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Pilates: What’s it all about?

Por Leslie Rodríguez, RD, LD, Specialist in Sports Nutrition and Physical Activityof MyDiet™ -

In the past couple of years, an exercise called Pilates has become very popular.  Often, celebrities, models, and athletes are seen on television promoting it and all of its benefits.  However, many of us do not even know how to say it, let alone know exactly what it is and how to do it. 

Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-teez), was developed in the late 1920s by a German immigrant named Joseph Pilates to improve flexibility and strength for the total body without building bulk. At first, dancers used the method for deep body conditioning and injury rehabilitation.

Lately, however, the Pilates “movement” has swept the world and is being promoted to everyone at all fitness levels in health clubs and on videos for home use everywhere!

Even though Pilates is referred to as an exercise, it is actually a series of controlled movements that are supposed to engage your body and mind. The movements focus on your body’s “core,” which are your abdominal and back muscles. The Pilates exercises accomplish core strengthening by developing pelvic stability and abdominal control, and the exercises also improve flexibility and joint mobility, and build strength.

The exercise in its most original form is done using a Reformer, which is a wooden contraption with various cables, pulleys, springs and sliding boards attached. The Reformer is the foundation of Pilates. Then, you use your own body weight as resistance, as you go through a series of progressive, range-of-motion exercises. Pilates exercises are very low impact. Usually, classes using this sort of equipment are taught by an instructor in a one-on-one setting or with two to three participants.  The instructor reminds participants to constantly engage the abdominals, the back, the upper leg and buttocks to stabilize the body's core. They design the exercise sessions based on the class participants’ flexibility and strength limitations.

Although the equipment is a large part of one type of Pilates, there are other variations that are not limited to specialized machines. Many gyms across the country now offer Pilates floor-work classes and there are videos on the market for home use. The exercises in these settings also stress the stabilization and strengthening of the back and abdominal muscles but without the use of the Reformer. If you would like to use the Reformer at home, there are several home versions currently available on the market.

For the mind and body

Yoga is often associated with meditation, but the mind/body connection also has a pivotal role in Pilates. Pilates does not emphasize numerous repetitions in a single direction, but instead, each Pilates movement it to be performed very precisely with proper control and form and in several planes of motion. These exercises are intended to help you develop long, strong muscles, a flat stomach and a strong back, and improve posture. Remember that for best results, though, you also need to maintain a well-balanced diet and a regular, aerobic exercise routine.

Now that you know what Pilates is, you may want to try it. It may help add some excitement to your exercise routine.

Regardless of whether you are doing Pilates at a studio or on your living room floor, it is an excellent way to challenge your muscles, improve flexibility and incorporate the mind/body element into one effective exercise session.


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