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By Isabella Broggini

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If you watch someone do pilates and have never done it before, you might think that it looks really easy. This is what I thought before trying out my first pilates class, and boy was I wrong! Even though you might not sweat as much as you would during a HIIT class when doing pilates, that does not mean that you aren’t reaping amazing benefits from it. Here are 4 great ways that your body and mind will benefit from pilates classes.

1- You’ll get washboard abs

Perfect abs

A Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study found that, after completing 36 weeks of pilates training, women strengthened their rectus abdominis (the muscle responsible for creating the sought-after “six-pack” look) by an average of 21 percent, while eliminating pre-existing muscle imbalances between the right and left sides of their cores. Here are two typical pilates ab exercises to get you started that will really help strengthen and define your core:

The Hundred
How to do it:

  1. Lie flat on a mat with your legs squeezed together and arms straight and strong by your side, fingers pointed.
  2. Lift your legs a few inches off the mat, squeeze your glute muscles and your abs. Lift your head and look to your toes.
  3. Raise your arms over your thighs and repeatedly pump your arms up and down with energy.
  4. Complete two to five sets with 10 pumps for every set; the goal is to work up to doing 100 pumps.

Why It’s effective:

This exercise will allow you to define your lower abdominal muscles while strengthening your deep core muscles.

Single Leg Circles
How to do it:

  1. Lie flat on your back with your legs squeezed together and arms straight by your sides, make sure to keep the backs of your shoulders touching the mat at all times.
  2. Stretch one leg up to the ceiling, keeping it as straight and as perpendicular as possible.
  3. Draw circles in the air with your leg, beginning across your body, then down towards your ankle.
  4. Complete five circles in each direction before switching legs.

Why It’s effective:

This move challenges your core by making it work hard to keep your upper body stable while you move your legs. In addition, you will improve the mobility of your hip joint and strengthen your quads and hamstrings as well.

2- Pilates May Ease Your Back Pain

Back pain

Low back pain will affect four out of five Americans at some point in their lives, the good news is that regular pilates could help decrease existing back pain or aid in preventing it all together. As discussed earlier, pilates is great for strengthening your core, and strong core muscles that support your spine can help take the pressure off of your back and help improve your spinal alignment. Below find instructions for a great pilates exercise that will help ease your lower back pain:

Pelvic Tilt to Pelvic Curl
How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make sure that your feet, ankles, and knees are all aligned and hip-distance apart.
  2. Do a pelvic tilt by engaging your abdominal muscles, pulling them in so that your belly button moves down towards your spine. Tighten your abs so as to press your lower spine into the floor.
  3. Press down through your feet allowing your tailbone to begin to curl up toward the ceiling. Allow your hips to rise first, then your lower spine, and, lastly, the middle spine.
  4. Finish the move resting on your shoulder blades, making sure that you have a nice straight line from your hips to your shoulders. Do not move past this point. Hold for 5 seconds.
  5. Use abdominal control to roll your spine back down to the floor, make sure that you touch the floor with your upper back first, slowly lowering the rest of your body, vertebrae by vertebrae.

Why It’s effective:

This exercise releases spinal pressure while strengthening your glute muscles and core.

3- Pilates Increases Your Flexibility

Flexibility

Since many pilates exercises develop both the strength and flexibility of major muscle groups, pilates will help you grow long, lean muscles, while improving your muscle elasticity and join mobility. Engaging in a regular pilates routine is therefore a great supplement to your daily post and pre workout stretching routine. Flexibility is crucial to avoid injury and to effectively engage your muscles. Here is one pilates exercise that is great for improving flexibility and for stretching tight hip flexors:

The Swan
How to do it:

  1. Lie face down with your forehead flat on the mat, your arms bent with your elbows close to your sides, and palms on the floor. Keep legs extended and straight, a few inches apart.
  2. Pull your belly button up off of the mat, so that you could slide a piece of paper underneath it. Press your pubic bone down into the mat.
  3. Maintain your position while squeezing your abs and your butt, slowly rising up from your upper back, keeping your lower body pressed into the mat.
  4. Hold the position for a count of five before lowering back to the starting position and repeating.

Why It’s effective:

This is a great back extension exercise that stretches your abdominal muscles and hip flexors, while simultaneously strengthening your abs, back, shoulders, inner thighs, and hamstrings.

4- Pilates Improves Your Focus

Pilates

Since you are required to focus on your breathing while moving through each pilates exercise, you will have to be fully focused the entire time, creating a connection between your body and your mind. In addition, during pilates you will be asked to move one vertebrae at a time, which requires more concentration than most other workouts. Research has shown that when we are required to actively think about how we are moving, as in pilates, our brain cells grow at a faster rate and our nervous system creates a more effective connection between our brains and our bodies.

If you’re looking for a workout that will challenge both your body and your mind, and help you strengthen major muscle groups while improving your flexibility, you should definitely try out pilates! We offer pilates classes for all levels at our three locations in Manhattan, check out our group fitness schedules to find a time that’s most convenient for you. If you are a pilates instructor looking for a welcoming gym to practice your passion, our 57th location is actively seeking Independent Pilates Trainers, contact us today for more information!

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