It’s Ah-Mazing For Your Abs. Pilates hits your core (or, in Pilates speak, your “powerhouse”) unlike any other workout. In fact, after completing 36 weeks of Pilates training, women strengthened their rectus abdominis (the muscle responsible for six-packs) by an average of 21 percent, while eliminating muscle imbalances between the right and left sides of their cores, according to a Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study.
It Can Ease Back Pain. A stronger core equals a better back, says Tracy Zindell, Flex Pilates Chicago founder and master instructor. That’s why those with chronic lower back pain who practiced Pilates for just four weeks experienced more relief than those who visited a physician and other specialists, says a Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy study. What’s more, their pain stayed away for a full year post-Pilates. Researchers believe that by stabilizing the core’s lumbar-pelvic (lower-back) region, Pilates alleviates stress on the area and ups mobility.
It’s Easy On Your Joints. Pilates’ slow and controlled movements puts minimal impact on your joints. Bonus if you’re using the Pilates reformer: “The padding on a Pilates reformer is as thick as 10 yoga mats,” says Zindell. “It takes the pressure off of your back and knees.”
It Hones Your Focus. Pilates urges you to focus on 1) your breath, 2) your body, and 3) how they move together. It takes a lot of concentration, says Zindell. “You can’t zone out.” That means you’re forced to forget about work, bills, boyfriends, and other drama for a full hour.Ahh.
It Improves Your Sports Performance. “When you start focusing on your core, you realize that all of your muscles are connected through your core. Try doing lunges without your abdominals. You’ll crumble over,” says Zindel, who has trained everyday athletes and professional ones including Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah. “With a stronger core, you can run faster, your yoga is on point, and overall, the rest of your workouts improve,” she says. Plus, by working in small groups or one-on-one with a Pilates instructor, you can learn moves that mimic and improve performance in your sport of choice.
It Makes Your More Flexible. “I always hear people saying, ‘I’ve never been flexible, I can’t do Pilates.’ But that’s why they should be doing it,” Zindell says. In one Brazilian study, when young women (without any prior Pilates experience) performed 20 Pilates sessions, they became 19.1 percent more flexible. When you’re tight, you shorten your muscle and limit your body’s range of motion, she says. At best, that can hurt your exercise performance. At worst, it can cause injury.
It Boosts Your Brainpower. Joseph Pilates called his workout method “the thinking man’s exercise.” It could very well be. When Chinese researchers measured changes in women’s brain activity after 10 weeks of Pilates training, they found an increase in the brain’s alpha peak power, which is related to neural network activity, memory performance, and other cognitive functions. Researchers believe Pilates may even hold potential as a treatment option for people with brain-degenerative diseases and cognitive dysfunctions.