Do you think that exercise has to be ultra-sweaty and painful? Think again: pilates offers so many real-world benefits. So why aren’t more of us doing it? asks Izzie Price.
As a pilates teacher, I’ve got clients who tell me how much more energised they feel after a session on the mat or who notice how much stronger they’ve become since taking up the practice. But I also have friends who are hesitant to even try pilates, because they think it’ll be ‘boring’.
They’ll complain that they don’t have the time to mess around doing pilates. If they’ve got an odd window available, they want to spend it doing something that gets their hearts pounding for a ‘proper’ workout.
Now, it’s fair enough if, after a day staring at a screen, you’d prefer to run outdoors than do an indoor Zoom pilates session. We all have different needs and goals from our exercise regimes. But I can’t help but wonder why so many people dismiss pilates as being dull or too low-intensity.
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The way I feel after a pilates class is unbeatable. I feel stronger, more relaxed and calm – in awe of my body’s ability to move through a pacy flow, pulse through an excruciating burn or work through a trembling shake. It feels like my cells are fizzing with the benefits of the mat-based practice. I’m lucky that, as a newly qualified pilates instructor, I get to share the overwhelmingly positive impact it’s had on my body and mind with other people – including the very deep burn that often comes 20 seconds into an exercise.
My pals aren’t to blame for their anti-pilates stance; their mindset is the product of the general cultural consciousness that surrounds exercise. Despite the boom in pilates and yoga, we’re still told that a practice isn’t ‘real exercise’ unless you’re struggling to breathe by the end. Exercise isn’t simply defined by the amount of sweat you shed. It can mean improving your flexibility, enhancing your mobility and bettering your balance – all of which can be done via pilates.
Regularly hopping on the mat will strengthen and lengthen your muscles – and that’s a massive bonus. But pilates offers more than physical benefits; its founding principles include concentration, breathing, centring, precision, flowing movement and control, with a further three principles including awareness, stamina and relaxation. It’s these elements that make pilates so good for the body and mind, and which have made the most difference in my own life.
Take concentration, for example. I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past, but committing to this pilates principle has helped me no end. When I’m practising, I have to concentrate fiercely on what every single part of my body is doing, making sure I’ve got a neutral spine, engaging my pelvic floor, retracting the shoulders, ensuring that my alignment is correct for whatever movement I’m performing. Throw in a burn and a shake (with The 100 exercise, for example, where you lie on the mat and raise and lower your arms 100 times while lifting your head, shoulders and legs off the floor) and I’m fully immersed in my body. It’s a form of mindfulness.
I’m a lot more mobile and flexible than I was pre-pilates. I’ve always had very tight hip flexors – if I go on a long walk, I’ll feel it in my hips long before I feel it anywhere else – but doing the One Leg Circle (where you lie on the mat and circle your leg out to the side and back in towards the body) helps to mobilise my hip flexors and gives them a much-needed release.
When you factor in how much you need to concentrate, how controlled and precise the movement needs to be and the extent to which the exercise strengthens the abs, the benefits of this one simple move go on and on (and on).
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Others might feel this much-needed mobilisation in their shoulders, neck, knees or spine – whatever the area, pilates will get the blood flowing and the body moving, mobilising the joints and working the muscles; and you’ll get a stretch at the end, too, increasing flexibility and releasing tension.
I’m not saying ditch your weekly runs or stop going to that stalwart cardio class that makes you feel amazing every time. There should be room for everything in exercise – and we all have different styles and intensities that work best for us and our bodies – but I definitely believe that more women should take a punt on pilates.
If the only reason you don’t do it is that you think you’ll get a better workout elsewhere, come and talk to me after a 45-minute session. I guarantee you’ll leave feeling mentally and physically stronger than ever.
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