For the past several years, Pilates has ranked as one of the most widely practiced exercise systems and one of the top trends, according to the annual survey of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). However, this training discipline, which is based on achieving harmony of the mind and body through a series of movements and controlled breaths, had its origin in the 1920s, when Joseph H. Pilates, its creator, he devised a system based on concentration, control, core work, fluid movement, precision, and breathing.
About the method and its creator
“Pilates is a method of physical conditioning invented by Joseph H. Pilates during the first half of the 20th century. Initially, he proposed a system that was done on a mat, and which he named Contrology. The premise was that if you strengthened the muscles that accompany the spine, you were going to have a healthy and full life, ”explains Elizabeth Solá, certified Pilates instructor and owner of Mind Body Parlor, in Miramar. He adds that the method integrates the body, mind and breath, and that each movement is coordinated with the breath.
“Pilates understood, even at that time, when the concepts of fitness were not those of now, that if you strengthened the body and increased oxygenation, you were going to strengthen your immune system and you were going to be more resistant”, Solá details, to add that, at that time, the Spanish flu was wreaking havoc, as is currently the case with covid-19. Later, he established his studio on Eighth Avenue in New York. There he put into practice a series of 34 mat exercises that are considered as the universal basic repertoire of the method and developed various devices to work the different parts of the body more efficiently.
As an anecdote, Solá says that among the dancers who came to Pilates to treat an injury with training and rehabilitation exercises was the dancer, choreographer and founder of Ballet Concierto, Lolita San Miguel, who is one of the first generation teachers of the method and one of the only two certified by Joseph Pilates to teach it.
“That is very important, because in Puerto Rico there are many very good teachers, because we have a teacher who studied the Pilates method directly,” he said.
A complete practice
Although there are no limitations on who can practice Pilates —Solá points out that her youngest student is 13 years old, while the oldest is 90—, the contraindications that may arise are regarding the execution of some exercises, for which “there are modifications”.
Yoga versus pilates
Although yoga and Pilates share similarities, they also have some differences.
For example, both disciplines can be practiced in groups or individually and have a strong mind-body component.
“In yoga, you hold the posture, breathe in it and learn to face a position, which may or may not be difficult for you, through your breathing, while in the case of Pilates, breathing promotes movement”, he stressed .
Due to the emphasis on Pilates techniques and movement patterns, this method is integrated into the treatment plan for many injuries and conditions.
What do you need?
For the yoga instructor, “all you need to practice Pilates is a surface to lie on or sit on, your body and your breath.” it is not always necessary to use the devices.
“The requirement is to breathe; if you’re breathing, you can do pilates, ”he said. He added that socks with grip (with a non-slip sole) can facilitate movements.
For their part, the devices allow the body to “educate” to perform certain movements with the proper technique and avoiding injuries. The best known is the Reformer.
“The Reformer stabilizes and guides movement, that is why it is used for rehabilitation, because the person is supported, lying down, sitting or standing on a platform and the device helps them to move in a correct way”, describe.
Does it help you lose weight, shape and tone?
Although Pilates is not an aerobic practice, if your desire is to lose weight, Solá recommends that you add cardiovascular exercise to your regimen (always with the recommendation of your doctor).
However, it points out that “The method makes muscle mass grow, so you may not lose weight, but you are toning, because you are replacing fat tissue with healthy muscle mass”, he highlighted, but states that the ideal is to find a balance between strength exercises and cardiovascular exercises to burn fat.
Although research related to the effectiveness of the Pilates method is limited, it is known, according to the ACSM, that research on spinal stability indirectly supports it, because it is associated with a lower risk of low back injuries.
The ACSM also points out that the Pilates method teaches how to contract the abdominal muscles, increasing the contraction of the pelvic floor, which can be useful to prevent urinary incontinence.
Solá emphasizes that those who have the onset of osteoporosis or osteopenia, or some degenerative disc disease, benefit from this practice. Another great benefit comes from breathing, which, due to its wide movement, has many effects, especially on lung capacity. It also ensures greater oxygenation in the body, which facilitates the exchange of toxins. This deep, efficient breathing is beneficial for people with lung dysfunction, asthmatics, or recovering from smoking.
“Further, this breath calms the mind, which carries over into your daily life activities without you even realizing it”, He indicated when mentioning that the body begins to react differently to stress.
The changes are noticeable relatively quickly, but these are not only physical, but also allow people to feel less pain or have greater physical and respiratory resistance.
“With a consistent practice twice a week, you will relieve your pain in at least one or two months, because the strengthening is quite fast”added.
Likewise, with practice you also gain flexibility, which increases circulation and the transport of nutrients, as well as performance and, later in life, the ability to move, among other advantages.
The best way to start
“If you have the resources, The recommendation is that you go to a private session so that that teacher gives you the principles of the method in terms of posture, breathing, movement and use of some of the devices. You can also go to Pilates sessions for beginners.
“Typically, Pilates groups are small, if they are on an apparatus, the most I have seen here are seven people, which allows the teacher to be close to the students, but if you want to play it safe, go to one private class; You will not regret it, because when you get to a group class you will be more familiar with the process, “he said.
- Look for an instructor who obviously knows what he is doing and is certified. It is good that you deal with different teachers to see who you feel the best with. Fortunately, that is not a problem in Puerto Rico since practically all studios have excellent and highly trained teachers.
- Choose a studio where you feel comfortable and you like the environment. You shouldn’t feel like it’s an obligation.
- Choose a class according to your level of performance. Even if you are super active or in good physical condition, it is recommended that you start with a basic class.
- Feel free to take at least one private session to learn the basics of the method.
- You shouldn’t feel pain like you’ve been lifting weights for two hours. So if you went to a class and you feel sore for a week, you should check with the instructor and check if that is the right Pilates approach for you.
- Give yourself time. One or two sessions are usually not enough to determine if the method works for you. Commit for a month or two to give yourself time to stick with the program.