The limb-elongating aspect of Pilates is only one reason why dancers and models often favor this workout. The goal with Pilates is to always feel length throughout the entire body, even while performing moves that work specific body parts. There is also an ever-present mind-body element which makes it appealing to people looking to develop that connection. The exercises can be performed both on a regular exercise mat (known as Pilates mat workouts) and on spring-based machines developed by Mr. Pilates referred to by names such as "The Reformer," "The Cadillac," and "The Chair."
The benefits of Pilates are innumerable. According to Rael Isacowitz, author of 'Pilates' (Human Kinetics, April, 2006) and a master of the Pilates method, a Pilates regimen develops strength, flexibility, coordination, speed, agility, endurance, balance, and correct posture. Plus, most of the moves are non-impact, making it a great fitness activity for , aging individuals or athletes recovering from injuries.
With Pilates mat classes, students will work to increase the strength and mobility of the spine, according to Kimberly and Katherine Corps, founders of New York City's Pilates on Fifth and the Cardiolates ™ workout. "Plus Pilates encourages you to keep your belly button pulled to the front wall of your spine at all times -- instead of pushing it out -- so your stomach gets super flat," says Kimberly.
Pilates equipment work uses spring resistance to challenge muscles in both phases of the contraction -- concentric and eccentric. "Thus the entire muscle is targeted so the result is the appearance of lengthened muscle instead of bulk concentrated at the belly of it," says Katherine.
To the novice, the Pilates exercise equipment can look daunting, but rest assured that each piece was developed as a tool to help students learn proper body mechanics. Because it can be intimidating, learning proper technique, which can best be done privately with an instructor, is essential. For the floor exercises, all that's needed is a cushioned mat. Technique is still important, but can be learned in a class or by watching a good DVD.