Softer” sport, my ass: Pilates often seems inconspicuous to outsiders, but the whole body training has it all. Although the exercises are ideally gentle and flowing, they are extremely effective. Aching muscles after the first hour is guaranteed. And the results are already noticeable and visible after a few months! But where does Pilates actually come from, and how do you get started? We explain that here.
“Start right away with your first Pilates workout! Apart from a good sports mat, you do not need any special equipment. This thin yoga mat from Lotuscrafts (25 Euro via amazon.de) is for example very suitable for Pilates.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a gentle but effective workout for body and mind, which is mainly aimed at a strong body center. It was invented in the early 1920s by the German-American Joseph Hubertus Pilates. The boxer and later also trainer developed the workout for his students. From the beginning, it was about strenuous muscle exercises that were combined with flowing breathing, thus strengthening the body’s core.
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Breathing should support the exercise in Pilates and lead you concentrated, slowly and consciously into movement and tension. Joseph Pilates himself first called his method “Contrology”. Through the influence of his wife Clara, a nurse, the gentle aspects were added. Since Pilates worked a lot with dancers, elements from this direction also came: a strong mental focus on movement brings the desired precision to the exercises and also allows you to get into flow.
Breathing should support the exercises in Pilates. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
By the way, there is no strict specification as to when to exhale and when to inhale. Marcus Renner of ElbPilates: “There is a rough rule: If you stretch your body, i.e. if you make an effort, then you should inhale. When the body returns to relaxation, then you should exhale again. The breath supports the movement. But: there are also exercises in which the breathing can be consciously reversed to play with the breath.”
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The 6 principles of Pilates
Trainer and inventor Joseph Pilates based the development of his training on six principles, which the exercises still follow today:
In Pilates training, the flowing execution of the movements is an essential part. Every single exercise should be executed in flow, but the exercise series itself also serves as flow.
It is important that the movements are performed consciously from beginning to end, i.e. the attention should be completely focused on the own body.
The focus of Pilates is on the so-called “power house. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
Conscious breathing is extremely important in Pilates, as it activates the deep muscle layers and prevents tension.
Keeping individual body parts and muscle groups calm for a moment requires not only concentration but also absolute precision and body control.
By controlling the body, muscles and mind, the movements can be executed fluently.
In Pilates, each exercise has a specific sequence with specific posture instructions.
By the way, the biggest focus of Pilates is on the so-called “power house”, the middle of the body. This includes the oblique and transverse abdominal muscles, as well as the pelvic floor and back muscles. This not only ensures a well defined abdomen, but also a great posture.
When will I see the first successes in Pilates?
Pilates professional Marcus Renner recommends that you first get a 10 ticket at the gym, because afterwards you will definitely feel a huge difference. Joseph Pilates himself said the same thing: “After 10 hours you feel the difference, after 20 hours you see the difference and after 30 hours you have a new body.
How does Pilates training work?
The focus of Pilates is on the “powerhouse” – the center of the body. It is used in every exercise and is the starting point for training all other body regions. The pelvic floor, shoulders, waist and hips are also trained particularly effectively. In addition, the joints are gently strengthened.
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Best of all, Pilates is also suitable for beginners. But be careful, don’t just start: “If you have just had a recent operation, have an acute herniated disc, if you are pregnant and have never done Pilates before, you should be careful”, says Marcus Renner, “Here it is called: Slowly rant! Those who want to keep fit can do Pilates 2-3 times a week. Those who are already practiced can even train daily. A few exercises in the morning after getting up are a great start to the day!
Tip: Find out about the qualification of the trainer beforehand. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
Basically anyone can teach Pilates, there are no rules for it. But of course there are special trainings to qualify people as Pilates instructors. Our tip: It is best to check the studio’s homepage in advance to find out which training courses the instructors have completed and how much experience they already have.
Do I need equipment for Pilates?
No. But classically, Pilates is actually not only practiced on a mat, but on machines. Joseph H. Pilates had already integrated this into his training. He developed training equipment that was intended to complement the workout on the mat. To this day, many Pilates classes are held on machines that are a combination of rowing machine and stretching board.
Ilona Bialojan from the Hamburg studio Pilates im Hof did her training in London and has been training with the equipment for more than 20 years. She says: “The nice thing about the machines is that you always have a training partner who supports you. In contrast to training on the mat, you always have a counterweight that supports you even more and trains your body even better”.
