1). YOU COULD MEET SOME SOCIABLE, LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE WHO ARE MORE THAN HAPPY THROW THEMSELVES AROUND ON A MAT AND HAVE FUN.
Most people who go to Pilates classes either want to improve their bodies, rehabilitate from an injury or just get more flexible and healthy, going to weekly Pilates classes is very sociable and a camaraderie starts to form. Aches and pains are discussed, empathy for family and work problems are shared and friendships are formed.
If you are single this may be a great way to improve your social life or make new friends or to join other activities. A couple of people in of my classes is now doing Morris dancing from meeting a fellow Morris dancer!
Pilates technique of lateral thoracic breathing increases oxygen flowing into the blood stream which releases endorphins - the natural chemical 'high' so if you are feeling a bit low, joining a regular Pilates class is great way to lift your mood.
2). IMPROVED GOLF SWING, BETTER BALL RETURN IN TENNIS AND IMPROVED BOWLING ACTION.
Pilates exercises are designed to move through three planes of movement - Lateral/Coronal ( side to side) Sagittal (forwards and backwards) and Transverse (rotational) so that every muscle, joint, tendon and ligament is exercised uniformly. It is the smaller muscles that do much of the work of balancing and re-aligning the body.
Sports such as Golf, Tennis and Bowls are repetitive - in that the body is doing the same action - hitting or moving a ball - to hit the right spot and that is the challenge for the sportsperson.
Golf moves through the Transverse plane (rotational) which can put pressure on the hips and lower back leading lower back pain. Pilates exercises would neutralise this by working the the body through the Sagittal (forwards and backwards) plane and Lateral (side to side) plane to work the smaller muscles in the hips, back and upper body.
Pilates protect the shoulder joint against the extreme swing needed to drive the ball as well as strengthen the stabilising muscles around the spine to assist a safe rotation, flexion and extension to lower spine, a danger area for golfers vulnerable to lower back pain.
The famous golfer Tiger Woods swears by the benefits of doing Pilates exercises.
Tennis is a fast moving game going through all three planes but there is still a risk of knee, hip or back injury - Andy Murray recently underwent hip replacement at only 33. He started training in Pilates later in his career when injuries were affecting his so probably too late to save his hip.
Tennis is an explosive game with short bursts of energy with sharp turns, low dips and high reach to volley and serve so the stabiliser muscles deep within the waist, hips and back need to be working in unison with the postural muscles.
Tow keys factors for the tennis player is a strong core (powerhouse) to drive the body forward, cope with the extreme rotation needed to volley, serve and retrieve low and high shots. Strong gluteal muscles are key to stabilising and protecting the hips and knees when lunging laterally.
Pilates helps stabilise the shoulders and protect the back and spine through the extreme rotation and increase flexibility, mobility and suppleness in the joints, ligaments and tendons.
Bowling is slow, going in a forward motion - so one plane only. This sport does tend to attract seniors because the slow pace and one direction of play. However, there is still the risk of injury to knees, hips and lower back due to the bending motion. Pilates would help strengthen the core and back to prevent these.
Unfortunately, our bodies are not designed to do things repetitively and when the body is under pressure, senses imbalances it will adapt by using the bigger muscles to stabilise the body. Once the bigger muscles take over the smaller stabiliser muscles shrink and that's when injuries start to happen because the body can't cope.
3). ENHANCED ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Pilates was originally devised to help injured soldiers in the First World War by fitness enthusiast Joseph Pilates. Pilates was an athlete for most of his life, having trained as a gymnast, circus performer, wrestler and body builder.
Pilates' devised his Method of rehabilitation exercises and called it 'Contrology' and been a fundamental part of the of fitness regime of professional dancers. More recently International footballers - such as Christiano Ronaldo as well as tennis players such as Serena Williams.
Pilates improves sports performance by lengthening hamstrings which can become tight in short term energy burst sports such as tennis, football and short distance sprinting.
Short hamstrings diminish agility and speed and make the athlete prone to injury. Regular Pilates exercises can improve flexibility in hips, hamstrings and ankles.
As Joseph Pilates says in his famous quote:
"True flexibility can be achieved only when all muscles are uniformly developed"
4). IMPROVED BALANCE, INCREASED RANGE OF MOTION OF JOINTS, LIGAMENTS AND TENDONS.
Going to regular Pilates classes or going for the occasional one -to-one private Pilates session is a great way to re-learn your balancing skills. It is a sad fact of life that, as we get older, our balance does deteriorate. This is due to less blood supply to the ears that balances the liquid in the inner ear, peripheral images around the eye diminishes as we get older so we become less spatially aware and unstable joints and poor body alignment means we forget how stand correctly.
The Pilates Set Up taught in Pilates classes reminds us how to stand correctly - following the Kinetic Chain of head over shoulders, shoulders inline with ribs, ribs over hips, neutral spine, hips over knees and knees in line with ankles. Once this has been learnt the muscles will switch on to keep the body balanced to prevent injury.
INCREASED RANGE OF MOTION.
The old adage 'Use or lose it' certainly applies when flexibility and stiffness starts to set in as we get older and the more stiffer, inflexible and immovable we become, the less likely we want to exercise and it then becomes a vicious circle. The muscles then start to waste away and injuries set in.
