The growing accessibility of Pilates
Joseph Pilates may have created his strength and flexibility training in the early 1900s, but you’d never know from the popularity the practice sees today. A century later, Americans are even bigger fans.
That may be partly due to the Covid-19. The rise of virtual Pilates classes during the pandemic has made Pilates more accessible to people who previously couldn’t afford to take a class in a studio, said Tabatha Koylass, owner and master teacher at TabPilates in Chicago.
Now you can take a Pilates class through a fitness app in the comfort of your home — probably at a lower monthly subscription cost than a single in-person class would give you.
If you’re looking for an exercise regimen that strengthens your core, strengthens and lengthens your muscles, improves your posture, and improves your mind-body connection, Pilates may be the workout for you.
Pilates is for everyone (yes, even you)
Pilates is a low-impact workout that has seemingly endless benefits.
With every Pilates class, you can expect a full-body workout that challenges and improves your strength, flexibility, stability, mobility, breathing, and the mind-body connection, Koylass says.
Even in a beginner-level class, moves that look simple are actually quite challenging, says Davina Wong, chief instructor at Club Pilates in Los Angeles. If you really focus on each move and do them in a slow, controlled manner with proper form, you will really feel the burn.
But despite the challenge, the workout works for all fitness levels. As intimidating as Pilates looks, know that anyone can do it, Koylass says.
“It’s one of those fitness forms that is especially great for beginners because it teaches form and awareness, and the form taught in Pilates is all based on the highly functional ways you move your body through life,” she explains. from.
Your thoughts on Pilates
The benefits of Pilates do not end with body strengthening. It really is both a physical and a mental workout, says Amanda Jenny, Pilates expert and founding instructor at Bande, a virtual fitness community.
There’s a big emphasis on intentional movement and deep, intentional breathing when you’re doing Pilates exercises, Wong says. This means the workout is also great for reducing stress and improving mental focus and body awareness.
Before you sign up for a class
As with any workout, it is important to consult your doctor before starting Pilates, especially if you have any injuries or other health problems.
If you’re taking a personal class, let your instructor know of any injuries or limitations before you begin, Koylass says. The teacher can make adjustments and monitor you during the training.
Make sure you work with an experienced instructor and pay extra attention when taking a virtual class.
Pilates equipment and props
You can do Pilates with nothing but your body weight. That is what is known as mat Pilates (practitioners usually perform movements on a mat, such as a yoga mat).
The more traditional form of Pilates — and the kind of exercise Joseph Pilates created a century ago — takes place on a large machine called a reformer. The device looks a bit like a bed frame and has a moving carriage, straps, springs and foot bar that allow you to add tension and perform Pilates moves.
There are also lots of little props and equipment you can add to your Pilates workout to change things up, adjust, and continue your workout.
“As an instructor, I can use equipment and devices and small props to the benefit of every person who walks through the door,” says Koylass.
For one-on-one classes, your instructor can add props like a ball, magic circle, or even resistance bands to change the way you challenge your muscles and help your mind and body learn and grow.
The best Pilates equipment for the home
Here are some of the most commonly used Pilates props and equipment.
They are all relatively small and some are quite inexpensive, making them a great addition to any Pilates exercise at home.
RitFit Pilates Ring
“A magic circle is a great tool for finding your center and balance,” says Jenny.
You can use it in many different ways, by pressing it between your thighs, ankles or hands, or using one hand to press it into the ground or against your body.
“As with any exercise, the intention behind the movement is key when using the magic circle,” says Jenny. “When you actively and effectively press into the ring, your muscles can’t help but twitch.”
Be sure to look for one with a soft padding and padded handles (like this one from RitFit) to prevent accidental scratches or scrapes.
ProBody Pilates Mini Exercise Ball
Placing a small, soft Pilates ball between your thighs (and squeezing them) can help activate the pelvic floor and align the pelvis.
You can also place it between your tailbone and the floor during core exercises to add an extra stability challenge.
Because it’s quick to inflate (just use the included straw) and deflate, the ProBody ball is very easy to pack and carry.
