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The Benefits of Pilates

Just what can Pilates exercises do for you?

Apparatus or Mat?

Pilates himself rarely worked with groups. Most of his work was done one on one, so each person's exercises were tailored to meet his or her needs. But he used both mat exercises and equipment with his clients.

"Pilates was developed as a system," says George. "People will get the best benefits if they utilize it as a system, doing exercises on the mat and the equipment."

"The equipment can offer more variety of movement," adds Bowen, "but it's important to have experience in the mat work as well. It's portable, for one thing."

For someone who has limitations, equipment is a great place to begin, says Galliano.

"The equipment was really designed to help people do the mat work. It supports them while they do the action," she says, which is something they can't get in a mat class.

Bottom line? If you can afford it, teachers recommend doing both mat classes and work on the equipment.

Fusions of Pilates

It seems like everywhere you look, familiar exercise disciplines are taking on a new life with a Pilates twist. There are fusions of Pilates with everything from yoga and swimming to ballroom dancing and boxing.

"Right now, Pilates is sort of a nice, hot word," says George. "Everybody wants to fuse Pilates with everything because it's going to help sell it."

George's perspective?

"Any movement or exercise that's done well should be beneficial to the body," she says, "but it doesn't necessarily mean you're doing Pilates."

Pilates Is Not for Everyone

Some 50% of adults experience back pain at some time in their lives. At any given time, 25% of adults have acute or chronic back pain, says Jupiter, Fla., physical therapist Michael L. Reed, DPT.

Pilates and other exercises that focus on the stability of the muscles that support the spine might seem like a perfect fit. But not all pain is the same, cautions Reed. Without a diagnosis for your back pain from a physician or health care professional, Pilates could do more harm than good, he says.

"You can't go to a non-medical practitioner that teaches Pilates and think that will resolve your back pain," says Reed. "That's the mistake people make."

That's not necessarily to say that Pilates won't help, says Reed, who uses Pilates in his rehabilitation studio. Movement training is a sensible way to manage pain, and non-weight-bearing exercises like Pilates can be done even by those struggling with pain, he says.

However, he warns, "it's advantageous to have a better idea what may be generating their symptoms first."

As any well-trained Pilates teacher will attest, without a proper diagnosis for the pain, even the best instructor cannot design a safe and effective exercise program.

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Reviewed on May 27, 2009

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