If you have never done Pilates before it may be worthwhile trying a one-to-one session in a privacy of a Pilates studio where the exercises are specifically tailored to suit your goals and abilities. It may seem strange at first but, after a few sessions, most people find that they can do more and have more energy.
Pilates can keep joints well oiled and moving in all directions by moving through all planes of movement, increasing muscle mass which, in turn, improves flexibility.
5). INCREASED BRAIN ACTIVITY AND BODY AWARENESS
Going to Pilates classes entails a full mind and body work out because you are learning new exercises that will challenge you mentally and physically. Pilates is a very precise form of exercise that relies heavily on technique, balance and control.
At a beginner's Pilates class you learn how to stand correctly, how to perform lateral thoracic breathing to create oxygen to perform the exercises to build muscle strength. You will lean about the Principles of Pilates and how they apply to the exercises:
After a few lessons the brain will start to function at higher level as you control the breathing and the movement, centre your body (powerhouse) to stabilise, increased concentration to perform the exercise with precision and, with time, your lessons will start to flow as you transition from one exercise to another in a flowing movement.
Once you have been doing Pilates classes or private sessions for a while you find that you will hold yourself in a different way, maybe you will be lighter on your feet, or you will notice that your hips, knees or shoulders are don't see square or aligned as you do the Pilates exercises. Gradually, it will become uncomfortable to let your shoulders sag or your let your spine collapse and you catch sight of yourself in the mirror one day and see you have a flatter stomach or you are standing taller.
6). IMPROVED POSTURE AND MORE EFFICIENT BREATHING TECHNIQUE.
Pilates really does improve poor posture brought about by sitting at a desk all day, anxiety and stress or from texting - an the picture about.
The spine should curve in an natural 'S' shape so that the shoulder girdle, ribs, hips and head are supported in the correct manner to avoid injuries such as lower back pain, sore hips or neck ache. It is only when the spine gets out of alignment that curve becomes more of a 'C' shape and pain and injury become a real risk.
Specific back exercises such as the Swan Dive or 4 point swimming really help to strengthen the specific muscles that stabilise the spine, pull the shoulders back, bring hips under ribs and strengthen the neck muscles to support the head.
Here is me doing the Four Point Swimming exercise in the Pilates Studio.
EFFICIENT BREATHING TECHNIQUE
Although Joseph Pilates did not focus on breathing technique when doing his exercises he was specific about the importance of breathe and here is what he says:
"Above all, learn how to breathe correctly"
Pilates breathing means expanding the rib cage side ways as opposed to upwards. This specific Pilates breathing is called Lateral Thoracic breathing and once this technique is learnt it never leave you. You learn how to expand your rib cage by several millimetres through working the muscles in the ribs called the Intercostal muscles that lie between each rib. Once the muscles are toned and strengthened they then do the job of supporting the spine and shoulder girdle as well as contribute to better breathing technique.
7). INCREASED ENERGY AND WEIGHT LOSS, REDUCED ANXIETY AND STRESS
Going to Pilates classes creates energy through doing the exercises which, in turn burns calories and, combined with healthy diet can lead to weight loss. When first doing Pilates you may not burn as many calories but, as your technique, skill and knowledge improve, you will find that you will transition from one exercise to another in a flowing manner. Your heart rate will go up as more oxygen is needed to glucose from fat stores for energy and weight loss will the result.
REDUCED ANXIETY AND STRESS
Any form of exercise releases Endorphines -'the chemical high' that comes from burning energy, Pilates is no different. Pilates is an a mind and body workout because of the need for concentration and muscle control. Going to regular Pilates classes and working towards creating a fit, lean healthy body can reduce stress and anxiety.
8). GREAT ABDOMINALS AND A STRONG PELVIC FLOOR
Pilates is renowned for it's ability to strengthen the core (or Powerhouse) but that is just small part of what Pilates exercises can achieve with time and effort.
The abdominals sit at the front of the body above and below the navel and are often known as the 'Six Pack' and, when worked in isolation (crunches) can create that effect but that is all that does. There is not much point in have bulging muscles at the front of the body when there are no Gluteal muscles to support hips or minimal upper back muscles to support the shoulders.
Pilates exercises were designed to build the muscles around the waist from the back to the front to create a corset to hold the spine, hips and shoulders in their correct position. Having great abs is an effect of building the muscles in correct alignment. Pilates builds all three gluteal muscles (Gluteus Maximus, Minimus and Medius) to support the hips, builds back muscles for the spine and postural muscles to support the waist.
The Swan Dive - great for working upper and lower back muscles.
THE PELVIC FLOOR
The pelvic floor is toned from working the lower muscles just below the navel called the Transversus Abdominus that forms apart of a sling of muscles that go from the front to the back of the body. These muscles are small and perform the intricate job of supporting larger muscles in the lower back and hips. Consequently, they are hard to target and exercise.
Several Pilates exercises do achieve this task well:
The Shoulder Bridge
The Roll Up
The Roll Over
Here is me doing the Teaser - my arms should be higher - in line with my feet.
9). FEEL TALLER, MOVE MORE EFFICI