Not only is Pilates great for improving balance, flexibility, and core strength, it can also help you to relax, unwind, and focus on the present moment. And another plus is that you can practise it just as easily at home as you can from a studio.
Interested in finding out more? Have a read of our introduction to Pilates below…
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a low-impact exercise that involves performing a series of postures and movements while focusing on breathing. It aims to improve general fitness, strength, flexibility, posture, and overall wellbeing.
Pilates was first developed in the 1920s by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates, who believed that mental and physical health were closely connected.
There are six main principles of Pilates: breath, concentration, control, precision, centre, and flow. And because it requires you to move in a very precise and exact way, Pilates is often described as ‘a thinking way of moving’.
Pilates can help to develop our awareness of our own strength and mobility as each action is deliberate and every stage of movement – from start to finish – is important.
To get an idea of how Pilates increases your strength and flexibility, you might like to have a watch of the video below…
What's the difference between yoga and Pilates?
If you’ve never tried yoga or Pilates before, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two.
It’s true that yoga and Pilates share a number of similarities – for example, they’re both mind and body practices, place emphasis on the importance of breathing properly during exercise, and improve strength, flexibility, and mindfulness.
However, the two do differ. Physically speaking, the main difference between yoga and Pilates is that yoga is centred around more static poses, while Pilates incorporates movement to challenge your stability. Some people particularly enjoy the spiritual side of yoga, while others turn to Pilates for a more physical workout.
Who can do Pilates?
One of the best things about Pilates is how accessible it is – because it’s very easy to moderate intensity based on experience level.
The slow, gentle movements mean that Pilates is a low-impact exercise and suitable for everybody of all ages, abilities, and fitness levels – including those with joint pain, postural issues, and conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Pilates is also very versatile and exercises can be easily modified to provide either a gentle strength or a more vigorous workout, depending on fitness level. For this reason, it’s just as suitable for beginners as it is for people who already exercise regularly.
Though, if you’re a complete beginner, it’s recommended that you master some of the more basic exercises before moving on to more challenging ones.
That being said, while Pilates is generally safe for everyone, if you have unstable blood pressure, a herniated disk, severe osteoporosis, or are at risk of blood clots, it’s best to check with your GP before starting any new exercise.
What are some of the health benefits of Pilates?
1. Pilates can help to improve posture
Research shows that Pilates can help you to improve and maintain good posture.
This is largely due to Pilates’ ability to strengthen core muscles, as well as its focus on full body alignment and ideal range of motion in joints. All of these factors can help to alleviate pressure on the hips and legs and improve spinal alignment.
Some benefits of good posture include reduced neck and back pain, and improved circulation, digestion, and joint function. For example, this study found that those with chronic back pain found Pilates to be an effective tool.
2. Pilates can improve strength, flexibility, and mobility
According to experts, because Pilates involves performing smooth transitions between slow and controlled movement, it provides both strength, flexibility, and mobility benefits.
As we age, we usually lose some of the strength and flexibility we enjoyed when we were younger, so this can be especially important.
3. Pilates can help to improve balance
Alongside improving posture, Pilates can also lead to better balance.
It does this by promoting a mind-body connection that helps people become more in tune with how their body moves.
4. Pilates may boost bone health
Staying active is one of the most important things you can do to maintain bone health. And low-impact exercises like Pilates can be particularly beneficial because they help to limit unnecessary stress on joints while still providing an effective workout.
Studies have found that Pilates is effective in relieving joint pain and can increase bone density. Together these factors can reduce a person’s risk of developing conditions like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
5. Pilates may help to reduce stress
Research has found that due to its inward focus and use of breath work, Pilates can help to take you out of fight-or-flight mode, lower cortisol levels, and decrease stress over time.
Plus, because Pilates requires total concentration, many people find that they are fully engrossed in the movements, which can help to take their mind off any external worries.
6. Pilates may reduce the risk of injury
Pilates helps to build strength, balance, and flexibility in the body which can improve a person’s ability to support and stabilise their joints while moving.
As a result, studies have suggested that Pilates is an effective method for reducing the risk of injury in sports.
7. Pilates can boost our general sense of wellbeing
According to Joseph Pilates, practising Pilates encourages “the complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.”
