8 Pilates Benefits That Will Make You Want to Sign Up for a Class
It's Ah-Mazing for Your Abs
Pilates benefits your core (or, in Pilates speak, your "powerhouse") unlike any other workout. In fact, after completing 36 weeks of Pilates training, women strengthened their rectus abdominis (the muscle responsible for six-packs) by an average of 21 percent, while eliminating muscle imbalances between the right and left sides of their cores, according to a Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study. (And yes, core strength is super important.)
It Can Ease Back Pain
A stronger core equals a better back, says Tracy Zindell, Flex Pilates Chicago founder and master instructor. That's why those with chronic lower back pain who practiced Pilates for just four weeks experienced more relief than those who visited a physician and other specialists, says a Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy study. What's more, their pain stayed away for a full year post-Pilates. Researchers believe that by stabilizing the core's lumbar-pelvic (lower-back) region, Pilates alleviates stress on the area and ups mobility.
It's Easy on Your Joints
Pilates benefits your joints thanks to its slow and controlled movements, which creates a minimal impact workout. Bonus if you're using the Pilates reformer: "The padding on a Pilates reformer is as thick as 10 yoga mats," says Zindell. "It takes the pressure off of your back and knees." (These low-impact workouts still burn major calories.)
It Hones Your Focus
The workout is a one-two punch when it comes to improving your health. Aside from its physiological effects, Pilates benefits your mental health by urging you to focus on 1) your breath, 2) your body, and 3) how they move together. It takes a lot of concentration, says Zindell. "You can't zone out." That means you're forced to forget about work, bills, S.O.s, and other drama for a full hour. Ahh.
It Enhances Your Sex Life
When Pilates instructors say, "lift your pelvic floor," what they are really saying is "do Kegels," according to Zindell. Moves like those strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which ups your pleasure in the bedroom: an unexpected but welcome Pilates benefit. "You have way better orgasms with Pilates. It's amazing for sex," she says. If you're trying to conceive with all of that out-of-this-world sex, strong pelvic floor muscles can make pushing out a baby way easier. "I've gotten so many text messages from my students, while they are still in the delivery room, saying 'the baby flew out of my vagina,'" she says.
It Improves Your Sports Performance
"When you start focusing on your core, you realize that all of your muscles are connected through your core. Try doing lunges without your abdominals. You'll crumble over," says Zindel, who has trained everyday athletes and professional ones including Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah. "With a stronger core, you can run faster, your yoga is on point, and overall, the rest of your workouts improve," she says. Plus, by working in small groups or one-on-one with a Pilates instructor, you can learn moves that mimic and improve performance in your sport of choice.
It Makes You More Flexible
"I always hear people saying, 'I've never been flexible, I can't do Pilates.' But that's why they should be doing it," Zindell says. In one Brazilian study, when young women (without any prior Pilates experience) performed 20 Pilates sessions, they became 19.1 percent more flexible. When you're tight, you shorten your muscle and limit your body's range of motion, she says. At best, that can hurt your exercise performance. At worst, it can cause injury.
It Boosts Your Brain Power
Joseph Pilates called his workout method "the thinking man's exercise." It could very well be. When Chinese researchers measured changes in women's brain activity after 10 weeks of Pilates training, they found an increase in the brain's alpha peak power, which is related to neural network activity, memory performance, and other cognitive functions. Researchers believe Pilates may even hold potential as a treatment option for people with brain-degenerative diseases and cognitive dysfunctions.