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Pilates (puh-LAH-teez) has rapidly become one of the most popular exercise routines in the country. Chances are excellent youve heard someone talking about the benefits. But, what the heck is Pilates anyway?
Its a form of exercise, developed by German born, Joseph Pilates, a century ago. Pilates is a body conditioning routine that builds flexibility, long, lean muscles, strength and endurance in the legs, abdominal muscles, arms, hips, and back. The emphasis is on spinal and pelvic alignment, breathing to allow adequate oxygen flow to muscles, developing a strong core or center, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates' flexible system allows for exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginning to advanced levels of fitness. No muscle group is under or over trained.
One of the advantages of the Pilates method is that it works well for a wide range of people including athletes, dancers, seniors and people at various stages of physical rehabilitation.
Benefits of Pilates
All types of people, at all fitness levels, who have begun doing Pilates say they've seen improvements in their range of motion, flexibility, circulation, posture, and abdominal strength -- and decreases in back, neck and joint pain.
Some of the benefits of Pilates include:
Increased muscle strength, particularly of the abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks
Balanced muscular strength on both sides of the body
Enhanced muscular control of the back and limbs
Improved stabilization of the spine
Greater awareness of posture
Improved physical coordination and balance
Relaxation of the shoulders, neck and upper back
Helps prevent musculo-skeletal injuries
Pilates consists of a slow, sustained series of movements using abdominal control and proper breathing. The quality of each posture is important, not the number of repetitions or how quickly you can move through the routine.
Core strength is the foundation of Pilates exercise. The core muscles are the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back. Think of a tree, Pilates experts say. The tree is only as strong as its trunk and roots. Without a strong trunk, the tree would topple over.
It's the same for human bodies, say Pilates experts. If we concentrate on building a good foundation and a strong trunk or core, we'll end up with fewer physical weaknesses and be less injury-prone. Kevin Bowen, co-founder of the Pilates Method Alliance, says it is important that abdominals are flexible, not just hard. "A flexible muscle is a strong muscle," says Bowen.
There are two basic forms of Pilates:
Mat-based Pilates is a series of exercises performed on the floor using gravity and your body weight to provide the resistance. The central aim is to condition the deeper, supporting muscles of the body to improve posture, balance and coordination. To the casual observer it looks very similar to yoga.
Equipment-based Pilates this includes specific equipment that works against spring-loaded resistance. The equipment based Pilates method uses a variety range of apparatuses to guide and train the body. For the uninitiated, the apparatus may resemble a torture device of some kind, but rest assured, Pilates is low impact exercise.
Some forms of Pilates also include small weighted balls, foam rollers, large exercise balls, rotating disks, and resistance bands.
The Six Pilates Principles
Pilates is founded on six basic principles: Centering, Control, Flow, Breath, Precision, and Concentration. These six Pilates principles are essential ingredients in a high quality Pilates workout.
Centering: Physically bringing the focus to the center of the body between the lower ribs and pubic bone.
Concentration: Bringing full attention to the exercise and doing them with full commitment maximizes the benefits from each movement.
Control: Every Pilates exercise is done to attempt complete muscular control.
Precision: In Pilates, awareness is sustained throughout each movement. There is an appropriate placement, alignment relative to other body parts, and trajectory for each part of the body.
Breath: Most Pilates exercises coordinate with the breath, and using the breath properly is an integral part of Pilates exercise.
Flow: Pilates exercise is done in a flowing manner. Fluidity, grace, and ease are goals applied to all exercises. The energy of an exercise connects all body parts and flows through the body in an even way.
The Pilates method has always emphasized quality over quantity, and you will find that, unlike many systems of exercise, Pilates exercises do not include a lot of repetitions for each move. Instead, doing each exercise fully, with precision, yields significant results in a short time.
Although books and DVDs are available to teach Pilates, it is best to start out by receiving instruction from a qualified Pilates teacher. Nothing can replace a live instructor and instant feedback. But, if you want to get a better idea of the type of workout you can expect, visit the links below.
A typical Pilates workout includes a number of exercises and stretches with sessions lasting 45 to 90 minutes. To gain the maximum benefit, you should do Pilates at least two or three times per week.
The most affordable way to experience Pilates is to take a group class. Later, if you find you enjoy it, you can invest in some simple equipment to incorporate into your routine at home.
Updated July 24, 2012
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