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Pilates: the Perfect Indoor Exercise

11 March 2016

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Similar to Barre and yoga, Pilates is a low-impact strengthening exercise. One great thing about Pilates is that no gym membership is required. Though Pilates is often practiced in a group fitness setting and you can benefit from an experienced instructor’s guidance, this workout can easily be done at home. There are online tutorials, phone apps and at-home videos available to help you learn.

Here's more information on the history and experience of a Pilates workout.

The History of Pilates

Pilates is named after its founder, Joseph Pilates, who created the system in Germany during the early 20th century to rehabilitate World War I soldiers. Joseph Pilates studied many forms of exercise including yoga, which explains why the goal of Pilates is to strengthen not only the body, but also the mind. He believed that mental and physical health are related to one another, and that physical exercise could cure illnesses.

From the beginning, Pilates exercises have been accompanied by equipment to assist with stretching and strengthening. Though the technology of the equipment has improved over time, the general concept is the same. One main goal of Pilates is to build muscle control, so Joseph Pilates called his method of exercise “Contrology,” which is implemented by resistance against gravity (floor exercises) and equipment that creates resistance with springs or elastic bands.

What is a Pilates Workout Like?

The Pilates class at YMCA Healthy Living Center is actually a “Cardio Pilates” class, which means they start the first half of class with Pilates exercises that get the heart rate pumping. This helps get your body in the fat-burning zone, and also engages your core muscles. The last half of class is spent on the mat doing floor exercises and stretching.

All Pilates exercises are low-impact, and can be modified to meet your limitations. If you have injuries or any other physical concerns, be aware of how your body is communicating with you as you do these exercises. Remember, Pilates was created as a rehabilitative exercise, so it isn’t meant to hurt you! Always reach out to your instructor for modifications or assistance if you are having trouble. Otherwise, most exercises are easy for anyone of any age or fitness level.

All Pilates workouts have both standing and floor work, but movements and order of exercises will vary with each workout. Because Pilates is a series of exercises, you can pace yourself however you would like, especially when you do it at home.

The Benefits of Pilates

INTEGRIS YMCA Healthy Living Center Pilates instructor, Kaylee Steffen, said, “After I finish a Pilates class I feel that I have completely worked every muscle in my body. I know that a lot of times workout classes will focus on one area such as the core or legs, but Pilates is head-to-toe lengthening, stretching and strengthening.”

Pilates mostly focuses on control and strength by focusing on the core muscles. The type of muscles that Pilates builds are lean and toned, similar to yoga and Barre muscles.

Two Pilates Workouts to Try at Home

You technically don’t need any equipment to do Pilates at home, but if you do decide to invest in some equipment, hand weights, foam roller, resistance bands and a floor mat are used most often.

Weighted Lunges

This exercise gets the heart rate up and works out your thighs, calves, glutes, core and arms.

  1. Start with your feet shoulder width apart with your knees over your toes.
  2. Lunge side to side, keeping your knee over the ankle. To make this more challenging bend your knees further, taking your lunge deeper.
  3. As you continue a fluid motion side to side, begin to reach across your body toward each knee. Use the opposite arm, so punch your right arm toward your left knee, etc.
  4. Next, try reaching your arm straight out from your shoulder, across your body, and directly over your knee.
  5. You can reach over your head as well, keeping your arm close to your ear and reach toward the ceiling. If you have shoulder issues, you shouldn’t go higher than shoulder height, so skip this one.

Scissor Legs

This exercise uses a foam roller to engage the core while you balance, but it isn’t required. You can do this lying on a floor mat.

  1. If using a foam roller, lie down on the foam roller vertically, where your tailbone and head are resting on it, and arms are at your side for support. To engage your core more fully, only rest on your fingertips instead of your whole arm/hand.
  2. Take one leg up toward the ceiling and straighten it if you are able. Your other leg should be straight and in front of you, but off the ground.
  3. Start switching your legs in a scissor-like motion and think about engaging your core by pulling your navel into your spine. Relax your shoulders so you don’t tense up. Controlled movement is key here, so go nice and slow.