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Pilates: How it works!

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 354 views

Pilates is a gentle full-body workout consisting of harmonious movements that flow into one another. Pilates aims, among other things, to strengthen the center of the body – the “powerhouse”. Find out here what Pilates is, how the sport works and what regular Pilates training does.

What is Pilates

Pilates is a gentle full-body workout consisting of harmonious movements that flow into each other. The original form of this stretching and strengthening method goes back to Joseph Pilates. At the beginning of the 20th century, he combined classic gymnastics and bodybuilding elements with Far Eastern styles such as yoga and Zen meditation.

The method he called “Contrology” was supposed to make the body more robust. In the beginning, dancers and athletes in particular used Pilates as the ideal supplement to their usual training. It was only much later that the general public began to take an increasing interest in the exercises.

Pilates in its current form combines suppleness and strength, holding and moving, tension and relaxation. It is one of the mind-body methods because, in addition to the correct execution of the exercises, mindfulness plays just as important a role as breathing.

Pilates is similar to hatha yoga in its exercises. They are still quite easy at the beginning, so that beginners can quickly see and feel success. The exercises can then be varied to make them more difficult. Partly you train with your own body weight, partly special Pilates machines are used.

Since the term “Pilates” is not protected, it is important to choose the right training with care. Anatomical knowledge and a profound knowledge of the processes and connections in the body are important. A good trainer has the necessary knowledge.

Pilates exercises: how it works

In Pilates it is important to do the exercises correctly so that they have the desired effect and you do not injure yourself.

For a few examples of exercise sessions, see the Pilates Exercises post .

Pilates – the equipment

If you train on the Pilates mat without equipment, comfortable clothing that adapts to the movements is sufficient. Ideally, it should not be too far, as the trainer can see the exercise better and correct it accordingly.


Since many exercises are performed on the floor, it’s good to use a mat. It should be so long that when you are lying relaxed, your body does not protrude beyond it, either in front or behind. Also, it shouldn’t slip. If you don’t have your own mat, you can usually borrow one from the studio free of charge. There are basically two types of mats: so-called high mats, wooden constructions with leather covers, padding and side handles, as used by Joseph Pilates. The second variant: conventional roll mats, similar to those used in yoga or gymnastics.

Pilates: Footwear

Pilates is usually trained barefoot, but socks can be worn, preferably non-slip ones with nubbed soles or toe socks with anti-slip pads. Some wear shoes in Pilates. However, these should fit snugly on the foot like socks, only have a wafer-thin sole and be flexible all around (e.g. FiveFingers or gymnastic slippers). Sneakers are out of place here. Pilates accessories such as a towel and an unbreakable drinking bottle with water , on the other hand, are accessories that make sense.

Pilates equipment and its use

In its modern version, some tools are often used in Pilates

  • Pilates ball: Usually a rubber ball that is not bulging, so that you can put your feet on it during exercises, for example, or clamp it between your thighs.
  • Pilates roller: Long foam roller that can also be clamped under the body.
  • Pilates Ring: The ring is about the size of a steering wheel. It can be clamped between the arms or legs and thus train specific muscle groups.

With their help you can vary exercises, promote balance, massage or increase the use of strength in individual units.

There are also large Pilates machines that give the trainee a certain amount of guidance, people with certain problems performing the exercise and that increase the range of exercises:

  • Reformer

Reformer enables a wide variety of exercises. The resistance can be individually adjusted using five steel springs, and there is a rolling seat and bed surface that can be used to carry out flowing exercises in a controlled manner. In addition to strength and mobility, coordination and balance are also trained.

  • Wunda-Chair

The Wunda Chair is a stool-like piece of equipment that can be used lying down or sitting, serves as a supplement to mat training and is particularly effective in training leg and butt muscles. It also supports specific problems such as after an injury and is especially good for patients who should not do exercises lying down.

  • Tower

A tower is a tower-like structure that adds many variations to the mat exercises. Using hand and foot springs and a crossbar, people with disabilities can also practice certain exercises. The movement sequences can be made more difficult or easier by the variable resistance.

Pilates – that brings it

In contrast to bodybuilding and conventional muscle training, Pilates primarily targets the deeper muscles. In particular, the area around the pelvic floor and spine, the so-called powerhouse, is trained in order to achieve a healthy posture. During training, the natural S-shape of the spine is taken into account, the breath is used both to relax and to intensify the exercises in Pilates.

According to a study, as little as twelve weeks of training three times a week for 60 minutes reduces body fat and regular Pilates also improves your physical condition. The back and the entire torso are trained, especially the deep muscles.

Coordination and flexibility are also promoted and strength increases with Pilates. Abdomen, back, chest and waist in particular, but in principle the training tightens the entire body. A new self-perception develops and the awareness of the body changes through the upright posture of the spine and the harmonious interplay of breathing and movement.

Pilates & calorie consumption

Pilates is like any other type of sport: calorie consumption and the increase in strength and flexibility always depend on your physical constitution, disposition, intensity and length of training.

On average, Pilates burns between 200 and 400 kcal per hour. With a balanced diet and regular training, you can definitely lose weight with Pilates. This is because the muscles are strengthened and muscles burn more energy than fat , even when at rest . In addition, you can possibly avoid or reduce stressful eating due to the relaxing effect.

Who is Pilates suitable for?

Pilates is said to have various positive effects on health and well-being. In a non-representative study by the German Sport University in Cologne, for example, the researchers found a “significant improvement in the physical and psychological well-being” of the test subjects. In general, almost anyone can practice Pilates: active endurance athletes who do gentle strength training with the exercises as well as older people who want to stay mobile.

Pilates is particularly suitable for people who have the following complaints, for example:

  • Back problems: Pilates strengthens the back and core muscles in particular
  • Osteoporosis: The movements help to stay active and thus alleviate or prevent bone loss.
  • Osteoarthritis: There are no impact loads in Pilates.
  • Asthma: A strong focus on breathing technique can relieve asthma.
  • (Sports) injuries: Pilates is suitable as a gentle rehabilitation measure.

Pilates & Pregnancy

At first glance, it seems counterproductive to do a sport during pregnancy that strengthens the abdominal area. It should actually expand flexibly to give the child space.

However, Pilates during pregnancy has advantages for expectant mothers. For example, Pilates for pregnant women improves the elasticity of the abdomen and pelvic floor, which has a positive effect on both pregnancy and childbirth. If you have strong abdominal muscles, this can also prevent a so-called rectus diastasis, i.e. the separation of the straight abdominal muscles, which in some cases even has to be operated on.

Another argument in favor of Pilates during pregnancy: the exercises are easy on the joints and gentle, the training philosophy places great importance on relaxation and breathing, which also benefits expectant mothers in everyday life. However, not all Pilates exercises should be performed during pregnancy . An experienced trainer who supports you accordingly with Pilates during pregnancy is all the more important here.

Pilates – Mistakes to avoid

It is important in Pilates that the exercises are carried out precisely and correctly. In addition to mistakes such as movements that are too fast and uncontrolled or evasive movements into a hollow back, breathing is also often a problem. Exercising and concentrating on the exercise, the exerciser will hold their breath instead of letting it flow or breathe too quickly – neither of which should happen as the breath is an important part of the Pilates method.

You shouldn’t overdo it when it comes to motivation either: with 20 to 25 repetitions of the exercise, correct execution quickly suffers and the risk of injury increases. When doing Pilates, it’s better to stick to six to ten well-executed sets.

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