How Often Should You Do Pilates?

Flying side plank

I’m often asked by clients how often they should do Pilates to see the benefits.  Once a week?  Twice?  Every day?  The founder, Joseph Pilates recommended doing at least ten minutes every day.  I agree.  I encourage people who come along to class to take away with them one or two exercises their bodies responded particularly well to in the session, to do at home for themselves in between classes.

Although I teach Pilates six days a week, I still make time each day at home to do the exercises I need to do to ensure my body moves as well as possible.  The benefits I get from doing Pilates daily are obvious to me; I can tell from the range of movement I’m able to do and from how it feels when I move.

If you’re wondering if it’s safe and beneficial to do Pilates every day, here’s a useful article which considers how adaptable Pilates is to being done on a daily basis, and the importance of doing the correct balance of Pilates exercises.

The key points from the article are highlighted below:

  • Pilates exercises emphasize things like awareness, functional alignment, breath, and co-ordination. This multi-dimensional approach gives us the opportunity to shift the focus of our daily routine.
  • Joseph Pilates firmly believed that an exercise programme should be varied and that the way to maximize the effect of each move is doing it with full attention, and with low repetitions. Based on this, the ideal Pilates session rotates between different muscle groups, shifts intensity levels, and balances our exercises in terms of flexion and extension within each workout, and in our daily workouts over time. Repeating the same exercises every day could result in an unbalanced routine that becomes as boring as doing too many reps. Read the following quote from Joseph Pilates:

     

    ‘Contrology [Pilates as we call it now] is not a fatiguing system of dull, boring, abhorred exercises repeated daily ad-nauseam…..The only unchanging rules you must conscientiously obey are that you must always faithfully and without deviation follow the instructions accompanying the exercises and always keep your mind wholly concentrated on the purpose of the exercises as you perform them.’

     

  • Tune into yourself and adjust the focus of your exercise for any given day, based on how your body feels, e.g. your energy level, areas of discomfort etc. A good rhythm for doing a Pilates routine over time might be to do a physically challenging session one day, perhaps a group class, and follow up with a day or two at home doing a smaller number of exercises that are easier on the muscles.

Man doing Pilates

In conclusion then, Pilates can be done safely and effectively every day. The key is to vary the exercises in your routine, keep them targeted, and if a particular muscle group is challenged one day, moderate the work you do on this part of the body the next.

Pilates, the physical accompaniment to daily life.  P J Harvey, the musical accompaniment to my daily life, currently anyway.  Here’s a track from her recently released album, The Hope Six Demolition Project…

Pilates Meets Yoga

Batman and Robin discuss Pilates

Batman is right, Pilates and yoga are two very distinct disciplines. Piloga though is another matter, a unique fusion class which explores the similarities and differences between the two.

Using the Pilates approach to breathing and the pelvic floor engagement at the heart of Joseph Pilates’ method (Note – if you’re attending a Pilates class and the teacher doesn’t use either of these things then you’re not really doing Pilates and are missing out on the main benefits), Piloga brings together the best of both disciplines to create a full-body workout focussed on core stability and controlled flowing movements. The aim of Piloga is to strengthen and improve the flexibility of the body by taking it through a healthy range of bending, stretching and turning.

Melissa runs two Piloga classes a week at Strode Leisure Centre in Clevedon:

  • Thursday mornings, 10.30 to 12.00
  • Saturday mornings, 11.30 to 13.00

Catwoman balancing on bottles

The age of those attending is diverse, from mid-twenties to over sixty. Most people are beginner or intermediate level and attend regularly because they find the class helps them avoid feeling achy and stiff, or helps them manage a condition they suffer from like sciatica or arthritis. Others come as a way of recovering from injury, or to improve their performance in another sporting activity, e.g. running or cycling.

The classes are open to all, free to members of Strode Leisure Centre, or £7.40 per 90-minute session for non-members.

How Pilates Can Keep You Young

Happy healthy active people

Developed from a news item on the About Health website by Alycea Ungaro, here are five key ways that Pilates can help keep your body young, healthy and active:

Encourages full breathing

Pilates teaches you to breathe fully and deeply. Cells saturated with oxygen boost energy levels as well as cognitive abilities, resulting in reduced tiredness and forgetfulness.

Works the whole body

Instead of rapid movements performed with poor control, Pilates favours low repetitions and good positioning. This avoids the poor body mechanics and repetitive strain injuries frequently experienced with high intensity exercise like Step or Zumba or indoor cycling. By working all parts of the body equally, Pilates, done on a regular basis, can help us keep strong and mobile throughout the course of our life.

Involves a complete range of movement

Pilates exercises take the body through a full range of movement. This keeps the joints lubricated and preserves the health of the muscles, ligaments and tendons that work them. As we age, maintaining the ability to sit, stand, kneel and bend is key to the body’s health and wellbeing. Pilates can help with this. By contrast, other forms of exercise involve a much more limited range of movement. For example, if you were to focus on cycling as your main source of exercise, over time the range of motion of your spine would diminish and the muscles in the chest and shoulders would tighten. Tight muscles inhibit movement. When movement is restricted you become more sedentary, which, research shows, accelerates the aging process.

Indoor cycling class

Encourages alignment

Pilates teaches you to move your body in alignment, by which we mean working the muscles and skeleton the way they are designed. Pilates exercises strengthen the body symmetrically so that nothing overworks and nothing underworks. Everyday life though creates imbalance in the body. For example, we carry bags or children, or sleep more on one side than another. Pilates provides us with a way to counter the imbalance caused by our daily activities. Golf and tennis are good forms of exercise, but they don’t work the body evenly; in fact most sports don’t. Keeping your body properly aligned as you move, particularly at speed, helps prevent injuries, avoid arthritis (particularly in the spine and leg joints) and reduces poor motor skills, all of which are synonymous with aging.

