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The benefits of Pilates

DO NOT USE_Ed Soluk 12/11/2014 Emily Wilson

© OJO Images/Getty Images Recently celebrities like Khloe Kardashian, Lady Gaga and Vanessa Hudgens have been seen attending Pilates classes to help maintain their svelte figures. The wonderful thing about Pilates is that it is suitable for just about everyone, regardless of age and fitness level. It is beneficial for dealing with specific health conditions, injuries and postural problems and is also very effective in toning your muscles to give you a leaner, stronger figure. SportsShoes in-house Pilates expert, Emily Wilson, explains how Pilates can help you get in shape.

Pilates – an introduction

Pilates is an exercise system that was originally developed in the early 1900s, it incorporates elements of yoga, martial arts, weight training and other Western forms of exercise. The Pilates method is a unique approach to exercise that develops body awareness - improving and changing the body’s postural alignment habits. Pilates focuses on correct breathing and strengthening deep core-stabilising muscles of the lower abdomen and back. The exercises are low impact and tone and stretch all areas of the body, increasing strength and flexibility in muscles and joints which results in greater ease of movement.

The difference between Yoga and Pilates

Pilates and Yoga are similar in that they both focus on strength, flexibility, posture, balance and good breathing techniques. Yoga differs from Pilates primarily because it has a spiritual element with a focus on a unity between body and mind, Yoga classes may involve chanting, meditation or relaxation. Yoga poses were originally invented so Yoga practitioners could hold their bodies in static positions for long periods while they were meditating.

Pilates classes involve precise exercises that target specific areas of the body with an emphasis on strengthening the core muscles. There are two basic forms of Pilates, mat-based Pilates and equipment-based Pilates. Mat-based Pilates, which is the most popular form of Pilates, is a series of exercises performed on the floor using gravity and our own body weight to provide resistance. Equipment-based Pilates uses specially designed equipment and accessories to provide muscle resistance.

Pilates’ holistic approach sets it apart from many other forms of exercise. Osteopaths, physiotherapists and general practitioners recommend Pilates as one of the safest forms of exercise today.

The benefits of doing Pilates

Pilates can help with your general fitness, specific health conditions and your overall well-being including:

- Relief from back pain

- Improved alignment and posture

- Toned abdomen and body

- Pelvic and shoulder stability

- Improved mobility in all joints and the spine

- Effective injury prevention and post-rehabilitation

- Improved balance

- Greater strength and co-ordination

- Can help alleviate aches, stress and tension

- More efficient digestion

- Better circulation and respiratory system

- Maintains and can increase bone density

- Enhanced immune system

How Pilates can help with weight loss 

Pilates and body conditioning is beneficial to do alongside all forms of exercise, to help achieve balance in the whole body and avoid over-using one muscle group. It can contribute to weight loss and burning calories if done regularly and intensively. An hour’s Pilates class (depending on intensity) can burn around 300-400 calories. The main benefits in doing a physical conditioning exercise such as Pilates to help with weight loss are:

-Pilates strengthens all of the body’s muscles, helping to improve muscular performance whilst doing aerobic exercise. Pilates builds ‘internal strength’ working from the inside-out giving more control and ease of movement during all exercise.

- Pilates creates longer, leaner muscles and tones the whole body. Creating lean muscle mass is one of the best ways to increase your calorie-burning and weight loss potential.

- Pilates improves the blood flow thus allowing more efficient circulation of oxygen to muscles and easier removal of toxins during aerobic exercise, allowing your muscles to last for longer.

- Pilates promotes deep and efficient breathing techniques which are essential for calorie burning and tissue regeneration.

- Pilates is excellent for building strength, flexibility and balance in the body and it is most effective with weight loss when combined with cardiovascular exercise.

The core muscles

Your core muscles are formed of a small group of muscles; an abdominal muscle called Transversus Abdominis, the pelvic floor and multifidus (back muscle). These three muscles make up what is known as your deep ‘core’.

The Transversus Abdominis wraps horizontally around the sides of the torso between the lower ribs and pelvis. Tightening this muscle gives a feeling of a ‘girdle of strength’ around the torso, stabilising the lumber spine and pelvis. The pelvic floor is a strong muscular hammock from the coccyx to pubic bone, formed of both superficial and deep muscles. The pelvic floor works from underneath the pelvis to support the torso, pelvis and internal organs of the body. Multifidus is a deep back muscle that runs between the spinous processes of the vertebrae.

It is important to strengthen your deep core muscles because they are vital for supporting and stabilising your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen during exercise and movement. This will help to improve overall performance during exercise, ease aches and pains in the body and help to avoid injury.

Emily Wilson is an expert for SportsShoes

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