A Mind Body Method to a Lean, Sculpted Body

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Pilates is a proven conditioning method that helps create strong abdominal muscles and helps produce a lean, sculpted physique. Who doesn’t want a long, lean and sculpted physique? