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A Skeptic's Guide to Pilates

Think Pilates Isn't for You? Think Again!

-- By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor
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As a fitness instructor, I get a lot of questions about Pilates, from what it is to how it benefits the body. I too was skeptical about how this "gentle" form of exercise—which, to me, looked a lot like lying on the floor—could boast such big benefits. I like a workout that's challenging and intense—heavy weights, high inclines, fast speeds. Those floor exercises are for beginners who are weak and unfit…or so I thought.

I decided to learn more about Pilates by taking a few instructor workshops and training in "the method" myself. What I discovered surprised me. Pilates, when done correctly, offers major fitness benefits, requires mental focus, connects the mind and body, and truly does sculpt the abs like nothing else I've ever tried. Starting as a skeptic, I became a believer, practitioner and instructor in a matter of months.

For all of you skeptics who think that Pilates has nothing to offer you, think again! Almost one hundred years since Joseph Pilates (1880-1967) created and refined the exercises of his namesake, more and more people continue to practice Pilates around the world. Research has shown that Pilates also improves:
  • Spinal mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Muscular endurance
  • Posture
  • Body awareness
  • Lower back pain
  • Bone density
  • One's ability to properly engage the transverse abdominals (the deepest core muscles) Continued ›
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • When I first started with Spark in 2010, I lived in Nashville,TN. I got hooked on Reformer Pilates. My body felt great. I need to find a studio in my new town! - 12/1/2013 1:44:48 AM
  • Liked this article....I do Pilates with a stretch band and can really see a difference! It has helped me in so many ways. If you have a difficult time try using a stretch band. It will keep you focused. I started with a DVD-SHAPE the Mari Winsor Pilates for Pink Workout. - 11/24/2013 11:03:59 AM
    i took the pilates class at bally's and it was not easy and the breathing is very important. i've since cancelled my membership but have a book of exercises that i use occasionally. This article is great and i learned a few things - 10/27/2013 2:42:10 AM
  • I've done Pilates on and off over the years and I just don't enjoy it. I definitely need to do it though because I am very week in my core area. I have recently started some Pilates workouts again and I really worry about correct form. - 5/16/2013 8:56:37 AM
    I haven't read this article yet, but printed it out to read later. With my ADHD, I just can't imagine being able to concentrate enough to get through a Pilates routine. I watched the Beginner Pilates video on Spark a few minutes ago and even though it started out looking like it would be good for me to calm me down abit, I finally had to end watching it because I was getting hyped up just watching how slow and focused you have to be! I hope the article convinces me to 'just do it'... I hear so many great things about Pilates! I have Leslie Sansone's PIlates walking DVD and I love it, but to lay down and go through it -- I don't know... - 4/5/2013 3:36:53 PM
  • Lord. There's no such thing as a workout for a "real man." You're not more manly because you pick things up and put them down.

    Pilates have benefits for *everyone* who tries them. It's not my favorite form of exercise (I vastly prefer yoga) but I can't deny the usefulness of it. You don't get man-points for being too "good" for this workout.

    - 8/22/2012 12:13:28 PM
  • Thursday was my eighth session of mat based (no reformer) Pilates. If it should take ten sessions to feel the difference, I must be way ahead. I've felt the difference since my fourth session. I have contact with muscles in my core I never thought about before and my posture is slowly improving.

    I wish I lived nearer a studio that does reformer work but I'm sticking with my mat class twice a week from now on. - 7/14/2012 1:56:07 PM
  • I guess I'm going to try pilates. I will also look into the Stott Pilates. Does anyone recommend a good dvd? - 7/14/2012 8:04:22 AM
    I've been doing Pilates Reformer for nearly 4 years now and matwork longer than that. I thoroughly enjoy doing it. But one word of advice. Make sure the pilates instructor is truly qualified. Then only you will get all the benefit. In pilates it's not the repetition but the control and quality you have in one movement. If you do it correctly, you don't need to do a lot... - 6/11/2012 4:06:57 AM
  • KSANDY1224
    I try to take a Pilates Reformer class on Friday at lunch at my gym. I'm seriously considering adding a Monday Reformer class to my schedule based on the results that I have achieved. I do other classes, a couple of Step classes, Yoga, and Core and More, but I truly believe that my biggest beneficial class is the Pilates Reformer class. An hour at my gym is $20 on top of my regular gym membership, which is why I'm still only considering adding another day. However, $20 for an hour is a good price compared to other studios. There are four machines where I go and only once have they been full so basically I'm paying a group fee and several times have been the only one, or most weeks just one of two people for a true individual session. I can't recommend it highly enough. I am 51 and had somebody a few years younger than me get Ibuprofen from me and started telling me about his back issues, he said "you know how it gets all tight from sitting too long in one position" and I just looked at him and said "no, I really don't have any back issues". He said something about me being flexible and I told him no, it was because I have a strong core. :) - 3/16/2012 11:02:46 AM
    Pilates is NOT for everyone, especially the exercises done on the mat. If you have lower back problems, check with your doctor first.

    I tried Pilates for the first time a couple of years ago. I have arthritis in my lower spine, and found that there's so much pressure on the lower back, that I was in pain doing most of the exercises, even with modifications. Instead, I found DVDs with STANDING abdominal workouts that I have no problem with - I still get a good core workout with them. - 3/15/2012 2:00:53 PM
  • Great article! When I saw how little you burn in terms of calories I was so dissapointed lol. But knowing the benefits you get with this great form of exercises outweights that! So far I have done 2 sessions in two weeks in a row, so I am determined to reach the 30! Two down, twenty eight to go for that body transformation!!!
    ! - 3/15/2012 12:23:50 PM
  • and for those talking about breathing there are actually a variety of breathing techniques used by different training schools. Some use a loud, gushy breath like Nicole describes and some are absolutely silent. It is ok to change the breath to a style that works for you. The one consistent point is that you KEEP breathing as you move, don't hold your breath. That's usually an indication that the exercise is too hard for you.


    - 3/15/2012 7:37:27 AM
  • I too have a lot of issue with the breathing technique. I do a lot of yoga and I sing, and my body just doesn't get it when I ask it to breath with a contracted abdomen. So I don't. I breath the way I usually do, and focus on the motions. That said, it's incredible how challenging simple Pilates movements are! I can never keep up or make it through a workout without taking breaks. Just hurts my gut! And while I get that it's part of growing stronger, it's still discouraging to look around the room and feel like such a wimp. Thus, I don't do much Pilates, although I fully acknowledge its benefits. - 12/31/2011 11:58:54 AM
    The breathing thing is what keeps me from doing pilates. When you expand the diaphragm, the belly DOES expand. Pilates breathing is contrary to proper breathing technique for yoga and also for singing, and makes no sense to me. - 8/15/2011 6:24:09 PM
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