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What is Pilates?

Updated: Dec 6, 2023


A pilates class performing an exercise

Pilates is a type of exercise that focuses on improving flexibility, strength, and balance, while also promoting relaxation and mindfulness. It was developed in the early 20th century by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates and has since become a popular form of exercise around the world.

Pilates exercises are typically done on a mat or using specialised equipment, such as the reformer or the Cadillac. The exercises involve controlled movements and deep breathing, and are designed to engage the body's core muscles, including the abdominal muscles, back muscles, and hip muscles.

Pilates can be modified to suit people of all fitness levels and abilities and can be used for a variety of purposes, such as:

  • Rehabilitation: Pilates exercises can be used to help people recover from injuries or surgery and to improve mobility and flexibility.

  • Fitness: Pilates exercises can be used to improve overall fitness and to increase strength, flexibility, and balance.

  • Stress relief: Pilates exercises can be used to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve mental wellbeing.

  • Performance enhancement: Pilates exercises can be used by athletes to improve their performance by increasing strength, flexibility, and balance and by reducing the risk of injury.


There are many different types of pilates, such as:


Classical Pilates, this follows the original method developed by Joseph Pilates. It emphasises precise and controlled movements using specific equipment like the Reformer, Cadillac, and Wunda Chair. It focuses on core strength, flexibility, and alignment.


Contemporary Pilates incorporates modern exercise science and principles while still adhering to the core principles of Pilates. It often uses props like stability balls, resistance bands, and foam rollers to enhance workouts. It may be more adaptable to individual needs and fitness levels.


Mat Pilates is performed on a padded mat and relies on body weight for resistance. It focuses on improving core strength, flexibility, and overall body awareness. Mat Pilates exercises can vary from beginner to advanced levels.


Reformer Pilates uses a specialised piece of equipment called a Reformer, which consists of a sliding carriage, springs, and straps. It provides resistance and support, allowing for a wide range of exercises that target specific muscle groups while improving flexibility and balance.


Clinical Pilates is often prescribed by physical therapists or healthcare professionals to rehabilitate injuries, improve posture, and manage pain. It involves customised exercises tailored to an individual's specific needs and conditions.


Power Pilates is a more intense and dynamic form of Pilates. It combines traditional Pilates movements with elements of cardiovascular fitness and strength training. It aims to increase heart rate and build muscle while still focusing on core strength.


Yogalates is a fusion of Pilates and yoga. It combines the core-strengthening and flexibility aspects of Pilates with the mindfulness and relaxation of yoga. It's an excellent choice for those looking for a holistic approach to fitness and well-being.


Barre Pilates incorporates elements of ballet, Pilates, and strength training. It's performed at a ballet barre and includes small, controlled movements that target specific muscle groups, particularly in the legs and core.


Prenatal and Postnatal Pilates are specialised Pilates programmes designed for expectant mothers (prenatal) and new mothers (postnatal). They focus on maintaining core strength, improving posture, and addressing the unique physical challenges of pregnancy and recovery.


Each type of Pilates offers a slightly different approach to achieving the core principles of improved core strength, flexibility, and body awareness. The choice of which type to practice depends on individual goals, preferences, and fitness levels.


Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that is generally safe for most people, but it is important to consult with a qualified Pilates instructor or healthcare professional before starting a new exercise programme, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.




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