While we’re as guilty of seeking out the highs of HIIT, who amongst us doesn’t know that really we need to be doing more mat work, too?
As a recent convert, I’m newly in love with the benefits Pilates can offer, from helping with back pain, to helping to treat anxiety and post-baby, rebuilding my core and pelvic floor muscles. As Joseph Pilates, who found the regime, said: ‘’In 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference, in 20 sessions you’ll see the difference, and in 30 sessions you’ll have a whole new body.”
And when celebrities including Alessandra Ambrosio, Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz say they use Pilates to keep in shape, then it’s worth paying attention.
WHAT EXACTLY IS PILATES?
Joseph Pilates founded his studio in New York City in the 1920s, devising a training method that focused on strengthening abdominal and trunk “core” muscles by using hundreds of very specific movements. It emphasised proper postural alignment and balance.
He also taught the importance of an awareness of breath. Not surprisingly Pilates’ first clients were ballet dancers – the exercise is still popular with dancers today – but as other athletes and then fitness fans started to realise, there were benefits that we could draw on, too.
Personal trainer Hollie Grant, whose book The Model Method is out next month, fell in love with Pilates so much so that she quit her job as a pastry chef to retrain as a Pilates instructor, and has clients including Deliciously Ella and Melissa Hemsley. “What I love most about Pilates is that it educates you about your body so you become the expert in how your body moves, functions and performs. It is thoughtful, caring and effective and the benefits are vast,” she says.
As well as her classes at her studio in Fulham and at the new Sweaty Betty superstore in Central London, Grant set up an online training course, The Model Method, that combines Pilates with HIIT. Unlike many online courses, it’s not a weight loss approach, rather it aims to improve your relationship with your body. “When so many of us judge our bodies on the way they look Pilates instead turns our attention to how good our bodies are at getting through life,” she says. “Its focus is on strengthening the body as a whole (whilst other training styles such as running target one area – your lower half) and as a bi-product, you tend to become more flexible, have less back pain and feel more confident in your body.”
What’s more, it’s something to get on board with now, because Pilates is beneficial at any age.
PILATES IN YOUR 20S
Anxiety is a common millennial malaise. And Grant, who has suffered from it herself, says Pilates is great for combatting it. “For me, in my 20’s, I found it really hard to switch off that internal racket in my head. I craved a training style that held my attention. In Pilates you have to concentrate. You are being asked to focus on your breath, the muscles that need recruiting, the muscles you should be switching off, the small adjustments you must make to activate certain benefits. This allows you no time to worry about that email you forgot to send or the bill that is worrying you. Pilates helps build a mind-body connection that I found reduced anxiety and gave me a greater appreciation for my health.”
SIX PACK DREAMS
If you’re chasing a stronger core, a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that after 36 weeks of Pilates training women had managed to strengthen their rectus abdominis (aka abs) by an average of 21 percent. Which is not only important if you want a six-pack, but for supporting your back too.
A separate study by researchers at Australia’s Griffith University found that Pilates is more beneficial for those with chronic lower back pain (which they defined as pain for more than 12 weeks) than any other exercise. Which is great for those chained to a desk throughout their twenties.
PILATES IN YOUR 30S
PREGNANCY AND CHILDBIRTH
Your thirties are often a time when you’re considering children. “Pilates is often recommended during pregnancy as it is safe, can be practised right up to labour (in theory), can help reduce labour times and help with the ‘pushing’ element of a vaginal birth,” Grant says. She trains lots of postnatal ladies at her studio in Parsons Green. “It is also an incredible tool for post-natal mums who really must be careful that they don’t cause any internal damage in the months after labour. Whilst pregnant and breastfeeding our bodies produce numerous hormones, with the hormone relaxin causing the joints of the body to be more lax/flexible. Pilates can be used as a way of getting back your strength, energy and core stability without risking injury.”
BOOST TO BRAIN POWER
But with or without kids, who hasn’t felt their brain power dwindling…? The good news is Pilates can apparently help with that too. Chinese researchers measured found that activity in the part of women’s brains that related to memory performance and other cognitive functions increased after 10 weeks of Pilates training. We’ll take that.
PILATES IN YOUR 40S AND 50S
EASING MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS
Women’s hormones change dramatically in their 40s and 50s and they approach and go through the menopause (although an early menopause can affect women in their thirties). Spanish doctors found that Pilates could ease the menopause symptoms. Not only does it help strengthen bones and muscles, but it also helped the body able to deal with changes in body temperature, according to the study’s authors, from the Spanish Menopause Society, the Spanish Cardiology Society and the Spanish Federation of Sports Medicine,
“With much of Pilates being bodyweight resistance training it is ideal as it is also low impact and safe on joints,” Grant adds. “It has also been shown to be effective at increasing bone mineral density in those suffering from post-menopausal osteoporosis.”
PILATES IN YOUR 60S AND BEYOND
No one wants to think about getting older, but research by Marie-Louise Bird, a Pilates researcher and post-doctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia found that just elderly participants undertaking just five weeks of Pilates had less chance of falling up to a year later because their balance, posture and physical functionality had improved so much.
“As we age our balance slowly begins to decline,” Grant says. “Pilates is incredibly effective at improving balance and gait, and reducing the postural imbalances that can increase instability.” So sign your gran up with you now.
Training tonight? Try these tummy exercises or the best ab workouts for women.