10 Surprising Benefits of Pilates
Last Updated: Jul 11, 2014
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Pilates has become synonymous with lean, toned bodies. But the benefits of Pilates go far beyond simple core strength and flexibility. In addition to the aesthetic benefits, regularly practicing this total-body workout can ease back pain, improve bone density and boost heart rate. These surprising benefits make Pilates an effective cross-training workout and a plateau-busting change to your regular weightlifting and cardio fitness routine.
IT IMPROVES BONE DENSITY
While strength training is a known bone-density builder, Pilates also offers surprising bone-building benefits, says Elizabeth Ordway, star of the DVD “Element: Targeted Toning Pilates for Beginners.” “Bone, like muscle, is dynamic tissue and responds to resistance and weight-bearing exercises," she says. "Resistance exercise involves muscles pulling on bone to create tension, which fortifies the bone. Resistance in a Pilates workout comes from apparatus springs and resistance bands.” Ordway suggests resistance bands for side-leg and rowing series during Pilates mat workouts.
PILATES PROMOTE WEIGHT LOSS
Losing a pound of body weight a week requires a deficit of 500 calories per day. Whether you cut back on calories or combine calorie deficit with exercise, Pilates can help. The caloric burn during a Pilates workout ranges from four to eight calories per minute, depending on your intensity, according to a study by Michelle Olson, Ph.D., of Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala. As part of a weight-loss program, Olson suggests doing moderately intense workouts at least four days a week for 45 to 60 minutes, excluding warm-up and cool-down sessions.
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IT EASES BACK PAIN
Back pain sufferers, rejoice! According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, subjects with lower back pain found significant pain relief after a four-week Pilates program maintained over a 12-month period. “Pilates strengthens the core to support the back, teaches proper alignment and provides gentle stretching for tight back muscles due to misalignment and overuse,” says Pilates instructor Elizabeth Ordway. Plus, Pilates addresses underlying imbalances that often lead to poor posture and back pain. Specific Pilates exercises for spine strengthening include the roll up and swan prep, says Ordway.
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YOU'LL STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE
Forget crunches! Pilates strengthens your abdominal muscles, including the obliques, much more effectively. “Pilates is based on efficiently contracting your abdominal muscles with every exercise," says Christa Gurka, founder of Pilates in the Grove of Miami, Fla. "For example, during the seated arm series on the reformer, the abdominals must stay contracted to hold the spine stable to correctly perform the exercise.” In addition, Pilates targets deep abdominal muscles like the transverse abdominis as well as superficial ones like the rectus abdominis muscles that form a “six-pack.” And Gurka adds, Pilates emphasizes correct alignment and proper form, which requires abdominals to fire effectively.
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IT PREVENTS INJURIES
Pilates helps improve flexibility, increases strength and improves balance. These factors reduce your risk of injury, says Pilates instructor Christa Gurka. “If you're able to increase your hamstring flexibility by 10 degrees, you will be less likely to hurt your back when you bend over to pick up something from the floor,” says Gurka. “Improved strength links to improved dynamic control of movement, which minimizes injury.” In addition, unilateral one-legged or one-sided Pilates improves balance and reduces the risk of falls. Lastly, Pilates provides body awareness to create efficient movement patterns, thereby reducing stress on joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments, says Gurka.
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YOU'LL INCREASE YOUR FLEXIBILITY
Most exercises involve movement in only one plane of motion. And usually, that's the forward-and-back motion (like in crunches). Pilates requires motion in several planes, says Pilates instructor Christa Gurka. “Pilates sessions move the spine from flexion to extension, internal rotation to external rotation and side bending, allowing an increased range of motion throughout the body.” Working within these additional planes of motion increases and improves flexibility and decreases injury risk, says Gurka.
IT MAKES A GREAT CROSS-TRAINING WORKOUT
Don't put yourself at risk for overuse injuries by never switching up your workout. Try incorporating a few Pilates sessions into the mix to keep yourself strong and prevent boredom. “Pilates works to enhance one’s body awareness through challenging positions that require optimal postural alignment,” says Pilates instructor Christa Gurka. Some of these exercises work by challenging alignment in a static position, while others require stability and alignment during movement. “This makes more efficient use of muscles, recruiting only those muscles necessary to perform the specific task,” says Gurka.
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PILATES IMPROVES POSTURE
Sitting at a desk all day and constantly looking down at a smartphone can lead to hunched shoulders and poor posture. Over time, this creates muscular imbalances. Pilates helps reverse the effects of these bad habits by creating better muscle symmetry and balance, says Allison Slapnicka, owner of Pure Pilates Austin in Austin, TX. “Pilates forces you to work only one specific muscle at a time, isolating those that may be weaker, to redevelop lost strength and create balance throughout the body.” The development of a strong core allows you to freely move through daily tasks without pain and with improved posture.
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Adobe Stock/Andrey Kiselev
IT BUILDS CARDIOVASCULAR ENDURANCE
Like most workouts, the aerobic benefits of Pilates varies depending on intensity. Advanced moves like the jackknife and side lift boost your heart rate well within the target zone, but prone or seated exercises such as the seated twist and leg circles cause heart rates to drop. Most advanced classes will raise your heart rate to an average of 120 to 130 beats per minute. Moving between exercises quickly and decreasing resting time works best. “In higher-intensity forms of Pilates, you go from exercise to exercise quickly, which moves the heart rate up into the aerobic zone,” says trainer Allison Slapnicka. “Keeping it up throughout the session builds endurance.”
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YOU'LL SCULPT SIX-PACK ABS
Whether you want a flat midsection or serious six-pack abs, Pilates can take your abdominal workout to the next level (assuming you’re also cleaning up your diet to drop body fat around your midsection). One reason is that many Pilates movements rank higher in muscle activation than traditional crunches. For example, the roll-up movement was 245 percent more effective at targeting external obliques as compared with crunches. And the crisscross was 310 percent more effective than crunches. “Pilates works by focusing on developing strength of the deeper intrinsic muscles of the center core,” says trainer Allison Slapnicka.
Adobe Stock/Andrey Kiselev
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are you familiar with Pilates? Have you ever taken a class? Did you know that it had all these amazing benefits? If you’ve taken a class before or practice it on a regular basis, which of these benefits have you experienced? Are there any other we missed? Leave us a comment below and let us know!
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