Kickstart Your Fitness with Pilates Workout (bonus: get your core on)

Pilates workout is one of the best workouts to practice at home, online, or in your favorite studio.  You can start Pilates at any age, regardless of your budget, time, and fitness level.    You don’t need any special equipment for the Pilates Mat classes, and you can go nuts (as I’ve done) and invest in a full home studio.  Unlike yoga practice, there is no underline philosophy, but you still get the benefits of being mindful and staying in the body.  Many Pilates workouts can be modified for injuries and done supine (on your back).  The intelligent Pilates practice design so that we progress from basic to more complex movement and flow.  Pilates brings the body back to balance by strengthening the weak muscles and lengthening the tight muscles.  In other words, functional movement helps you walk better, engage in your favorite sports, or rehabilitate after the injury.

So, let’s delve in!  First, we’ll talk about Pilate’s origins, benefits, and flavors, and you can try your first Pilates super ab workout.

Pilates Origins

  • Pilates is a method of exercise designed to cultivate a strong, flexible, and balanced body using a systematic practice of exercises with a strong focus on breathing.
  • Pilates takes its name from Joseph Pilates.  A German-born emigré to Britain and then America.  He devised the Pilates method as a new approach to exercise and body conditioning in the early decades of the last century.
  • Joseph Pilates was originally a gymnast and bodybuilder, part mechanical genius and part scientist.  He earned a living as a professional boxer, circus performer, and self-defense trainer at police schools in England around 1912.
  • The British authorities interned him during World War I in an internment camp.
  • Later, Joseph Pilates was transferred to the Isle of Man, where he developed his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise.
  • He called this system “Contrology.”
  • In addition, Joseph studied yoga and animal movements.   After World War I, Joseph Pilates returned to Germany, collaborating with dance and physical exercise experts.  Joseph Pilates emigrated to the United States around 1925, where he met his future wife, Clara.  The couple started teaching in their newly founded studio in New York.   They taught in the studio into the 1960s.
  • Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devoted following in the local dance and movement.  They had a loyal following in the local New York dance and performing arts community.  George Balanchine and Martha Graham became Pilate students.
  • Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 in New York.

Kickstart Your Fitness with Pilates Workout (super core)

Pilates Workout Key Principles:

#1 – Breath

“The greatest indicator of the life span wasn’t genetics, diet, or the amount of daily exercise, as many had suspected. It was lung capacity.” –  James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Breath is the key focus of the Pilates practice.  Firstly, breath is the fuel of the powerhouse and the spine.  Secondly, it brings the body, mind, and spirit to alignment.  Finally, breath is one of the keys to life itself!  The respiratory muscles are the only skeletal muscles that are essential to life.

What is the optimal way to breathe during your Pilates workout?

Some teachers are sticking with the Pilates “tradition” – inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth.  Others use forceful exhalation.  Still, some teachers don’t teach breathing because it is complicated to incorporate it with movement.  However, many progressive teachers (truly yours as well) are adapting nasal breathing based on the latest science and how breathing affects your mind, body, and spine.  The claim that you can only engage your powerhouse when you exhale through your mouth is a myth!  Personally, I saw how my deep core (transverse) muscles engaged when using nasal breathing via the ultrasound.  Of course, don’t believe me and do your own research.  I highly recommend the works of James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.

#2 – Concentration

Concentration is a direction of attention.  Once we are on the mat, we must focus on the body, breathing, and movement.  When we start our Pilates practice, we set the intention to perform each movement or flow based on our current skill level.  We always begin where we are, concentrating on the proper alignment and maintaining this alignment throughout the practice of Pilates.  The concept of concentration is super important and another cross-road with yoga and a direct link to a clear mind and happiness!

#3 – Center

The center is generally viewed as the core of the body.  Therefore, the center is our starting place.  We often refer to the center as the powerhouse.  All movement in Pilates should begin from our center or our powerhouse and flow out to the limbs.  You can think of the core as a tree trunk and the limbs as tree branches.

#4 – Control

Our focus is on quality and not quantity when we practice Pilates.  The control is how we can use strength and flexibility to master a movement.  Control gives us an aesthetically pleasing view of the movement that might seem effortless without any tension.  As our journey progresses, we can control movements and complete them precisely.  Control is essential because it helps us achieve greater mobility, strength, flexibility, and self-awareness.

#5 – Precision

Precision is how we perform a given exercise.  First, we must understand anatomy (which muscles are on are off).  Then, we can align the body based on the goals of the exercise and our individual goals.  Precision is the key to the pilates approach to movement.  Important to note that even though we strive for perfection, we never compromise quality for the sake of form.

#6 – Flow

Like all the other principles of Pilates, flow can be viewed as a principle of Pilates or life itself.  As one of my favorite authors, Steven Kotler defined flow:

“Flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.  In flow, concentration becomes so laser-focused that everything else falls away.  Action and awareness merge.  Our sense of self and our sense of self-consciousness completely disappear.  Time dilates, meaning it slows down (like the freeze-frame of a car crash) or speeds up (and five hours pass by in five minutes).  And throughout, all aspects of performance are incredibly heightened – and that includes creative performance.”

Flow is something we can strive for in our Pilates practice.  When we set our intention to be present and pay attention to each movement and transition based on our current skill level, we can let go and be fully present.  This is another very true point.

#7 – Range of Motion

Range of motion (ROM) measures movement around a specific joint.  It involves the distance a joint can move and the direction in which it can move.  There are established ranges considered normal for various joints in the body.  For a joint to have full ROM, it must have good flexibility.  Pilates exercise has been well-known in the therapy community.  Many physical therapists adapted the use of the discipline to enhance rehabilitation programs by focusing on spinal or core stabilization—particularly the method to improve a patient’s treatment range of motion.  Most exercises can be done on the floor or with Pilates equipment, making it safe for the patient.  Pilates functional movement patterns provide for varied rehabilitation programming with many different orthopedic diagnoses.

