Reasons to do Pilates in 2024: Five of the best.

Only 5?  Of course there are more reasons to do Pilates than that, but…

These are 5 of the most beneficial reasons to do Pilates.

Reason One: Pilates is full body strength training.

Any effective strength training programme needs to work on the whole body, starting with the feet working up through into the shoulders, arms and out to the hands.

It is always part of a well designed Pilates programme that you target the whole body.  It is the Pilates programme.

The importance of staying strong is crucial for everyone although the alarming consequences of failing to stay strong are seem most often in the elderly.

For older adults, maintaining strength is utterly crucial for reducing the  risk of falls and being able to continue with an active life.    Losing strength is not inevitable as you age, provided you work at, say, regular Pilates or other strength training regimes.

If you are entering or have entered menopause, it is harder to maintain strength than it was before.   Menopause really is the  gift that keeps on giving isn’t it.   Staying strong needs work and regular Pilates is one way to keep the whole body, not just ticking over but increasing its overall strength.

If you feel strong, lets keep it that way, still able to run up a flight of stairs, do the garden, lift shopping bags or children.

Sometimes what we do in day to day life has a habit of emphasising the muscles at the front of the body but it is at the back where the real power lies.  The back thighs, buttocks, lower, mid and upper back and the shoulders really matter for strength and good body alignment. Pilates will work you in these places.

Reason Two: Pilates is good for your Pelvis and good for your Pelvic Floor

I would cautiously suggest that we have a significant problem in this country with pelvic floor dysfunction.  I hear about people’s various problems a lot,  and the statistics of reported dysfunction bear this out.

This is without factoring in our tendency to be sedentary and current lifestyle gimmicks which will make the problem worse over time: belly sucking to make it appear flatter, gripping the abdominals to make them appear tighter, and my soundbite nemesis “engaging the core”.  If you wonder why I dislike this so much, do read an earlier blog that I have written here .

Some of our pelvic floor issues are whole body in origin and have a whole body, whole pelvis solution too.    To keep the pelvic floor strong, supple and fit for purpose, we must keep the pelvis, legs and body moving, work on optimal breathing patterns and above all steer clear of too much gripping and clenching.

Pilates will work on the breathing and start with gentle, small, helpful pelvis movements and expand out to bigger ones.  I have recently written an entire blog simply about Pilates, whole body movement and help for the pelvic floor which you can read here.

Reason Three:  Pilates reduces stiffness

Behind these three words is an enormous world of benefit.  If stiffness in the spine, hips, knees creeps up on you gradually over the years, it is easy to miss how your movement range, or ease of movement has decreased.  This can impact our daily lives. For example, reaching overhead is harder with stiff shoulders, and getting up off the floor is harder with stiff knees, hips and spine.    Stiffness can cause pain that may cease if you keep the joints moving more.

Pilates is all about keeping the joints moving well, starting with the pelvis and spine,  the bedrock of good mobility,  and moving out to the hands and feet.  Our precious extremities need work too!

Reason Four: Pilates is a body/mind practice

We live in our heads an awful lot.   Living in a world of thoughts, plans, dreams, opinions is not wrong.   It is part of what defines us as humans, however we should spend time  feel/thinking as a brain/body whole.    Use Pilates to shift away from pure thought to movement which uses different bits of the brain and allows us to disconnect, at least temporarily, from worries or what we brood upon.

A Pilates session has elements of the freedom of “just” dancing, combined with the rigour of learning a particular type of dance routine or steps.  You’ve have unconscious free movement, together with  rigour and concentration.   That has turned into a bit of a shout out in favour of dancing, and why not?   It would be foolish of me to suggest that movement practice is solely defined by Pilates.

Reason Five: Pilates  requires co-ordination and skill

The significance of this is that it is highly beneficial for the brain.  To keep the brain healthy and capable of making new neural connections, laying down memories and  keep efficiently performing executive functions  then it needs stimulation and challenge.   New things are good for the brain and struggling with tasks is good.   Taking Pilates up as a new habit is great and, you’ll hate me for saying it, but embrace the struggle because it’s really good for you.  I tell myself this when I start learning a new piano piece.   Then I ignore my own rhetoric and feel thoroughly fed up!

If Pilates is not a new practice then embrace the new moves as much as the comfort of a familiar, flowing sequence.

I am fearful of Dementia because I’ve seen what it did to my father and so  I’m particularly keen to promote this benefit of Pilates, although not by any means is this the exclusive remit of Pilates or even exercise.

Reasons to do Pilates that didn’t quite make the cut

Group exercise can be sociable.

You are not necessarily going to go down the pub afterwards, but it is nice to see familiar faces each week, bonding over a shared activity.

