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Pilates uses resistance training and a rotation of 500 exercises to work the body's midsection, improve muscle tone, balance, coordination, posture, and mental focus.

By Zeel Editorial Staff, Last updated: May 18, 2020

Pilates combines exercises that work the body and the mind, using resistance training and a rotation of 500 exercises to work the body's midsection, improve muscle tone, balance, coordination, posture, and mental focus.

Each class focuses on six basic principles - they are concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing. Known as lateral posterior breathing, these long, deep breaths originate in the ribcage. One of the first challenges in Pilates is mental - changing the very way you breathe and hold your body.

Named for its inventor, Joseph Pilates, the exercises were first developed by Pilates during a forced internment in England during World War I. Pilates was inspired by the equipment he had used as a once-sickly child in his homeland of Germany. He first called the discipline Contrology, but today it's named after its creator.

Pilates came to the United States in the 1920s, and was enthusiastically adopted by ballet dancers, who loved the way it lengthened and strengthened their muscles and kept them slender. Pilates remained a niche practice until the 1980s, when it gained popularity along with other forms of exercise, like aerobics and yoga.

The results of Pilates aren't instantaneous - it can take up to 30 sessions to see significant changes. Depending on the intensity of your class, Pilates burns between 250 and 500 calories per hour. All forms of Pilates aim to tighten the "powerhouse" of the body - the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks.

Main Types of Pilates

Reformer Pilates

Pilates is notable for the machinery it often - but not always - involves. Specially designed by Joseph Pilates himself, the Pilates reformer is a piece of resistance equipment made up of cables, bars, straps, and pulleys. It looks something like an operating table with pulleys and straps. Classes that make use of this apparatus are referred to as reformer Pilates. Read more

Mat Pilates

Pilates can also be performed on cushioned mats - when it's known as mat Pilates. Mat Pilate classes are often less expensive and more convenient. This style typically relies on an individual's own body weight in order to create resistance, though a specialized Pilates ball, ring, or chair may be incorporated into the movements. Read more

Other Specialized Pilates Classes

Winsor Pilates

While it's certainly possible to lose weight with Pilates, it's better suited to lengthening and strengthening the body. But if your primary goal is weight loss, Winsor Pilates may be a good option. Winsor Pilates modifies traditional Pilates routines to emphasize speed and energy. Workouts are more dynamic than traditional Pilates, and sessions are supplemented by an optional 1,200 calorie per day diet.

Developed and distributed by famed Pilates instructor Mari Winsor, Winsor Pilates implements a program of "dynamic sequencing"-a series of swift exercises completed in a specific order and with minimal transition time. Classes may make use of exercise balls, Pilates rings, and mat work to sculpt the abs, back, chest, shoulders, hips, thighs, and the buttock. Because Winsor Pilates is highly active, classes are not suitable for rehabilitative purposes (for this, Stott Pilates is a better choice).

Stott Pilates

Stott Pilates places an emphasis on spinal rehabilitation. The theory is that by avoiding any flattening of the back, it's possible to avoid adding strain to the spinal cord. This no- or low-impact interpretation of classical Pilates focuses on five basic principles - breathing, pelvic placement, rib cage placement, scapular (shoulder) movement, and head and cervical spine placement. This makes Stott Pilates gentle and safe for individuals recovering from injuries. Movements can be completed on a mat, a Pilates reformer, or even on a specially designed chair.

Stott Pilates was introduced in the late 1980s and continues to be periodically refined by a panel of physical therapists, sports medicine experts, fitness professionals, and its co-founders Moira and Lindsay G. Merrithew. According to this Pilates power couple, the average athlete can feel their muscles healing in about a month. Because weight loss is not a focus of Stott Pilates, individuals may need to supplement classes with aerobic exercise.

Yoga Pilates

Yoga Pilates fuses the advantages of yoga and Pilates into one hybrid class-colloquially called "yogilates." Yoga Pilates is a dynamic workout that strengthens the core and improves flexibility. It also harnesses the psychological benefits of both workouts. Yoga Pilates ideally helps both flexibility and muscle strength. Pregnant women, however, should not engage in Yoga Pilates. (Prenatal Pilates is a safer bet.)

Yoga Pilates emphasizes lateral thoracic breathing-a specialized technique of inhaling and exhaling through the abdominal muscles and rib cage to support the spine from pose to pose. To participate in a Yoga Pilates class, grab a towel or a floor mat to protect your spine, a small towel for under your head, and a "Thera-Band," which emulates the resistance created by a Pilates reformer. (Most sporting goods stores should be outfitted with these.)

Power Pilates

Power Pilates adds an aerobic component to traditional Pilates, facilitating weight loss by burning 20 percent more calories than traditional Pilates. Power Pilates improves posture and tones the abdominal muscles, the back, and the buttocks. This powerful workout can also slim the arms, legs, and torso. Power Pilates classes stretch and strengthen the muscles of the body without adding mass to the frame (the cardio kick can condition the muscles and keep them from bulking up).

Movements can be carried out on a mat or a rowboat-like machine - a resistance-based apparatus similar to a Pilates reformer. Classes may also make use of a Pilates ring or ball to increase resistance and further sculpt the muscles. There are 110 Power Pilates training centers in 10 countries, where celebrities like Laura Linney and Hilary Swanktrain regularly.

Prenatal Pilates

Expectant mothers can prepare for birth (and getting back in to shape after giving birth) with prenatal Pilates. Many women find Pilates to be a good way to build core, abdominal, back, and pelvic strength during pregnancy. Keeping these muscles strong can make pregnancy more comfortable and delivery less laborious. Wait until you're 14 weeks pregnant before beginning a Prenatal Pilates program.

Prenatal Pilates consists of modified Pilates movements. Every routine throughout your pregnancy will naturally evolve to adapt to your changing body and shifting center of gravity. For example, exercises that require you to lay flat on your back are not advisable during the second trimester. Prenatal Pilates should always be performed with extreme caution to avoid excess strain on the body.

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