Assists with transitioning

Injuries happen most often when we transition from one activity to another, for example, getting up from the floor and running to answer the phone, or bending down to pick up a drill then reaching up to use it to mend a shelf. Pilates exercises train the body to bend, turn and straighten with control thus helping us transition more effectively. With less haphazard movements, accidents and injuries, which have an aging effect on the body, can be avoided.

Yoga kiss pose

All exercise has benefits but many sporting activities fall short of full body wellness. Indeed, some pursued exclusively and too often, e.g. indoor cycling or running can leave the body prone to injuries and illness. Regular Pilates, together with some form of cardio-vascular exercise, will help the body perform optimally and make it better able to cope with the demands of daily life.

Pilates with its five age-defying properties has a vital role to play in keeping us all as active as possible for as long as possible. But don’t take my word for it. Below are two pictures of Joseph Pilates, one taken when he was 57, the other when he was 82. As you can see, there is very little difference in the physical condition of his body…

Joseph Pilates at age 57 and age 82

If you’d like to try Pilates, why not drop into one of our small group classes run each week at The Wellbeing Studio in Clevedon.

Specificity – The Pilates Secret

Capoeira

For those who have ever played competitive sports, studied an instrument or practised martial arts, you have already experienced the magic of specificity. Any task that requires attention to detail draws upon the same elements – mental and physical focus. Joseph Pilates knew this when he created the Pilates Method. The exercises he developed draw on moves from disciplines like gymnastics, yoga, body building and dance, which require tremendous concentration and a high level of precision. Pilates called his method Contrology to reflect the blend of body and mind effort required to execute the movements. Control is at the heart of it all.

Perhaps the most beneficial part of Pilates is the mental focus that makes every workout a reward rather than a chore. Running through a mindless movement regimen while your thoughts remain anchored in the mundane, is neither physically effective nor mentally rejuvenating. Come to Pilates regularly and you will experience what it feels like to be in the moment and acutely present in your body.

Looking at the physical side, the Pilates Method is defined by the precise instructions detailed for each and every move. The rhythm, placement and muscular recruitment are all clearly specified. Likewise, there is a choreographed breath pattern for every movement.

Tightrope walker

Acute precision is what defines Pilates. Each exercise is performed deliberately and specifically according to a detailed set of instructions about what is right and what is wrong. Working towards these standards is what elevates each Pilates student over time to achieve their highest potential.

The specificity required in Pilates is applicable to all types of activity, whether that be a sport like golf or running or tennis, or something more everyday like gardening or cleaning the house. Learn specificity in your Pilates practice and then apply it to your real life.

This article was developed from a piece by Alycea Ungaro on the Pilates Foundation website.

Pilates balance exercise

Teaching The Pilates Method

Pilates teacher instructing a client in a forward spine stretchnt

Melissa is often asked why a lot of Pilates classes are taught without reference to, or with little emphasis on the navel-to-spine and lateral breathing and the pelvic floor engagement. It’s a good question. The lateral inhale into the sides of the ribcage, the sucking in of the tummy on the exhale and the engagement of the pelvic floor between each exhale and inhale, are fundamental to Joseph Pilates’ method. So why do a lot of Pilates classes ignore or underemphasise these fundamentals? Two reasons. Firstly, poor teacher training. A lot of Pilates classes, particularly those run by large gyms or leisure centres, are often taught by fitness instructors who have completed little more than a short course to qualify to teach a Pilates class.

The second reason is because the lateral inhale, the navel-to-spine exhale and the pelvic floor engagement are difficult to do, especially for beginners. That is no justification for not teaching them though of course. The lateral inhale keeps the air out of the belly thus avoiding the abdominal muscles relaxing. The navel-to-spine exhale powers the movements and is a very effective way of strengthening the abdominals quickly. Strong stomach muscles help to keep the pelvis and lower spine stable, which avoids the back muscles and vertebral discs overworking. This strengthening of the abdominals is perhaps the main reason why health professionals recommend Pilates to patients suffering with lower back pain as a key part of their rehabilitation. The engagement of the pelvic floor fires up (a bit like pressing the ignition on a gas hob) the deep muscles in and around the lower spine, e.g. the transversus abdominis, which are hard to activate. It also strengthens the pelvic floor muscles of course, which is highly beneficial for post-natal women and the millions of people who have problems with incontinence.

Tennis player serving underarm

Not teaching or placing little emphasis on the lateral inhale, the navel-to-spine exhale and pelvic floor engagement in a Pilates class is like going to your first tennis lesson and the instructor saying, “Serving and lobbing are really hard to do, so we won’t bother with those. We’ll just play the game without those two strokes.” For beginners attending their first Pilates class, our recommendation is to think of Pilates as a sport with a number of skills you need to master. Like any sport, Pilates takes time and practice to become good at it. You wouldn’t expect to serve and volley perfectly the first time you play tennis. In the same way, the lateral inhale, navel-to-spine exhale and the pelvic floor engagement, will take more than one Pilates class to get to grips with. Usually after around five or six classes, the fundamentals of Pilates start to become a little less challenging, which means you can focus more on the exercises.

Finally, last week Melissa was asked to describe Pilates in a sentence. Her tongue-in-cheek answer – “It’s like Twister only less improvised.”

A yoga teacher playing Twister