When it comes to building a comprehensive fitness routine, there's no shortage of options to choose from. From boxing to yoga to HIIT to strength training, there seems to be a plethora of choices to help you reach your health and fitness goals. One often-overlooked gem in this treasure trove of fitness options is Pilates.
While there are numerous Pilates studios all over the country today, Pilates came from humble beginnings. Joseph Pilates was an accomplished gymnast, diver, and bodybuilder. He studied various fitness and movement systems, including yoga, martial arts, and ancient Greek and Roman exercise regimens. During World War I, Joseph Pilates began developing his system of exercises to help rehabilitate injured soldiers and improve their physical fitness. Over the years, Joseph refined his exercise system developing the Pilates method, which was originally known as the "Contrology" method. After immigrating to the United States in the 1920s Joseph and his wife set up a studio in New York City, where they taught their method to dancers, athletes, and individuals seeking rehabilitation.(1)
Pilates focuses on strengthening the core muscles, improving flexibility and balance, and enhancing overall body awareness. Principles of breath control are emphasized with each movement. Joseph Pilates believed in the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit and made it an integral part of his training.(2) He devised 6 Pilates principles to help integrate body and mind: Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breath, and Flow.
Pilates movements are performed either on a mat or a Reformer. When using a mat, the individual will often sit or lie supine or prone, using their body weight as the main resistance and gravity as a stabilization factor. On the Reformer, the individual uses a horizontal sliding platform in a rectangle frame to exercise in the seated, kneeling, or standing position. Springs are attached to the platform and rely on a pulley system to increase or decrease resistance.(3)
If you haven't yet considered adding Pilates to your workout split, here are six compelling reasons to get started today:
1. Core Strength
Pilates is renowned for its core-strengthening benefits. The muscles of the anterior abdominal wall including the rectus abdominis, external and internal oblique, and transversus abdominis are fundamental in facilitating stability to the trunk.(4) The transversus abdominis extends from the pelvis to the ribs, wrapping from front to back, and covering the trunk. It is the innermost abdomen muscle arising from the iliac fascia, iliac crest, and thoracolumbar fascia.(5) It is primarily used for postural control and is activated during limb movement. Ideally, when performing an abdominal exercise, resistance is placed on the abdominal muscles while avoiding loading into the lumbar spine. By targeting the muscles of your abdomen, lower back, and pelvis, Pilates helps you build a stable and robust core. Having a strong core builds a stable foundation from which most movement originates.
2. Improved Posture
It’s no surprise that most of us have developed poor posture after sitting on our computers all day. Unfortunately, this can lead to a host of musculoskeletal issues, including a craned neck or forward head posture. Pilates teaches the pelvis, lower back, abdominals, and hips to work in harmony, targeting the smaller and deeper stabilizing muscles, which strengthens the entire body.(6) A stabilized truck helps to maintain an upright and erect position. Pilates encourages optimal posture, a “slight forward flexion of the cervical vertebra, the stabilization of the scapula, the “connection” of the rib cage to the hips and the posterior pelvic tilt.”(7)
3. Enhanced Flexibility
Flexibility is a crucial component of overall fitness that should be considered as part of your routine. It plays a pivotal role in preventing injuries, improving posture, and enhancing athletic performance. One of the fundamental principles of Pilates is elongating the muscles through controlled movements.(8) Traditional strength training often leads to muscle shortening, which can reduce flexibility. Pilates, on the other hand, promotes lengthening of the muscles, helping you achieve a greater range of motion.(9) The controlled, fluid movements of Pilates encourage muscles to stretch and extend, ultimately enhancing flexibility.
4. Balanced Muscle Development
When it comes to fitness, it's easy to become preoccupied with building muscle and strength. However, a well-rounded approach to fitness should also include a focus on balanced muscle development. Balanced muscle development refers to the harmonious development of all muscle groups in your body.(10) This means ensuring that all muscle groups in your body are equally strong and flexible, reducing the risk of injury and improving overall functional fitness. Pilates exercises are designed to target specific muscle groups, both major muscle groups, and smaller stabilizing muscles. By isolating and engaging individual muscle groups during various movements, Pilates ensures that all areas of your body receive attention. This targeted approach helps identify and correct any muscle imbalances, ensuring that no muscle group is neglected.
5. Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation
A few fundamental pillars of injury prevention and rehabilitation are core strength, flexibility, stabilization, and mobility. By targeting your core muscles, Pilates helps individuals develop a robust center, which, in turn, aids in preventing injuries. Hypermobility, being too loose, or hypomobility, being too tight can both lead to injury. Often certain yoga and stretching regimens can lead to hyper flexibility with a weak core causing significant instability.(11) Alternatively, many weightlifting programs overemphasize stability, restricting natural movement, which can lead to injuries.(12) That is why Pilates is a perfect split to complement your fitness routine. Another important component of injury recovery is proprioception, your body's ability to sense movement, action, and location. This spatial awareness helps link your musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Kinetic chain imbalances can lead to prolonged compensatory movement patterns which contribute to ongoing pain and dysfunction. Since Pilates is a low-impact exercise method it is ideal for preventing musculoskeletal injury.
6. Mind-Body Connection
Pilates places a strong emphasis on mindfulness. In fact, one of the foundational principles of Pilates is concentration, which focuses on the present moment awareness by using the flow and focus on your breath. Pilates promotes intentional and conscious body movements and alignment.(13) This heightened awareness enables you to identify and address any muscle imbalances or weaknesses. Over time, you'll develop a better understanding of your body, helping you maintain balanced muscle development.
Incorporating Pilates into your workout split doesn't mean you have to abandon your current fitness routine. Instead, it complements your existing workouts and adds a new dimension to your fitness journey. Whether you're looking to improve your core strength, enhance your flexibility, or simply enjoy a low-impact workout that nurtures both body and mind, Pilates has something to offer.
To get the most out of your Pilates practice, consider working with a certified instructor who can provide guidance, tailor exercises to your specific needs, and ensure proper form. Whether you're a fitness enthusiast or a beginner, Pilates is a valuable addition to any workout split, offering a path to a stronger, more balanced, and healthier you. Give it a try, and you'll likely find yourself wondering why you didn't start sooner.
[1-2] Pilates Foundation. (n.d.). The History of Pilates. Pilates Foundation. https://www.pilatesfoundation.com/pilates/the-history-of-pilates/. Accessed 28 September, 2023.
[3-4, 7] Kloubec J. (2011). Pilates: how does it work and who needs it?. Muscles, ligaments and tendons journal, 1(2), 61–66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3666467/. Accessed 28 September, 2023.
 Physiopedia. (n.d). Transversus_Adbominis. Physiopedia. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Transversus_Abdominis. Accessed 28 September, 2023.
 Solis-Moreira, J. (2023, January 3). Pilates can improve your posture and balance. The killer body is just a bonus. Popular Science. https://www.popsci.com/health/benefits-of-pilates-better-posture-balance/. Accessed 28 September, 2023.
[8-9] Di Lorenzo C. E. (2011). Pilates: what is it? Should it be used in rehabilitation?. Sports health, 3(4), 352–361. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738111410285. Accessed 29 September, 2023.
 Balanced Body. (n.d.). Pilates lifestyle: Having a balanced body. Balanced Body.
https://www.balancedbody.com.au/pilates-lifestyle---having-a-balanced-bo#:~:text=The%20ultimate%20goal%20of%20Pilates,underused%20in%20any%20one%20area. Accessed 29 September, 2023.
[11-12] Human Kinetics. (n.d.). Why Pilates works in injury rehab and prevention. Human Kinetics. https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/why-pilates-works-in-injury-rehab-and-prevention. Accessed 29 September, 2023.
 Lim, E. J., & Hyun, E. J. (2021). The Impacts of Pilates and Yoga on Health-Promoting Behaviors and Subjective Health Status. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(7), 3802. Accessed 29 September, 2023.