Balanced Bodies Pilates Arc
Koylass likes Pilates arches for those with back problems because they can be helpful in creating workouts around stretching and strengthening the back. In addition, they provide good lumbar support.
This Balanced Bodies bow is made from high-density foam and weighs just four pounds.
Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands
“Resistance bands are a great way to take your workout to the next level,” says Jenny. You can use them to add extra resistance to some Pilates moves, making them a little more challenging.
For example, if you’re putting a band around your thighs for a bridge sequence, you’ll need to resist the band to keep your knees from sagging.
Try using a band instead of weights for arm exercises or during post-class stretches.
“Most bands come in a pack of different intensity levels, so you can pick the right resistance for you depending on the movement,” says Jenny.
This pack from Fit Simplify comes with five different bands ranging from extra light to extra heavy.
ToeSox Bellarina Full Toe Grip Socks
We know, we know: Socks aren’t technically gear. But they are worth mentioning for their usefulness.
Many Pilates studios will encourage you to wear socks with grips on the bottom. There are two reasons for this: it’s more hygienic and it keeps you from slipping on the studio floors, Wong says.
Toe socks (like this women’s pair from ToeSox) are often used in Pilates because they don’t twist or bunch up when you move, and they allow you to spread your toes naturally on the floor for good grounding and stability.
Wong recommends having some light weights handy if you want to add an extra challenge to certain Pilates moves.
However, it is best to wait to add any extra weight until you are comfortable with performing a movement correctly. And you want to avoid going super heavy to avoid injury, she says.
Slipping on some wrist or ankle weights is an easy way to kick things up a notch without worrying about clinging to anything.
This set of Bala Bangles includes two adjustable wrist and ankle weights that weigh one pound each.
Gaiam Essentials thick yoga mat
You can use your regular yoga mat for Pilates workouts, but Koylass recommends investing in a mat that is densely padded if you plan on doing Pilates often. It is a lot more comfortable and provides a significant buffer between your knees and tailbone and the hard floor.
This one from Gaiam is 11 millimeters thick, is available in different colors and has a strap to easily take the mat with you.
ProsourceFit Flex Semicircular Foam Roller
A foam roller is another small tool you can use to add an element of instability and give yourself a bigger core challenge. A semi-foam roller like this one is great because it doesn’t roll on the floor, making it easier to use with a variety of moves.
“If you have a taller one, you can lie on it on your back and do some abs with your feet on the floor,” Wong says. “Or lie with your legs up and do some balance action plus tummy or arm work.”
Lying on the foam roller can also help open up your chest. You can also place it under your hand to help with some stretching exercises or roll it forward slowly.
SKLZ Slidez double-sided practice float discs
By adding gliders to your Pilates practice at home, you can mimic the glide of reformer movements without a machine. “The burning and pain is just as intense,” says Jenny.
She loves these SKLZ glides because the padded tops are comfortable for kneeling movements, and the bottom slides easily over wood without leaving a scratch.
Wunda chair with balanced body
A Pilates chair is actually the intermediate step between Pilates on the mat and on a reformer. It’s small and not as complex as a reformer, but it offers resilient resistance to challenge the body in a variety of ways.
The Wunda Chair by Balanced Body was created based on Joseph Pilates’ original chair design and dimensions, so it’s not surprising that it is a favorite of many Pilates enthusiasts.
It also offers the widest resistance range of any single-pedal Pilates chair available, with two springs adjustable to eight different resistances.
It’s quite compact, making it a good choice for smaller spaces, comes in 35 colors and comes with a 10-year warranty.
Stamina AeroPilates Reformer 287
If you can’t make the investment in a souped-up reformer yet (that’s fair, they’re expensive), AeroPilates’ bare-bones option is a great place to start.
It has all the basic features, including three different springs, two straps, a foot bar and a padded cart, and it folds up for easy storage.
Note: It is important to work with a qualified Pilates instructor to learn how to properly use a reformer before using one yourself. That’s the best way to reduce your risk of injury so you can enjoy all the benefits of Pilates at home.
If you’re looking for a bigger, higher quality reformer, check out the Pilates reformer choices.