Are you interested in improving your physical fitness but are sick and tired of doing the same old routine when you get to the gym? If so, then it might be time to try out a new kind of fitness routine that will offer you enjoyment and a challenge! Pilates is rapidly becoming one of the most popular physical fitness routines in North America, and is practiced by thousands worldwide. Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that allows for muscle strengthening, toning, and improved flexibility. And it can be a lot of fun too! Here are some of the basics when it comes to pilates.

Pilates Basics

Pilates is an exercise program designed to improve all aspects of bodily health and increase awareness of the body as a whole. It provides increased muscle strength, improved flexibility, and superior posture, while calming the mind and improving mental focus. Pilates incorporates a series of exercises that are performed systematically and in sequence. Using a mat or specialized equipment, these exercises are designed to train all areas of the body, with a particular focus on the core muscles found in your abdomen and back.

Types of Pilates
There are a variety of different types of pilates that are practiced all over the world. However, there are two main forms of pilates:

  • Traditional Pilates: Traditional pilates incorporates well over a hundred different exercises designed in the early twentieth century by Joseph Pilates. Joseph Pilates developed these exercises over a period of twenty years, using elements of yoga and ancient Greek exercise routines. They are designed to work the body's core muscles, including the abdominals and back. Traditional pilates exercises are performed in the sequence defined by Joseph Pilates.
  • Stott Pilates: Stott pilates was created by a professional dancer and a team of sport medicine experts. It makes use of many of Joseph Pilates' original exercises and routines. However, it modifies these exercises is order to make them safer and more accessible to a wide range of people. Specifically, Stott pilates incorporates movements that are anatomically-correct, and that provide appropriate support to the neck, back, and spine. This makes it especially useful for those recovering from an injury or for the elderly.

What Exercises are Included in Pilates?

Pilates is based on two main types of exercises:

Mat Work
Mat work exercises are performed on a comfortable mat (similar to a yoga mat) that you place on the floor. Mat work comprises the majority of most pilates classes, particularly those offered in local gyms and fitness studios. There are approximately 40 different mat work exercises that are performed lying on your back, side, or stomach. Some can also be performed while kneeling or sitting. Mat work exercises allow you to work the core muscles of your body, while using the weight of your own body for natural resistance. However, additional resistance can be added by using specialized pilates equipment, such as a toning ring, weighted ball, or beanbags.

Reformer Exercises
Reformer exercises were also introduced by Joseph Pilates, and make use of specialized resistance equipment. The reformer is a spring-loaded machine that has a moving carriage, adding resistance to your pilates workouts. You move the reformer by pressing on a foot bar or by tugging on special pulleys. You can find reformer equipment at any well-equipped pilates studio, or you can purchase your own.

Starting Pilates Exercises

Starting a pilates exercise routine will provide you with numerous benefits, both physical and mental. And pilates is easy and fun to do!

What Are the Benefits of Pilates?
Regular practice of pilates can offer you a number of benefits, including:

  • increased lung capacityimproved circulation
  • better balance
  • increased body strength
  • lean and toned muscles
  • better posture
  • reduced stress levels

When partnered with a healthy diet and a regular cardiovascular fitness routine, pilates can also be an excellent way to lose or maintain an optimal weight.

Who Can Do Pilates?
Because it focuses on low-impact strengthening and stretching exercises, pilates can be used by almost anyone. Followers of pilates can include:

  • pregnant women
  • those recovering from injuries
  • senior citizens
  • children over the age of 12

Of course, be sure to speak with your health care provider before beginning any new exercise routine. If you are elderly or have a specific injury or health problem, you may want to pursue Stott pilates as an alternative to traditional pilates.

Finding a Pilates Class
Pilates classes are available at gyms and fitness centers all over the country. Many towns and cities also have dedicated pilates studios, that offer reformer equipment for your workouts. Individual classes cost as little as five dollars, or you can sign up for long-term classes. Alternatively, purchase a pilates video or DVD and learn the exercises at home! This makes pilates a great alternative for busy people.

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