As a result, many people find Pilates helps them to become more mindful and calm. When the mind and body unite, it can boost your overall wellbeing and happiness.
For example, studies exploring the mood-boosting benefits of Pilates have found that people experience reduced anxiety, fatigue, and depressive thoughts.
Are there different types of Pilates?
There are two main types of Pilates – mat Pilates and apparatus Pilates.
Mat Pilates can sometimes involve equipment like weights, resistance bands, foam rollers, and gym balls, but it can also be done with a single mat.
Apparatus Pilates requires the use of expensive specialised Pilates equipment. So, if you’re just starting out, it’s worth sticking to a mat to begin with. Then, once you’ve mastered the basics and are sure you want to continue with Pilates, you can look into investing in some specialised equipment – or signing up for some apparatus Pilates classes.
There are also seated and standing Pilates, which offer different variations. Seated Pilates can be a great place to start for anyone who’s less mobile or is looking for a more relaxed approach to exercise. Meanwhile, standing Pilates offers more of a full-body workout and can be especially effective for improving balance.
What equipment do I need for Pilates?
To get started with Pilates, all you’ll need to buy is a Pilates mat – or if you’re attending a class, one may be provided for you.
Pilates mats tend to be slightly thicker than yoga mats, in order to cushion pressure points.
There’s also a range of other optional Pilates equipment, which you can browse on Amazon. However, if you’re just starting out, a mat is the only piece of equipment you’ll need. The most important thing is becoming confident with the basic movements and breathing techniques.
How can I get started with Pilates?
Whether you’d prefer to learn in person or from the comfort of your own home, there’s a form of Pilates out there to suit everyone.
We’ll cover some ways you can get involved below…
Online Pilates classes
Online classes are one of the best and easiest ways to give Pilates a go for free to see if you enjoy it or not. There are plenty of Pilates classes and courses available online. We’ll cover some of these below.
If you want to start off very gently and not push your body too much, the Introduction to Pilates course by the NHS is worth looking into. Made up of gentle, slow-paced classes, and focusing on low-impact movements, these classes are a great way to learn the basics of Pilates without risking injury. They can also be perfect for people who have a low fitness level or past injuries and/or health conditions.
Alternatively, you could browse Pilates channels over on YouTube. To get started, why not try this 20-minute Pilates workout from Kait at PsycheTruth, or this 15-minute mat workout from John Garey if you’d prefer a male instructor.
In-person Pilates classes
Because Pilates involves precision and lots of careful movements, many people find that they benefit from in-person teaching – especially when they’re just starting out.
Pilates is usually taught either in a dedicated Pilates studio with apparatus or an open area with mats. Because of their technical nature, apparatus classes should be taught on a one-to-one basis for beginners, while mat classes shouldn’t have more than 12 participants, to make sure attention is given to everyone. So, what’s the right Pilates class for you?
If you’re already pretty fit and are keen to try Pilates for the first time, a group class might suit you well. Group mat classes sometimes involve other pieces of equipment like hand weights and resistance bands, although they have a focus on using just bodyweight alone to improve strength and stamina.
However, if you want to take a more personal approach to learning Pilates, either due to injury, inexperience, or a lack of confidence, a private Pilates class may be a good place to start. Then, once you’re feeling more confident, you can move on to group classes or learn from home.
Mat classes are generally recommended for beginners as they don’t require getting used to special equipment like apparatus classes do. However, some apparatus classes are suitable for beginners, particularly those that use a machine called a reformer – a sliding platform with a stationary foot bar, springs, and pulleys providing resistance.
To make sure you’re in safe hands, head over to Pilates.co.uk and check out their directory to find classes near you. All Pilates studios, teachers, and instructors featured on the Pilates.co.uk website meet or surpass the UK standard.
If you’re looking to build lean muscle, improve your flexibility and balance, gain mental clarity, and improve your core strength, Pilates can help you achieve these goals. And the great thing about it is that you can start at home and go at your own pace.
Like anything else, Pilates takes practise and you might need a few sessions to get to grips with the basics – but it’s worth persevering. If you’ve ever thought about trying Pilates, now might be the perfect time to start.
For more activity ideas, head over to the fitness and exercise section of our website.