#8 – Opposition

Pilates teachers often use imagery and metaphor, like imagining a golden string attached to the top of your head and the bottom of your spine; as your head reaches towards the sky, your tail is reaching down toward the mat.  Likewise, as we push through our feet and the crown of our head reaches up, we attain a flexible and healthy spine.

#9 – Focus on the work, not the Results

When you do a Pilates workout, do it well.  Pay attention to the exercise and how can you be more present.  Where do you feel the work?  How can you move your body and make each moment yours?  For instance, can you make breathing smooth and even?  Can you find the weight distributed evenly between your shoulder blades and your hips in the single-leg stretch?  Instead of focusing on what’s next or speed, focus on quality and the work!

#10 – Mindfulness

“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”

― James Joyce, Dubliners

Unfortunately, pilates workout focuses on physical fitness only, and unlike yoga, there are no official meditation or breathing practices.  Yet, I personally always mix a bit of mindfulness into the soup.  Because many of us are disconnected from our bodies.  As we come to the mat, we stay in our heads; we don’t know how our body works.  We forget to breathe during work and go through the motions.  You don’t need an official meditation practice (even though it can help).  Just pay attention to your body, and be present!  I often ask my students why are you here?  Or the better question would be: “Are you here?” So, next time you practice, pay attention.  Pilates aims to strengthen and elongate the whole system and clear the mind for us to show up to the world to shine.

If you feel disconnected, a few good sessions with a trained instructor should set you free.

#11 – Visualization

If you can, get up and move, stretch your legs for a second.  You most likely did not think very hard about movement.  Did you have to tell your body to move?  Or did you get up and move without thinking?  So, how exactly does the moment work?  There was a series of complex and coordinated movements, as you gave zero thought.  Yet, if you pause and think, movement is an incredible task.  In summary, your brain works in conjunction with your muscles, which work with your skeletal bones to produce various movements.  Any movement begins with a need or desire to move.

That need or desire may be conscious if you’re deliberately thinking about moving, but most of the time, it doesn’t even register in our minds.  Instead, the brain takes control, plans, and initiates the movement.  During deliberate practice, I often use pictures and imagery and ask my students to visualize movement before executing it.  Then, if one can imagine it, it can be done!  Well, for the most part.

8 Key Benefits of Pilates Workout:

Young women on Pilates reformer

  1. Cultivate strength
  2. Increases flexibility and range of motion
  3. Improves endurance
  4. Increases lung capacity
  5. Low-impact exercise
  6. Improves posture
  7. Reduces stress
  8. Safe to practice Pilates after injury or as part of physical rehabilitation

Six kinds of Pilates workouts:

  1. Mat Pilates: Classical mat includes 34 exercises typically broken down by levels.  All you need is a mat, and some basic props like therabands, balls, and magic circles can be used.  Most of the exercises are based on the original Classical Pilates method.  When you embark on the path of practice, you typically start with the Pilates Mat practice, which is the foundation of Pilates practice.
  2. Reformer Pilates: Pilates workout using Reformer apparatus.  The Reformer includes a sliding carriage (a bed-like frame) with a sliding carriage attached to one end with a set of springs.  Unfortunately, the Pilates equipment has a price tag and can take up space.
  3. Tower Pilates: Tower is typically a part of the Reformer apparatus.
  4. Springboard Pilates: Invited by the master (and my mentor), Ellie Herman, the board can be attached to the wall, and the repertoire is similar to the tower.
  5. Cadilac Pilates: Similar to the tower but with more options.  The Cadillac is like a wealthy, intelligent, carrying, and sophisticated lover.
  6. Chair Pilates: Funky chair for Pilates.

Pilates equipment

Other Equipment for Pilates workout:

Other types of Pilates equipment include the stability ball, the ladder barrel, the spine corrector, the arc barrel, the foot corrector, and more!   You can find Pilates equipment to meet you at any stage of your life – super great for isolating, strengthening, and stretching various muscles.  If you are thinking of investing, I recommend Balanced Body.

How to Start Pilates?

young women smiling in pilates plank

A mat on the floor is all you need when you’re just starting.  A lot of the basic beginner exercises can be done this way.  Once you become more advanced, you might invest in equipment if you prefer to be your own master or join a gym or studio that offers private Pilates classes.  The SOFLY Pilates, of course, offers Pilates classes at any level.

So, here are the six original elements of Pilates in a nutshell.  You can see that each principle can be applied to your pilates practice and will translate into your life.

How to Make Your Practice Perfect?

  • Respect and understand where you are in your life and fitness journey.
  • Focus on learning fundamentals based on breath, position, and flow.
  • Find a qualified and certified Pilates teacher.
  • Concentrate when practicing to the point when the exercises become a moving meditation and your second nature.
  • Learn how to turn the muscles on or off for the appropriate exercise.
  • Master timing and principles; pay attention to transitions that take you into a flow.
  • Combine the principles of Pilates with an understanding of anatomy and practice consistently.

To conclude, the Pilates practice suits men and women in many physical conditions, from professional athletes to out-of-shape folks, injured, young, old, etc.  In other words, anyone who is looking to make some life improvements.  We can say that Pilates can be low impact and compelling or energetic.  When done correctly and consistently with explicit instruction, focus, and dedication, the practice will help you embrace the fundamental principles, change your life, improve your posture, keep you looking young, and feel fantastic!  For more, please check out the wiki page, balanced body, and further readings: Ellie Herman Mat.

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