There are many reasons why people decide to embark on a new or improved Pilates program. The overall objective normally is the same, and that is to improve core strength, flexibility and coordination. It is adopted as a main form of exercise by some while others use it to improve their performance in other activities.
The Exercise Physiology of Pilates
Pilates is closely associated with yoga and both practices adopt very similar principles. The focus is on a series of movements that vary in complexity which are designed to build core strength and improve posture, flexibility and balance. The exercise physiologyaspect is the study of how the body responds to the exercise in both the long and short-terms and a professional practitioner will assess this and adapt accordingly. Pilates has both mental and physical benefits and improves overall wellbeing and fitness.
The Benefits of Pilates
Pilates is suitable for anyone of any age and ability. The controlled and progressive movements minimise the impact on joints; unlike many other forms of exercise. The objective with Pilates is to build strength as opposed to muscle bulk. Using exercise physiology, those who practice the art are required to focus on what they are doing. This involves regulating breathing and utilising internal resistance in the body.
Balance is a problem for many adults and a lack of which can lead to instability and injury. Pilates has been proven to quickly improve balance which, therefore, improves performance in other sports and can improve day-to-day lives.
As Pilates requires the individual to focus, it is a superb form of exercise for keeping the mind active and alert; something that is important in terms of mental wellbeing. An example would be the concentration required to stand on one leg with the eyes closed. Applied concentration aids coordination and helps to build core strength through slow controlled movements. As the individual advances, the moves become more complex which further improves balance.
Core strength is a necessity in almost every activity that we perform. It helps improve posture, reduces the incidence of injury and can lead to a reduction in the number of headaches caused by stress. Naturally, there are the aesthetical benefits that are achieved as a by-product which extends far beyond the rectus abdominal muscles (abs).
In medical terms, core strength is the “ability of the body to maintain correct spine alignment, shoulder girdle position and pelvic position while moving limbs.” The muscles used for core stability are categorised as being either local or global. Muscles such as the abs are referred to as global muscles and are usually close to the surface. Global muscles are responsible for powerful movements that require some degree of force.
Smaller muscles closer to the spine are used for stabilisation and perform a less complex role but are nevertheless equally important. These muscles are referred to as local muscles and make adjustments to align the spine.
Pilates builds strength in both muscle groups which, therefore, improves both stability and flexibility; something that naturally reduces during the ageing process. When the body becomes poorly aligned, stiffness occurs, which can cause headaches and pains in the upper and lower back. The practice also helps alleviate tight hamstrings, rounded shoulders and helps to pull the neck back.
The hip flexors are generally the first to lose flexibility as we age. After just a few weeks of practising Pilates, it is noticeable that the majority of people experience enhanced movement. Pilates achieves this by lengthening and stretching muscles which makes them become leaner and gives a sense of feeling taller. The stretches are known as dynamic stretches which means that they are active movements. These stretches improve the range of movements and help to prevent injury as well as improving overall health.
Most forms of exercise promote mental health and wellbeing. Exercise is known to release endorphins creating better moods as well as increased self-confidence and self-control. Pilates has the additional benefit of focusing on controlled breathing which naturally creates a calming feeling. Breathing exercises reduce stress and lowers blood pressure, improving blood flow and facilitating improved sleeping patterns.