Health

13 Physical and Mental Benefits of Doing Pilates

Now that you know what to expect, here are some of the Pilates benefits you can gain from adding it into your routine.

Physical benefits of Pilates

1. Increased flexibility

A lot of movements in Pilates have a stretching component—take side kicks, for example, which stretch your entire backside, especially your calves, hamstrings, and glutes—so it makes sense that regularly practicing Pilates could boost your overall flexibility. Flexibility is important because it can help you work out more effectively, feel better in day-to-day life, and reduce your risk of injury, as SELF previously reported. In fact, a review published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2011 of 16 studies found “strong evidence” that Pilates is an effective way to improve flexibility. (The review also uncovered strong evidence that Pilates can effectively improve dynamic balance. More on that below.)

2. Better balance

So yeah, Pilates can improve your balance, a number of studies show. A small 2007 study in Exercise Physiology of 34 healthy adults, for example, found that those who completed 10 sessions of Pilates saw a significant change in dynamic balance (the ability to maintain balance while moving or changing positions) compared to those who did not do Pilates. How, exactly, does Pilates accomplish this? As Green explains, balance is heavily informed by your core strength, proprioception (awareness of where your body is in space), and interoception (awareness of how you feel as you move). Pilates can improve all three of those skills, she says, so it makes sense that Pilates can also better your balance.

3. Improved core engagement

The term “engage your core” is ubiquitous in the fitness world, but a lot of people struggle to truly connect with their midsection, says Gale. A skilled Pilates instructor can help you learn how to effectively engage your core by giving detailed, varied instructions (like “pull your belly button in toward your spine”) that go beyond the simple cues you may hear in other exercise classes , says Gale. This, in turn, can help you properly fire up your core while doing core-centric moves, which are super common in Pilates. By better engaging your core, you’ll be able to more effectively strengthen it and thus reap the benefits of a strong core—like better balance, stability, and overall functioning, as well as a reduced risk of low back pain, according to the Mayo Clinic.

4. Body awareness

In Pilates, you don’t just move your body willy-nilly; instead, the goal is to perform each movement with your full attention. This mindfulness aspect of Pilates can give you a better sense of how you are moving your body in class. That, in turn, can translate into better body awareness in everyday life, says Gale. And with better body awareness, you will have a stronger idea of what your body truly needs day to day. For example, maybe you’ll notice your hip flexors feel tight from sitting all day, in which case you’d want to pencil in more mini-movement breaks into your daily routine.

5. Low-impact exercise

Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that is gentle on your bones and joints. That means it can be a great fitness option for people who can’t do high-impact activities, like running or jumping. Just don’t expect Pilates to be easy. Even though you’re not sprinting or doing other explosive movements, you can still “whip up a sweat,” says Marie.

6. Better coordination

Pilates can build total-body coordination, says Marie. That’s because it incorporates a lot of exercises that require multiple body parts to work in tandem. For example, the roll-up requires your abs and glutes to work together to stabilize your legs while you simultaneously lift and lower your upper body one vertebrae at a time. “It’s all these things stacked on top of each other, and you’re doing them all at the same time,” explains Marie. And what’s the benefit of improved coordination? It can help you move more effectively and efficiently while also reducing your risk of injury, as SELF previously reported.

7. Breath awareness

Pilates emphasizes a type of deep breathing called “lateral costal breathing,” which involves expanding your ribs while contracting your abs, and each exercise in Pilates has a breath pattern attached to it, explains Green. The emphasis in Pilates on breathing deeply and deliberately through movements can help you perform other exercises better; it can also trickle over to day-to-day life. For example, taking intentional breaths when you’re stressed may help you feel rested and relaxed, SELF previously reported.

8. Total-body strengthening

Pilates isn’t just about your core; it can also strengthen your entire body, says Green. That includes bigger muscle groups, like your glutes, quads, hamstrings, back, and chest, as well as smaller stabilizing muscles, including those that support your shoulders and spine. In Pilates, this strength work comes in a variety of formats, says Green—including exercises where you stabilize your core as you move your arms and legs (like the single-leg stretch), exercises where you mobilize the spine (like the climb-a-tree move on the reformer), and exercises where you move just one side of your body at a time (as with unilateral exercises, like kneeling side kicks).

9. Enhanced athletic performance

Pilates is “such a great complement to any form of fitness,” says Green. That’s because it helps boost flexibility, mobility, and strength—three skills that improve the efficiency of your movements in general. Pilates also, as we mentioned, increases body awareness, which can help your brain more efficiently access your muscles when needed. “Pilates will only make an athlete better at what they do,” says Green. Indeed, many high-level athletes regularly practice Pilates as part of training for their sport. Tennis star Maria Sharapova, world champ surfer Stephanie Gilmore, and basketball legend LeBron James are just a few pro athletes who have reportedly dabbled in Pilates.

10. Improved control and precision

Control and precision are “whole-heartedly built into every single exercise” in Pilates, says Green. As Green explains, it’s “really knowing where you are and where you want to go and getting there efficiently.” This allows you to perform movements with grace instead of flailing too much—which is not the most efficient way to move, nor is it making the most out of your energy cost.

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