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Following the likes of Tai Chi and yoga, Pilates has increased in popularity in recent years, particularly for its numerous health benefits. Plus, it's a lot of fun too according to our users. So if you're curious, here's what you need to know about Pilates including tips on how to find the right class near you.
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"I go to Pilates and love it. Our teacher is very well qualified and alters the exercises to suit us. We are encouraged to do what we are able to do, so it's a good workout."
Pilates is a form of exercise, developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, that focuses on strengthening the core. Strengthening exercises that build strong core muscles are especially important in later life as they help to improve your posture, relieve back pain and maintain balance and stability.
Depending on what level you're at and also whether or not you have any medical conditions, you can use certain types of equipment for Pilates, including the Wunda Chair, Reformer or Spine Corrector, to help you through specific exercises.
Pilates is a particularly popular fitness system as it's easy on the joints, meaning there's less chance of injury, and it helps to improve flexibility. It also aids mental well-being.
"I go to Pilates and yoga and love both, but I find Pilates more effective than yoga in building core strength, stability and flexibility."
Often, there is some confusion between Pilates and yoga as both focus on flexibility, strength, balance posture and breathing, but the two are, in fact, quite different.
Pilates features exericises that are performed in a flow of movement as opposed to the static poses you see in yoga. It's less about relaxation and meditation (fundamental aspects of yoga) and more about the connection between mental health and physical health. Pilates and yoga also use different equipment.
"The beauty of Pilates is that anyone can do it. A good teacher will learn about your body and help you to work at the level that's right for you."
Believe it or not, anyone can do Pilates, no matter your fitness level, age or physical health. Many local classes are tailored specifically to beginners too, which means you can have next to no knowledge in order to give it a go.
Although some classes only use mats, the great thing about having equipment is that is can be used as support or resistance depending on whether you need extra help due to a medical condition or disability, or whether you want to challenge your body. It's worth looking at the different types of Pilates available to see what will suit you best.
If you're apprehensive about giving Pilates a go, try a taster session first or try to find a class specifically for over 50s. Classes are also taught on a one-to-one or group basis, so it's up to you which one you choose.
"I've been going to Pilates for years. There are different types so do take up the offer of taster lessons. Some are more active and introduce some cardio work while others favour slower movements, but nonetheless work the parts that you never knew you had."
So, you've decided you want to give Pilates a go, but which class is right for you? Here are five different types and what's involved in each.
This form of Pilates is performed on the floor with a Pilates or yoga mat. It focuses solely on building core strength through controlled breathing, challenging your muscles in a number of ways. The benefit of Mat Pilates is that it can be done anywhere, but some find it harder than using Pilates equipment.
Closest to the style envisioned by Joseph Pilates, it features the original series of movements performed in the correct order. While there are no variations in Classical Pilates, some teachers might add advanced exercises to the class programme.
Contemporary Pilates is based around the work of Joseph Pilates, but includes variations that allow for creativity or injury rehabilitation. Taught in equipped studios, this type caters to a variety of needs, whether it's general fitness, rehab or sports training, and is usually performed in very small groups.
Typically a full body workout, this class uses only one piece of equipment; the Reformer. The Reformer is a frame with a flat platform that rolls back and forth and is attached to the frame with springs. These springs provide different levels of resistance. Exercises can be done in a variety of ways, which makes this piece of equipment extremely versatile to use.
Clinical Pilates is used by physiotherapists to treat specific injuries, including chronic fatigue and lower back pain. As such, it doesn't always follow typical Pilates exercises, but is adapted to meet the needs of the individual.
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"You have to do Pilates regularly, but you will really notice the difference. I could never do the plank or press-ups, but I can do both now - and I am in my 60s! I would never have believed I'd be able to do any of this."
One of the main reasons why Pilates is so popular among those over the age of 50 is because of its associated health benefits, which definitely aren't in short supply. As well as being a great opportunity to make new friends, here are some of the ways that Pilates makes you healthier according to practitioners.
"I have had no back problems since doing Pilates."
According to the NHS, Pilates could reduce lower back pain, particularly with the use of equipment, but exercises must be tailored specifically to you and what you can manage.
"I generally feel much stronger and more supple."
One of the core components of this form of exercise is to develop strength, which will reduce fatigue and increase muscle mass - the rate of muscle loss actually increases as you get older. Pilates also helps with posture and joint mobility.
"Carrying out Pilates moves requires concentration and coordination and I find that I can forget my problems during the class."
Learning is hugely beneficial as we get older and Pilates is particularly helpful as it promotes focus, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility.
"I've found abs I didn't know I had, my thighs no longer rub together and I've begun to do some cardio, which I love."
Pilates can be a solid workout depending on intensity, so when paired with a healthy diet and other forms of exercise, such as walking or swimming, it could promote weight loss. Any fat burned through Pilates will eventually be converted into muscle due to the varying muscle-strengthening exercises involved.
"I dread to think what I'd be like without Pilates! When I come home from my class I feel completely energised!"
Exercise of any form releases endorphins, which trigger positive feelings. As such, Pilates can help to reduce anxiety or stress and make you feel happier in both body and mind.
"I'm a real convert to this form of exercise and can't recommend it enough."
Whether it's through Age UK, U3A, local community centres, local councils, your local gym or even an independent instructor, there are a number of options when it comes to finding a Pilates class in your local area. Here are just a few spots around the UK to give you a head start.
N.B. Always consult your GP if you have a specific health condition or are recovering from an injury. Pilates instructors are not always medically qualified.
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