"No pain no gain, faster, harder, stronger"...these are the words that come to mind when I think of the fitness world. With high intensity workouts available at every corner attracting people looking to lose weight quickly and transform their bodies, Pilates preaches the exact opposite yet can deliver even greater results.
We have been conditioned to think that the only path to fitness and weight loss must include high rep, high intensity workouts that leave us breathless, sore, and sweating. I can count on my fingers how many times I've experienced being breathless or sweating in my Pilates practice. Soreness happens, but it's always muscle soreness and not joint pain. Yet for the past five years since I've started this method of exercise, I've gotten stronger, my body more defined, more flexible, and I am virtually pain free in my back and joints.
So how can a low intensity, low impact workout that doesn't normally make you sweat, or leave you breathless, help you lose weight and get stronger? The weight loss part is not so obvious since you don't burn a lot of calories (on average 200cal/hr). The plus side is you don't feel super hungry nor entitled to have a big meal after your workout. Pilates teaches you so much about your body, and it increases your self-awareness about the way you move, stand, walk, and play that it motivates you to bring that awareness to the table.
As your focus shifts from just whipping your body into shape to teaching yourself how to keep it healthy, you tend to do the same with your eating habits. I tell my clients that the best weight loss strategy is at the table. You may not always have control over how much you can exercise (especially when injured), but you always have control over how much and what you eat.
Pilates works your body by challenging all muscles of the body evenly. The exercises are designed to both stretch and strengthen at the same time. For instance, if you are performing the bridge pose, the back of your body (gluteus, hamstrings, calves) is working, while the front (quads, hip flexors, chest) is stretching/opening up.
Also, because the exercises are performed slowly, with control, and in correct form, you end up recruiting the small stabilizing muscles around the joints. These muscles are responsible for supporting your joints in good alignment as you move. Good joint support means no injuries and improved posture! No injuries and no pain translate to freedom to do the things you enjoy doing, which can be other sports or just being active with your children or grandchildren.
With time and consistent practice, the body gets stronger and leaner. The simultaneous stretching and strengthening of the muscles has an elongating effect on them rather than the short and bulky effect that is common with high intensity workouts. Tone and definition follow, but the most important aspect of our workouts is learning how to move, stand, and breath correctly in class as well as in our daily activities.
In Pilates, as in life, doing less with more focus can lead to greater long-lasting results. It's a simple principle that in our fast-paced lives gets forgotten. If you've never tried Pilates, I hope you will and experience this fitness paradigm for yourself.