I’ve been a huge fan of Pilates and have put this into practice for a number of years now. In fact, I know if you follow a regular Pilates class, it can change your body. And I’m all for something which can help me look leaner, especially now that I’ve reached my late 40s! Let’s face it, I need as much help as I can!! So, if you’re looking for a new form of exercise to enjoy, I honestly can’t suggest anything better. After all, this is the only way I know to create longer, stronger muscles and a far leaner look.
Which Pilates do I prefer?
Now you’ll probably remember Reformer Pilates was my thing – you know, the type with the machines full of springs and pulleys. And I still think the Reformer is a fabulous piece of equipment that delivers a truly transformative workout. But, for obvious reasons thanks to the pandemic, this year I’ve discovered the advantages of mat Pilates. In fact, I’m enjoying this so much at home at a time to suit me and it costs mere pennies, so what’s not to like right now? These days, I aim for two or even three sessions a week if and it is just so satisfying!
What exactly is Pilates?
To the uninitiated, I can imagine all forms of Pilates can seem a little intimidating. The exercises can seem strange, and in the beginning it can be hard to know if you’re even doing everything correctly. Despite all of this, I genuinely believe that Pilates is pretty much perfect for anyone and everybody. After all, the German physical trainer Joseph Pilates invented this for the purpose of rehabilitation.
To sum up, Pilates is a low impact, full-body exercise method that strengthens your muscles, stabilises your core, and improves your postural alignment and flexibility. Above all, it’s extremely effective! Don’t be fooled by the lack of high-impact, high-volume moves and reps. Depending on your level, Pilates delivers a pleasingly punishing workout (yes it really does!), that totally delivers results. But it goes far beyond the mere physical. Pilates is most definitely a mind-body exercise, so it offers valuable mental health benefits, too.
Mat v Reformer Pilates
You might be wondering what the difference is between mat and Reformer classes. Mat classes use your body weight for the exercises, while the Reformer machine adds extra resistance via its pulley/spring system. The benefits of each are very similar, so I would never advocate one as being better than the other.
However, I do believe that mat Pilates is especially great for beginners, as it covers all of the fundamental Pilates movement techniques. Learning these basics on a mat can be mighty useful before you progress to a Reformer machine, which can take time to master. Experienced Pilates practitioners may favour them, so Reformer classes can be more challenging. This means they may produce faster results than mat classes, but might not be as enjoyable. On a practical note, not everyone has access to a studio equipped with Reformer Pilates machines. And, at the moment, if you don’t feel comfortable visiting a studio, then an online mat Pilates classes could be just right for you. In short, it all comes down to availability and personal preference. However, the huge advantage of mat Pilates is its accessibility and versatility – and, right now, I’m a convert!
If you have a mat (and ideally an internet connection) you can work out whenever and wherever you want. When lockdown was imposed, I started doing a class two to three times a week in my own kitchen. (Thank goodness we finished that particular renovation in time!). It’s a habit I plan to continue for now and I find it so easy to fit into my regular routine. I simply fire up my laptop, unroll my mat and I’m good to go. There are no class bookings to organise, no jostling for the prime spots (near a window!) and no problems parking. All of which means there are also no excuses not to actually work out!
How to get started
However, if you’re a complete beginner, a group mat Pilates class could well be your best option. If you feel comfortable working out with others in a studio, there are lots more options available. Online classes still have plenty to commend them, of course, but I do enjoy a group ‘IRL’ workout with like-minded friends, too. It’s great fun and motivating, when you’re physically surrounded by your peers! If you’re new to mat Pilates, it can also be very helpful to be under the eagle eye and presence of a qualified instructor. They will be able to supervise you accordingly, correct your form, answer any questions and even suggest alternative poses based on your capabilities.
The online alternatives
If your physical class options are still very limited, don’t despair. There really is no shortage of virtual mat Pilates classes to choose from. Popular options include ten.co.uk, pilateslive.co.uk and corebeliefpilates.co.uk. My absolute go-to, however, is pilatesanytime.com, which offers access to thousands to streaming Pilates videos, at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Brett Howard is one of my favourite instructors, but there are over 180 to choose from, so you’re sure to find someone that suits.
The benefits of mat Pilates
The beauty of mat Pilates is that it has something to offer all ages and fitness levels. It challenges everyone from absolute beginners to elite athletes, and can even be adapted to accommodate a range of medical conditions.
So what are the key benefits? Mat Pilates is a muscle-strengthening activity that will help you to build a strong core. In addition to improving muscle tone, it enhances posture, balance and mobility. Pilates can also relieve stress, tension and non-specific lower back pain. Because Pilates strengthens, lengthens, and boosts flexibility without adding bulk, it’s very popular with professional dancers. And it’s not just for women! Core strength, flexibility, balance and efficient movement patterns are all highly relevant to men’s fitness – as is Pilates’ contribution to injury prevention. One common misconception among men is that it’s an easy option that won’t achieve much. So I think trying a class will soon put paid to that delusion!
Last, but by no means least, regular mat Pilates can significantly improve your mental health. Pilates involves focus, centring, concentration, precision, breath and control. In other words, it helps to develop an important mind-body connection that can encourage mindfulness and significantly enhance general wellbeing. Personally, I find Pilates clears my mind, increases my energy, reduces my stress levels and boosts my inner serenity. Why not grab a mat and try a class today?
Worried about keeping fit and healthy during the Coronavirus crisis? Then read my blog post on this very subject here.