You have probably heard of Pilates. You may have thought it is mainly the domain of Hollywood celebrities. But what you have probably noticed is that Pilates studios are popping up not just in the cities but in towns all over New Zealand.

So what is Pilates, and why do it?

First, a little bit of history. The Pilates method was developed in the 1920s by physical fitness specialist Joseph Pilates, who adapted a hospital bed to help exercise and rehabilitate those who were bedridden after World War I.

These days, Pilates can be performed on a mat. However, there are also various other pieces of Pilates equipment: the reformer, trapeze table (cadillac), tower, ladder barrel, and the chair.

The mat and reformer are the most common pieces of equipment as you can take part in a class. The other equipment you will find in a full studio that is usually used for personal sessions – great if you want an individual programme to suit your personal needs, but more expensive than joining a class.

Let’s look a little closer at the most common piece of equipment, the reformer. It looks a bit like a bed, with springs for resistance and ropes or straps that you can put your hands or feet into.

The reformer can be used for a total body workout and the springs can be used to add resistance or to reduce stability, so your body has to work harder.

What are the benefits?

  • Develops core strength. Core control is an essential element of Pilates and working on developing a strong core is a theme you will see in most exercises. Your core includes more than you might expect and is basically your whole trunk, including shoulder stability and glutes.
  • Low impact, full body movement. This makes it suitable for most people – from young to old and any level of fitness. It is commonly used for rehabilitation after injuries and is also a great complementary cross-training tool for athletes.
  • Increases mobility and flexibility. Joseph Pilates once famously said: “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young”. Helping to fight the ageing process of becoming stiff and inflexible, Pilates mobilises the joints and helps increase flexibility.
    It also works on balance and stability.
  • Mind-body connection. There is a focus on breathing, concentration and coordination when doing the exercises, which connects your mind and body and keeps you present in the moment.
  • Improved posture and body awareness. Our modern lifestyle – lots of sitting at computers and looking at phones – is not great for our posture. Pilates helps to bring awareness of the way we hold ourselves, and the alignment of our spine.

So Pilates is for everybody – and with those benefits, it’s a trend that’s here to stay.

Sonya Macefield is a reformer Pilates instructor at Studio Five O in Tauranga.

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