The mixture of isolated exercises and also full body exercises.

We need both.   For example, isolating the toes, or the ankle as opposed to full body rotation that involves the arches of the feet right up to the top of the head. The former targets strength and mobility.    The latter targets and links the whole the body all at once, with the fascial and muscular connections that traverse the body.

Ideal for Rehabilitation

Post surgery, post childbirth, post illness, Pilates can be designed to sensitively work with your body to regain strength, promote healing and, perhaps confidence.

Posture & alignment

This is integral to the practice of Pilates but I thought I’d throw it in because it can be the thing that attracts people in the first place.   Posture isn’t something that you practice.   You acquire better posture with better balance between the front and back of the body, greater spine mobility. practising different alignments, correcting tendencies.  For example, the tendency most of us have to round our shoulders when sitting in front of a desk.

Breathwork

I’ve touched on this already but it probably deserves a special mention.   Good, functional breathing is the bedrock of core stability.   Breathwork is also central to the practice of relaxation, of mindfulness, of meditation.   Pilates can become a form of mindful movement and a chance to relax.

Pilates equipment

This is niche but another special mention: the world of Pilates that exists alongside matwork exercises, using the machines that Joseph Pilates invented.  The Reformer is the most famous and the most commonly encountered, but there are more.  There is the Trapeze Table, the Cadillac, the Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel and Spine Corrector, some of which I have in my home studio.

Why are my personal reasons to do Pilates?

This is going to sound strange, coming from a Pilates instructor, but I struggle to find suitable classes for me.  I work long hours and lots of evenings and have a very significant degree of injury to my abdominal muscle which make the kind of classes with lots of abdominal exercise totally unsuitable.   Online classes are my solution and I have found a company based in Canada that I love.  I am really in synch with their Pilates philosophy.  You can view their on demand platform here.

When I am in doing Pilates mode and find it extremely hard to not end up in teaching Pilates mode, thinking about the words the tutor uses or their sequencing, stressing that their teaching is better than mine.   If I stay on message, in doing Pilates mode then I like the flow of a typical class, moving from one thing to another.  I particularly like the full body exercises, and at the moment I am extra specially interested in the coordination challenges.    A Pilates class with both gentle and not so gentle elements is my preferred intensity but I do enjoy feeling the burn!

At the age of 56 I’m still I am on an upswing in terms of strength and flexibility.  That is partly due to the luck of avoiding injury or chronic illness but undoubtedly due to years of Pilates practice.

All Bodies and Everybody Welcome

I’d like to say this is the case with Pilates and is one of the reasons to do Pilates.  It is not always the case though.

Some of this is inevitable, some not.

Pilates is ableist.   I am not disabled but have spent years helping my mother who is wheelchair dependant, and it doesn’t take long to realise that our towns are built for the able bodied.  Neither is modern life.   Whilst this is to an extent, inevitable and slowly improving, it has helped me realise that easily typed platitudes of  “everyone welcome ”  ring hollow if you cannot, for example, walk, see, hear, have some form of paralysis, or weakness.  This is without even touching on mental health challenges.

The one thing I can do is to promote and teach chair based Pilates and have written about what it involves here. This month I’m starting to teach regular chair based classes in North Leeds.  Hooray!!!

Anti fat bias

I cannot say with certainty that the world of Pilates has a significant element of anti fat bias, but I suspect this is so.

Mainstream images of Pilates mostly feature thin people doing difficult exercises.  Thin, young, white and very sporty.  Or we read about a celebrity or footballer talking about their Pilates regime.  None of this looks reassuring or welcoming to people who don’t conform to the stereotypes.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Nor should it be.

I am not fat and don’t speak from experience of navigating an anti fat world as a fat person.  All I can say is that if you are, you are most welcome at my classes and at my studio.

I know I have left out a few -isms here.  I decided to stop at this point and not try to address too many inequities and inequalities in the exercise and Pilates world.  Perhaps that requires a different blog post.

Conclusion

There is so much to gain from regular Pilates practice.   It can be intimidating with the vocabulary, the new moves,  and that sense that “everyone else knows what to do and I don’t”.    By the way, the latter is probably not true!   My experience of teaching community classes for many years is that they are easy going, non judgmental, gentle spaces often with room for at least one more mat!   Your rewards will be better balance, strength, mobility.  And yet more: fewer aches and pains, less stiffness, more stamina, feeling more relaxed.

Do give it a try and do a few classes to allow time to learn to love it.

I teach live in person classes and live online with a new venture of chair based starting in January 2024.

There is more detail about the classes in Leeds and online here on my website: https://www.pilates-leeds.com/

 

 

 

 


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