- Pilates is a low-intensity form of exercise that emphasizes strength, flexibility, and breathwork.
- Benefits of Pilates include reduced back pain, better sleep, and lower stress levels.
- You can practice the following Pilates exercises in addition to your regular workout routine.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Pilates is a type of low-impact exercise known to improve both physical and mental health. The benefits and convenience of this type of workout are a few of the reasons it has gained popularity among celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Hailey Bieber, and Pippa Middleton.
Here’s what you need to know about pilates and five pilates exercises to add to your workout routine.
What is Pilates?
- Core stability
- Muscle control
Joseph Pilates developed this form of exercise in the 1920s. He initially started the practice to rehabilitate injured veterans and athletes.
There are six principles of Pilates that differentiate the practice from other forms of exercise, says Lisa Hubbard, a certified Pilates instructor and the owner of Rhythm Pilates. These principles are:
- Breath: a focus on intentional breathing
- Centering: helps you control movements
- Concentration: focus on performing movements thoughtfully
- Control: helps you connect your mind and body
- Flow: helps build strength and stamina
- Precision: focus on improving technique
Note: Although Pilates and yoga are similar, Pilates involves repeated movements, where yoga involves moving from one static movement to the next.
There are two types of pilates: mat and reformer
- Mat is floor-based pilates. Mat Pilates tends to focus on bodyweight exercises and sometimes incorporates small equipment, like ankle weights or exercise balls.
- Reformer involves a piece of large equipment called the Reformer, which is a machine that adds more resistance to certain movements, and tends to be more advanced.
- Mat: for comfort during floor exercises
- Small weights: for added intensity
- Gliding disks: to test stability
- Straps: to increase flexibility
- Blocks: to make some poses more accessible
Here are five Pilates exercises Hubbard recommends adding to your exercise routine if you want to try Pilates. These movements are great for beginners or those with experience doing Pilates.
Note: You can do Pilates as a stand-alone exercise regimen or in complement to your current exercise routine.
1. Spine Stretch
This exercise strengthens and stretches your hamstrings and back.
How to do it:
- Sit up straight with your legs extended in front of you.
- Extend your arms directly in front of you, so that they are parallel to your legs.
- Keeping your arms extended, slowly reach forward towards your toes.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat this movement 10 times.
2. The Hundred
This exercise helps build core strength and stability.
How to do it:
- Lie on your back and hover your legs at a 45-degree angle.
- Lift your shoulders and arms off the ground, making sure your arms are engaged and extended.
- Pulse your arms up and down for a duration of five deep breaths.
Tip: To alleviate some intensity, perform this exercise with bent knees.
3. The Criss Cross
This exercise strengthens your obliques and hip flexors.
How to do it:
- Lie flat on your back with your legs extended.
- Hover both legs above the ground and pull your left leg toward your chest.
- Lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground with your hands behind your head.
- Reach your right elbow to your left knee then return to center.
- Repeat the same exercise on the opposite leg.
- Repeat this movement 10 times on each side for a total of 20 reps.
Tip: Position knees at a 90-degree angle to lessen the intensity.
4. Single-Leg Stretch
This movement works your core and stretches your glutes and hamstrings.
How to do it:
- Lie on your back with your legs extended.
- Hover both legs above the mat then pull your left knee into your chest.
- Lift your chest off the ground and grab your knee and foot with your hands.
- Pull your knee in with your hands for a few seconds.
- Repeat on the opposite leg.
- Complete a total of 20 reps, 10 on each leg.
Tip: If you can’t reach your foot, grab your shin or knee.
5. Single Leg Kick
This targets your back, quads, and hamstrings and stretches your abs.
How to do it:
- Lie on your stomach and place your hands near your ears with your elbows hugging into the sides of your body.
- Lift your chest off the floor.
- Lift your legs so that they are slightly hovering above the ground.
- Bend your left knee to a 90-degree angle and pulse it twice toward the ceiling.
- Return your leg to the extended position.
- Perform the same motion on the opposite leg.
- Complete a total of 20 reps, 10 on each side.
Tip: To reduce the intensity, keep your legs and feet on the ground while performing this exercise.
Pilates offers more than physical benefits like core strength, and toned glutes. “It offers side effects many people don’t anticipate such as better sleep, lowered stress, increased confidence, social outlet, increased happiness, better sex, improved coordination,” says Popoff.
Other benefits of Pilates include:
- Prevents and reduces back pain: Pilates can improve back strength and flexibility, which can help reduce chronic back pain.
- Reduces pregnancy-related pain: A small 2018 study compared a group of pregnant women who did Pilates every day for eight weeks to a control group. The women who did Pilates experienced less pain during their third trimester compared to the control group who completed a standard exercise program.
- Improves the health of elderly people: A 2016 review found that among 60 to 80-year-olds, Pilates can help improve muscle strength, reduce the risk of falls, and improve overall mood.
The benefits you get from doing Pilates may also lead to improvements in other exercise regimens, like running or weight lifting. “Pilates teaches you to move in a more intentional and thoughtful way,” says Hubbard.
Pilates is a low-intensity exercise method that helps improve balance, flexibility, strength, and back pain. It’s safe and effective for most people, says Hubbard. However, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you are returning from an injury or are pregnant.
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