Pilates is a popular form of exercise that you can do in your own home, and which can form a great complement to a walking for fitness routine. When you’re not walking or on a rest day, you can use Pilates to build strength and flexibility as well as strengthen your core. Much like many forms of yoga, beginner Pilates courses can be suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. Pilates can be practiced anywhere with little to no equipment other than a mat and floor space.
Find out what Pilates is, its health benefits plus some beginner moves to try.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a low-intensity workout designed to increase flexibility, balance, and strength. Most exercises focus on stability, movement, and breath. It was developed by a German immigrant, Joseph Pilates, in the 1920’s. Pilates was developed after studying exercise, movement, and the Greek philosophy of mind, body, and spirit. Some of the early work of the Pilates method of fitness was in rehabilitating injured soldiers after World War I. Joseph Pilates continued to teach this practice in a New York City studio until his death in 1967. The main premise of Pilates is to focus on each movement and intentionally engage each muscle required for the movement.
Health benefits of Pilates
The benefits of Pilates are vast and include both physical and mental benefits. Pilates will improve flexibility, improve posture, increase balance, improve coordination, enhance lung capacity, and increase concentration. Pilates is also an excellent stress manager. Additionally, the increase in flexibility and balance work to prevent injury in other activities.
What are the Differences Between Pilates and Yoga
Pilates and yoga are similar in many ways. Both exercises focus on movements, poses and stretches that can increase flexibility and strength. Yoga and pilates also both emphasize controlled breathing and precise movements. There are movements and poses that are similar in both yoga and pilates as well. Many yoga studios or fitness clubs offer both yoga and pilates classes. The basic gear that you need (a mat and a bit of floor space) is similar, and you can find both pilates and yoga videos online to get you started.
“Yoga” consists of many different styles, including styles focused on fast, dynamic movement, strength building poses, and more relaxing and meditative styles. Pilates has more in common with the slower, more methodical types of yoga. Most forms of yoga have at least somewhat of a spiritual or meditative component which pilates doesn’t have. You can find yoga classes with less of the meditative element, but you can often expect some chanting and/or breathing exercises in many yoga classes. Some pilates classes use more equipment than a typical yoga class, including the “reformer” machine and pilates circle.
Mat Pilates, or basic pilates is a great way to start the exercise. You only need a mat, and you can do it in the comfort of your home. Mat Pilates focuses mostly on strengthening and stretching the core muscles, or what Joseph Pilates called the “powerhouse.” Mat Pilates has been proven effective in reducing pain and improving overall function in patients suffering from back pain.
More advanced pilates classes make use of additional equipment, especially an exercise machine called a “reformer.” A reformer looks a bit like a small bed or table with a moveable seat that allows you to do additional poses. Cables and other equipment lets you get a light resistance workout. You can often find pilates reformers at fitness studios, but you almost certainly want to start by trying basic mat pilates before deciding to buy more advanced equipment.
Some common movements include the Roll-Up, Leg Circles, the Single-Leg Stretch, and the more advanced Open-Leg Rocker. When practicing Pilates, it is important to move with slow and controlled motions. You should really focus on the muscles you’re using in each movement. A beginner class can be helpful, but as many people are exercising from home you can look for beginner videos online to ensure you’re doing the movements correctly. You shouldn’t feel pain or discomfort when doing moves or stretches.
The Single-Leg Stretch
Start by lying flat with your back on the mat and your legs extended out in front of you. Your hands should be down by your hips. Lift your legs above you with your knees bent at roughly a 90° angle with your knees above your hip (this position is called “tabletop”). Exhale as you lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat while grabbing one knee and pulling it toward you stretching your hamstrings. Release your knee and repeat with the other knee. You should alternate between knees, remembering to move slowly and with control.
Here is an example of a single leg stretch.
Start by lying flat on your back with your legs extended in front of you. Your arms should be flat on the floor alongside your hips. Reach one leg up toward the ceiling, leaving the other leg flat on the mat. If you cannot leave the other leg flat, you may bend it and put your foot flat on the floor. With the leg that is in the air, point your toes and rotate to make a circle. Do a few sets in one direction, followed by a few sets in the other direction. Once you’re finished with that leg move it back down to the mat with slow and controlled movements. Repeat with the other leg.
Here is an example of how to do leg circles.
This move can be tricky for many beginners. Start slow and don’t feel pressured to finish the movement if you don’t feel comfortable. Start by lying flat with your back on the mat with your legs extended in front of you. Your legs should be squeezed together and touching the floor. Your arms should be lying flat next to your hips. Slowly roll your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor, as if you were starting to do a sit-up. As you continue to roll up, contract your abs. You should roll up until you are over your thighs. Your spine should be in the shape of the letter C. Use control to slowly roll yourself back down to flat.
Here is an example of how to do a roll-up.
The Open-Leg Rocker
Start by sitting in the middle of your mat placing your feet flat in front of you. Hold your ankles and lift your legs up into a ‘V’ shape, keeping your wrists on your ankles. Lift your chest and stabilize yourself on your hips. Exhale and rock backward scooping your hips up in an effort to softly touch the mat rather than slamming your back down on it. Use your core to rock back into an upright position. Avoid using momentum to pull yourself up. The rocking should be powered by your core. This move can be painful for those with back injuries. If you have back pain, avoid the Open-Leg Rocker.
Here is an example of how to do an open-leg rocker.
Sometimes you get into a rut with your exercise routine. It’s common to get bored sometimes. This boredom can hinder your progress. One way to get out of that rut, is to switch things up and try something new. For a nice change of pace, you can try Pilates. Try these Pilates move to supplement your healthy walking habit. Pilates can help with your stamina, core strength, and preventing injuries.
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