What is Aerial Pilates?
You probably already know Aerial Yoga, a type of yoga where you do exercises in a cloth hanging from the ceiling. But have you ever done Pilates in the air? Sonja Ehrlich from Hamburg started Flying Pilates in 2012 and since then she has not only been giving classes but also training instructors. The special thing about Pilates training in a scarf is that the scarf can be used in many ways.
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“On the one hand, the cloth supports my participants in the Pilates exercises, but on the other hand it also helps to make the training more effective and intensive. In this way, the deep muscles can be addressed even more, but at the same time, at the end of the lesson, they can relax wonderfully in the cloth. In addition, the exercises simply look very aesthetic and give you a great body feeling. Here everybody goes out with a smile!”
Flying or Aerial Pilates is also suitable for everyone. “This is exactly why I like Flying Pilates so much, I have participants of all ages, sexes and levels. It’s just fun to see everyone at their level getting into the cloth and doing something good for their body. The studio offers three different levels of performance, so there is something for every level.
The cloth is also suitable for “letting go”: Placed correctly on the body, the cloth also helps to stretch the limbs or the spine or to let them hang out comfortably. This is not only good for the joints, but also ideal for the fascia and the vegetative nervous system.
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Sonja Ehrlich’s tip for all hobby acrobats: “The cloth is also a great training partner when it comes to more difficult positions or the fine tuning of more complicated postures. During training, the cloth gives immediate feedback on whether the body is correctly aligned: For example, the cloth can be used to improve the posture in handstands or to stretch even deeper in the balancing act”.
What is the difference between Yoga and Pilates?
Many studios offer Pilates in combination with (for example Yin-) Yoga. Even though Yoga and Pilates have some things in common, such as supporting breathing and the interaction of tension and relaxation, the practices also differ from each other. Yoga is a more holistic approach that combines body, mind, spirituality and a whole attitude towards life. Pilates is not quite so all-encompassing, but clearly focuses on the body’s core and the strengthening of the muscles.
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The 3 most effective Pilates exercises
So that you can also practice Pilates at home, we have the best exercises for you to try out directly:
1. shoulder bridge
Lie down on the mat in supine position with your legs spread hip-wide. Breathe in and roll first the pelvis, then the lumbar and finally the thoracic vertebrae upwards and hold. As you exhale, roll back onto the mat vertebra by vertebra.
Lie on the mat in supine position with your legs stretched upwards at a 90-degree angle, i.e. at right angles. Arms at the sides of the body. Inhaling, now lift your pelvis towards the sternum and slowly roll up your bottom and back. Important: The shoulders and head remain on the mat. Exhale, bringing vertebra by vertebra back to the mat. Continue rolling up until you come to a sitting position.
3rd spine stretch
Sit upright on the mat, legs stretched forward, arms extended upwards. Breathe in and slowly bend forward. While doing so, keep your back round, pull your toes towards your body and push your heels away from your body. Exhaling back to the starting position.
What accessories do I need for Pilates at home?
The basic equipment for Pilates is a mat so that you can do the exercises on the floor at home. If you have never done Pilates before, you should also have a DVD or practice with a coach via YouTube and Co. In this way, exercises can be easily imitated and you can approach them step by step.
By the way, you don’t need special clothing for Pilates. If you feel comfortable in them, you should wear clothes that are as tight as possible to get a better feeling for the body, breathing and exercises. You don’t need shoes either, you can do Pilates barefoot or in light socks.
The Pilates ring is a popular tool. © fizkes / Shutterstock.com
To make the Pilates exercises even more effective, you can use special accessories to help you. Especially popular is the Pilates ring, for example the SISSEL Pilates circle (25 Euro via amazon.de). With this you can train your legs especially well. For example, clamp the ring between your legs and constantly press it gently while you do the exercises. Or hook one leg in and pull the leg up stretched with the ring and hold the stretch.
A small, soft ball can also relieve the neck and support the head if you have neck problems.
Pilates for a flat stomach
Pilates is one of the most effective training methods for getting your tummy in shape in no time at all – and it is particularly gentle because the exercises are combinations of slow, flowing movements. Even if Pilates looks really relaxing at first sight, the workout is not without its own special features. After all, the entire supporting muscles should be kept under tension during the exercises.
Pilates is the ideal workout for you if your primary goal is a stable core and a well-trained overall body. The beauty of the exercises is that you can do them in a group or alone at home.