Pilates – why bother?

Apart from allowing you to do silly things at the top of mountains, what can Pilates offer you?

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Welcome to the first of three posts introducing you to Pilates from the view of a physio and Pilates instructor. You may find you can motivate yourself by just wanting to do something positive for your health and fitness and I applaud you. Many of us need a little more to get us going – having to fit into an outfit for your daughter’s wedding, performing at a  high level in your sport, dreading getting into swimwear on holiday this summer… It may simply be having paid upfront for a block of classes and wanting to get your money’s worth. Whatever it is that drives you to get to a class, hopefully this blog can add new reasons to get enthusiastic.

You may be here because you are already a super-fit person looking for something more, or you may just be dabbling in the reasons to get active. Before we even get started on Pilates, here is an excellent video on the need for physical activity as a starter:

Now, Pilates isn’t for everyone – people have their own preferences and will choose alternatives – but, in my humble opinion – it is for a huge number of people from different backgrounds. You may prefer yoga for the spiritual element, you may find the whole thing too slow and (yawn) boring and stick to your high intensity classes. In my experience, if people only do one activity, it needs to address alignment of the body, support of the joints, stability of the muscular system, flexibility of the muscles and mobility of the joints. Pilates does all of these (I’m not claiming nothing else does – but a lot of activities will only address a few aspects of fitness and if that is all you do, leave you with an imbalance which could lead to problems). So, if you’re only going to do one activity, you could go for Pilates. If you’re only going to do something which only works muscles repeatedly in a specific range like cycling, walking, running, swimming and so on, I would strongly suggest you get in another activity that will help maintain muscle strength and length and prevent muscle imbalances.

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Anecdotally, I met a rower at a  Pilates course who was training six days a week on various torturous training programmes (I know, I’ve done them all – six days a week is the minimum you have to put in to remain competitive in rowing). When she started training in Pilates she added in a Pilates session on the seventh day and quickly saw her rowing results improve dramatically.

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Every week in my classes I have a client say ‘I feel so much better for that’, or ‘I feel inches taller’. I feel it myself as well, the healthy feeling of alignment in the body and knowing you’ve done something good for yourself stays with you. My argument for ‘why bother?’ is that Pilates is exercise which supports you in your life and improves quality of life. Coming out of a class, you feel you have the energy to get on with things and have a feeling of having treated yourself well. How many people can say that after a gruelling spinning class? Although spinning has its place, I know myself  I’d rather lie down in a darkened room afterwards.

Enough anecdotal evidence, what do the experts say? Ferreira et al (2006) conducted a systematic review of specific stabilisation exercises (such as those used in Pilates) and found that for the low back and neck, the exercises were beneficial for treating chronic (lasting 6 weeks or longer) pain, reducing cervicogenic headaches (headaches arising from neck problems) and preventing recurrence of pain.

Up next: Pilates – What is it good for? Let’s hope the answer isn’t ‘absolutely nuthin’!’

Reference: Ferreira PH, Ferreira ML, Maher CG, Herber t RD and Refshaug e K (2006): Specific stabilisation exercise for spinal and pelvic pain: A systematic review. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy 52: 79–88

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