How Pilates Works to Get You in Great Shape

Young female friends exercising with dumbbells while sitting on pilates balls in gym class. Horizontal shot.
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Edited by Alycea Ungaro, P.T., M.S.

To get in shape with Pilates is to take responsibility for your total health. Far from just physical fitness, the Pilates system was defined by its founder Joseph Pilates, a complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. Yes you can expect tone, strength, flexibility and flat abs of course. You can even lose weight with Pilates but the primary goal and intention of the method is much bigger.

 Before you jump into a class or one on one training session, you should understand some of the underlying concepts and principles of Pilates. 

What Does Pilates Do?

Consider this quote by Mr. Pilates himself: "a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure." If that sounds compelling, it is. Symmetry and alignment are the foundation of physical wellness. The majority of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries are due to poor alignment and asymmetries in the body. Pilates is targeted symmetrical training. By focusing on equalizing body sides of the body and balancing motion and strength you will achieve an ease of movement than you may not have experienced before.

Does it Work For Every Body?

Getting in shape with Pilates is a path anyone can embark on, from the couch potato to the uber athlete.

All Pilates exercises can be modified to meet the needs of the individual. Whether you train with the Pilates equipment or just the mat exercises, you can always adjust the motion and intensity to your own personal level.  Whatever Pilates style you prefer, working with an individual teacher is recommended to help you design the best program for your intended results.


The Pilates Principles

In order for the Pilates method to work its magic, the exercises should be done with certain principles in mind. The Pilates principles are: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. These ideas are integral to achieving the signature results that Pilates in known for. These principles are what separates Pilates from many other workouts which may address the physical aspects of wellness but do not work to integrate the mental and emotional elements of health. Complete coordination of body, mind and spirit does not come solely by squats and push ups.
read more about the Pilates principles

Pilates Begins At The Core

Pilates exercise starts with the core of your body -- with full breaths refreshing your cells; with your heart and circulatory system pumping fresh blood into your tissues; and with training the deep muscles of your abdomen, back and pelvis (your Pilates powerhouse) to support your spine, and provide stability in your pelvis and shoulders as you move.

When we strengthen and stabilize the core, we can safely move out from center to increase the flexibility of our spine, stretch our muscles, and improve the range of motion in our joints.

Get Going With These Starter Routines

Now that you know some of the inner workings of getting in shape with Pilates, I bet you are ready to get moving. Here are some links to get you started:

Pilates Progress

Pilates is a progressive system. If you are consistent in your Pilates training you will be adding new moves and increasing your stamina and intensity with each workout.  As you progress, will find that the pace of a workout picks up as do the strength and stability challenges. Once you have experience with the Pilates mat work, you can add challenge, and variety, with Pilates equipment. There is small equipment that can be used at home or you can take classes at a studio to incorporate equipment like the reformer and Pilates chair.

How Often Should I Do Pilates?

To get in shape with Pilates, Joseph Pilates recommended a minimum of 3 times per week. While the mat work can be done every day, equipment work should be spaced out every other day. You may begin with short mat workouts as little as 10 minutes. Your goal is to work your way up to between 45 minutes and one hour. Whenever possible, the best Pilates practice happens at the hands of an instructor who can not only guide you through proper form but also move you forward towards your ultimate goals.

Many people find Pilates to be an entirely satisfying fitness regimen. In traditional exercise terms, Pilates is a system of moderate strength and flexibility training. Understanding all of the additional benefits of Pilates will happen the sooner you begin. 

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