Even offstage, it’s simple to detect a dancer. They move almost like cats, says Marie-Louise Bird, a Pilates expert and post-doctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia. “They’re very conscious of their body’s position in space.” But the majority of us move with little regard for our posture, more like puppy dogs.
Fortunately, those of us who lack body awareness don’t need to attend dancing school. Just do Pilates, they can.
Since Joseph Pilates opened his studio in New York City over a century ago, the training approach has emphasized strengthening the “core” muscles, which are the abdominal and trunk muscles, through thousands of extremely precise exercises. The first Pilates clients were ballet dancers looking for a way to improve their posture and control their movements.
Pilates has an uncanny ease to it. But according to Bird’s research, the frequently minute movements enhance core strength and balance. Pilates helps people do this in part by fostering the connection between the mind and the appropriate core muscles. Cherie Wells, a senior lecturer in physical therapy at Griffith University in Australia, claims that this promotes greater posture and motor control over the body’s actions. According to Wells’ research, the benefits of Pilates’ core strengthening may also help those with chronic low-back pain manage their pain and enhance their quality of life.
Also, several studies have connected Pilates to improved flexibility, trunk stability, injury avoidance, and athletic performance. (Several former and present NFL players, such as Martellus Bennett and Antonio Brown, are admirers.)
But, it’s simple to perform Pilates wrong, so good form is crucial, according to Bird, if you want to enjoy all these benefits. That necessitates a capable instructor, at least initially. Ann Gibson, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico, cautions beginners not to expect they can pick up Pilates by looking at a few internet photographs or guides: “Results come from a structured class taught by a professional instructor.” “Rolling down or up from the ground, one vertebra at a time, demands a lot of attention.”
Pilates’ other special feature is a mental one rather than a physical one. Understanding that all movements start in your core is known as “centering,” which is one of the fundamental Pilates ideas. Like yoga, it involves breathing, concentration, and awareness of your body’s actions, according to Gibson. Pilates has been associated in at least one research to improved sensory awareness and mindfulness, which may lead to relaxation, mood improvements, and stress reduction.
Anyone who is familiar with the difficult Pilates stance known as the “hundred” exercise will not be surprised to learn that the practice has unique benefits for the stomach. Duncan Critchley, a lecturer and fitness researcher at King’s College London, claims that Pilates appears to activate the deeper abdominal muscles more than traditional gym workouts. According to Spanish research, Pilates also gets rid of “asymmetries” in the abdominal muscles that border your torso’s sides.
According to Wells, it’s probably not the best exercise for people who want to work up a good sweat. Reformer Pilates and jumpboard Pilates are two examples of more recent variants of the exercise that use machines to improve resistance and even aerobic intensity, but they have received less research than the more established variations.
You can find a ton of anecdotal data about Pilates’s ability to help people lose weight or, more likely, inches online, but Gibson says her research was conflicting about the exercise’s capacity to shrink waist circumference.
Yet Pilates is unquestionably worthwhile to give a try if you’re looking for a mind-body exercise that builds physical strength and has a few nice side effects, like fantastic abs and more composure.