What Is Pilates?

Pilates is a whole body exercise, developed as a rehabilitation exercise for soldiers in the 1920s.  It shares many characteristics with yoga but is different from yoga in some fundamental ways.  Practice Pilates either on a mat on the floor or on specialized equipment such as a reformer. A low impact exercise, Pilates focuses on building core strength and flexibility as well as coordination and balance. The many benefits of Pilates range from increasing core strength and flexibility to improving posture and mental focus.

Here is a breakdown of Pilates benefits.


Whole Body Fitness

Pilates targets the whole body, not a single muscle group.  It provides even conditioning, and unlike some strength building routines, Pilates does not disproportionately favor one muscle group over another. Its focus is on core strength – abdominals, back and glutes.  However, Pilates also strengthens the large muscle groups of the legs, arms and shoulders as well as small muscles for a comprehensive body-toning workout.


Core Strength

A strong core is the foundation of a strong, lean and healthy body.  Pilates routines work the abdominals and create balance by working the lower back muscles as well.  A balanced front to back workout is important for preventing injuries.  Exercises to strengthen the abs and back require holding the body in correct positions and making slow, controlled movements.  For example, one exercise evolves lying on the floor with head and legs lifted off the floor and abdominal muscles engaged. Mental focus is necessary to keep the movements tight and controlled and push the body to its capabilities.



Pilates improves flexibility by taking muscles to their full range of motion.  With other muscle-building routines such as weight lifting a reduction in flexibility can occur if muscles are not stretched beforehand.  In Pilates, the exercises themselves keep the body limber.  Although, it is important to warm up muscles before beginning Pilates by doing a few gentle stretches or jogging in place for a few seconds.


Strength Without Bulk

Pilates is primarily a non-weight-bearing exercise. Some Pilates variations uses weight resistance, whether as part of the machines or with free weights, to build muscle. However, these exercises focus on perfect form and repetition with light weights, not heavy weights.  Exercises that focus on heavy weight bearing to gain muscle make short, bulky muscles. Pilates creates long, lean muscles without a bulky appearance.



Pilates is a restorative , low impact exercise, common in physical rehabilitation centers for patients recovering from injuries. Practicing Pilates can reduce pain and stiffness.  As with any exercise, you may experience muscle soreness after the first few workouts, but this lessens with time and it is a good sign that your body is strengthening.  If the muscle soreness moves over the line from discomfort to true pain, you might be doing the exercises incorrectly.


For Beginning and Advance Students

Pilates is challenging for advanced practitioners but it is also easy for beginners to grasp and practice.  It is adaptable, based on personal strength and flexibility.  Take the exercise example from benefit number 1, core strength. On your back with legs together in the air, engage your stomach muscles to hold your legs out straight at an angle. The angle of the legs determines the difficulty of the exercise. For an easier pose, keep legs almost vertical or bend the knees slightly.  More advanced students can hold the legs closer to the floor. Moving the legs down a few inches increases the difficulty.  Moving your legs up higher makes the pose less demanding.  Finding the level of difficulty that is challenging but not so difficult that you cannot keep proper form, is the key to getting the most out of your Pilates exercise. 


Balance & Coordination

Pilates strengthens small muscle groups required for balance and improves coordination by training your body to make precise, controlled movements.  It requires focus and mental conditioning to make your body do precisely what you ask it.  This discipline during practice makes the workout more effective.  Additionally, the kinesthetic skills learned carry over outside of practice.  You are not only building strength and flexibility, but also muscle control, balance and coordination.


Improve Breathing 

The breath is important in a Pilates workout.  Coordinating movements with the breath increases the effectiveness of each repetition.  Conscious, full breaths with each exertion bring in more air to oxygenate the blood and feed the body’s cells, muscles and mind. Proper breathing improves workouts but may also carry over outside the Pilates class, for better full breathing throughout the day.


Assist Digestion

Physical Activity helps digestion by massaging the internal organs and stimulating the intestines and move food through the digestive tract. Repetitive movements and spinal twists warm up the internal organs and stimulate healthier digestion.


Improve Posture

Form is important in Pilates. Good posture in Pilates means a straight, elongated spine that is not hunched or leaning to one side, shoulders back, chest out and chin up. Practicing Pilates with a relaxed body in good alignment regularly helps improve your posture even when not in class.  Not only does it condition you to have good posture, it strengthens the muscles to help you keep good posture throughout the day.


Increase Energy

Like most physical activity, Pilates wakes up the cells of your body and gets endorphins going to give you a better mental outlook and energy for the rest of your day. Practicing Pilates in the morning prepares your mind and body for the day.  Pilates in the evening is a good wind down.  It clears your mind of the day’s busy thoughts, stretches sore muscles, and prepares your body for a restful night sleep, which in turn will energize you for the next day.


Mental Focus

Pilates requires mental focus during the session to keep your body in proper form.  It is not easy to keep movements smooth, controlled and precise when working at the edge of your body’s capabilities. Mental focus on your movements and form improves the effectiveness of the exercise but also may improve your ability to focus in day-to-day life.



To practice Pilates you do not need additional equipment other than a mat for a complete workout.  Some varieties of Pilates use special machines but these are not necessary to practice.  It is easy to work Pilates into your daily routine if you wish, without a cost to entry barrier.   


Pilates Classes

Choosing a class with the equipment makes it easy because you just show up, not need to buy equipment or make room in your house for it. Choosing a class that does not use equipment is also good because it will teach you the exercises so that you can do them at home if you wish.  Pilates classes are important because an instructor will teach you how to do the exercises with proper form.  However, adopting a daily routine that includes Pilates may give you more benefit, provided you have taken a class and know proper technique.  Others prefer to attend a class or two or three times a week and never practice at home.  Find a method that works best for you.  Remember that if you do some Pilates at home, the sessions do not need to be as extensive as a class.  For the best Pilates benefits, practice regularly, whether it is a consistent 10 minutes at home each day, or an hour long class once a week.