Fitness Articles

A Skeptic's Guide to Pilates

Think Pilates Isn't for You? Think Again!

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When done correctly and with proper focus, Pilates is not easy—no matter how fit you are. If you tried Pilates once or twice but weren't impressed, you probably weren't doing it correctly. And that's not your fault if your instructor (in class or on video) didn't explain it properly. When performing every single Pilates exercise you should also:

1. Breathe correctly. Joseph Pilates used to say, “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly.” Use deep breathing (described above) to target and tone your deep transverse abs. Your inhale should expand the ribcage (diaphragm) but not the belly, which should be tight and flat as if you are wearing a corset. This helps you keep your core muscles engaged.

2. Concentrate on pulling your shoulders away from your ears and retracting your shoulder blades toward the center of your spine.

3. Properly align the spine. Your head and neck should follow the natural line of your spine at all times.

4. Focus on every movement as if it comes from the center of the body (your core).

5. Practice control. Don't use momentum to help you move. Movements should be done in a slow and controlled manner at all times.

6. Keep your body grounded and stable. If you're really focusing on the core, your body should be square on the mat and you should not rock or slide in any direction during exercises that involve lying, sitting, or kneeling. (This is one of the most common mistakes I see as an instructor.)

7. Work in an appropriate range of motion. Fitness enthusiasts tend to try the hardest options, even when they haven't truly mastered the basics with proper form. Similarly, wanting to work harder, many people will work in larger ranges of motion, but aren't able to stay grounded (point #6 above) when doing so. Only work to a level that allows you to maintain all of the points above.

The great thing about Pilates is that it offers something for everyone, no matter what your fitness level. If you started as a skeptic, consider revisiting Pilates by taking a class in your area or trying a fitness DVD. When you do, incorporate the points above and you will feel and see the difference. As Joseph Pilates himself said, "You will feel better in ten sessions, look better in twenty sessions, and have a completely new body in thirty sessions."
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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

  • MASCONASBURY
    When Pilates became generic - maybe 10 years ago; we have articles like this one.
    Unless you have been taught by an instructor who has the pre-generic training, you will never understand Joseph Pilates true approach.

    This is the reason Pilates has lost any traction with the public. It has been altered to the point of he absurd. - 8/6/2014 12:46:12 PM
  • ALIZAHH try going on you tube and typing chair Pilates and see if you can find anything that might fit your needs. Even if you are not a senior yet you can type in chair Pilates for seniors also. They might have something that will not be as taxing on your elbow after surgery. - 8/4/2014 9:47:45 PM
  • I am after elbow replacement and can not put weight on my right hand which I do getting on to a mat and off...Is there such a thing as chair pilates and where would I find out about that? - 8/4/2014 4:12:20 AM
  • 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
  • CHERRYZMB60
    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
  • CLARAELIZABETH1
    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
  • MALLANHEAD
    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
  • AZURE-SKY
    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
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