilates exercises improve core control, strength and stamina. Popular exercises include: hundreds, a variation on the common crunch where you do 100 pulses; leg circles, which challenge core stability; planks and side planks; plus single and double leg stretches.
Reformer Pilates involves using a reformer machine, which is a bed-like sliding carriage with straps, springs and pulleys. Many of the exercises are similar to mat Pilates movements, but holding and pulling the straps adds resistance and increases intensity.
Considered by many as hybrid Pilates, this contemporary approach breaks the traditionally ridged sequence of classic Pilates moves by blending in other types of movement. Dance and Pilates is a popular Pilates hybrid, as are yoga and Pilates. You can experience a fusion of yoga and Pilates when you try BODYBALANCE™.
Tapping into the huge popularity of high-intensity interval training, HIIT Pilates mixes Pilates exercises like bridges, leg lifts and planks, with intervals of heart-pounding cardio. This means you benefit from controlled strength building while also sparking increased calorie burn.
How your body benefits from Pilates
On top of being an incredible way to build core strength, scientific studies show Pilates can do everything from improve sleep and better your sex life to lift your cognitive function and boost immunity.
"Pilates improves function, alignment, core strength, posture, control, concentration, breath … there are so many benefits." Glen Ostergaard.
six of our favorite science-backed ways Pilates benefits your body
- Pilates improves balance and body awareness. The focus on mindful movement and breath enhances proprioception and heightens awareness of how your body moves. This can prevent injuries and falls and is particularly important as we age.
- Pilates increases mobility as you use slow and controlled stretching movements to improve flexibility and strengthen muscles at the same time. While improved flexibility doesn't necessarily provide any functional benefit, increased mobility is valuable as it improves the movement of your joints.
- Pilates reduces stress and boosts your mood, energy and motivation. During Pilates, your nervous system responds to the focus on breathwork by lowering cortisol levels, which will lower stress over time. And, like with any exercise, the increased oxygen flow and blood circulation stimulate feel-good endorphins and give you a boost of energy. A study of students showed Pilates can boost motivation, achievement and cognitive function.
- Pilates perks up your posture by strengthening postural muscles and bringing attention to your body alignment. With improved posture, you reduce the risks of headaches, as well as shoulder and back pain.
- Pilates reduces injury risk by using strength-building exercises to increase the support and stability of your joints as they move. This makes it particularly beneficial for sportspeople and exercisers.
- Pilates eases lower back pain. Physical activity is considered the magic lotion for back pain, and as Pilates engages the deep core and pelvic floor muscles, it’s a powerful way to build strength and stabilize the back.
Yayoi Matches, who leads the Mat Pilates workouts available on LES MILLS+, says Pilates is a remarkable way for people to improve their awareness of their body. “Working out is not always about how much you sweat, how much strain you put your body through or pushing for fast results. Life is actually really long, and for us to live a long life filled with love and energy we must understand that this starts from the mind, a connection to body within.”
Yayoi uses Pilates as an opportunity to listen to her body. “It’s a time to understand your needs, to truly give what is calling. Whether it’s just to breathe and tune into your nervous system, or to engage your whole body and use energy to awaken and vitalize.”
The LES MILLS+ Mat Pilates workouts use nothing but bodyweight exercises to strengthen, mobilize, stabilize and release. The focus is not on muscular burn, it’s about moving well with a body and mind connection. Suitable for everyone from athletes to newbie exercisers, your mind and your body will appreciate these short simple sessions.
Does Pilates have any disadvantages?
Pilates is undoubtedly a winning fitness formula. But it is just one element of a well-balanced routine. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines recommend a varied training program featuring cardiorespiratory, resistance, and flexibility exercises. In most cases, there is not a significant cardio element to Pilates, so it’s important to counter this when shaping a well-balanced routine.
IS PILATES REALLY THAT DIFFERENT FROM YOGA?
Pilates and yoga are often bundled in together, perhaps due to the fact they are both low-impact and require a focus on breathing. But there are plenty of differences. Most notably, during yoga, you typically adopt a pose and hold it, or flow through to another pose. During Pilates, you adopt a position and challenge the muscle groups by pulsing or moving your limbs as levers.
Glen Ostergaard, the man who leads the creation of BODYPUMP™, RPM™ and LES MILLS SPRINT™, is a big Pilates advocate. "With Pilates, you can improve your body’s function without having to exhaust yourself. It’s about how you do the move, not how many reps or how hard you go.” Glen says Pilates exercises are great in isolation and to complement other forms of exercise. “It improves function, alignment, core strength, posture, control, concentration, breath … there are so many benefits." Glen suggests that anyone just starting out starts slow, identifies their own strength and flexibility ranges and works within them, as well as staying consistent.
SIMPLE WAYS TO GET A TASTE OF PILATES
- Try LES MILLS CORE and focus on intense core control with Pilates-inspired movements
- Try BODYPUMP, which features elements of Pilates in the functional training and core tracks
- Try BODYBALANCE for a combination of Pilates-based movements with yoga and elements of Tai Chi.
- Try the Mat Pilates workouts or BODYBALANCE Pilates Mix on LES MILLS+.
What equipment is best for Pilates?
You need a large (and expensive) reformer machine to do reformer Pilates, which means it's often easiest – and cheapest – to do reformer work at a specialist Pilates studio. Most other types of Pilates workouts can be done with minimal equipment – if any. Ideally, you will have a mat and circle or resistance band.
Les Mills Equipment is versatile, durable and effective and can help you increase muscle activation and maintain good technique during your Pilates workouts. See all Les Mills Equipment.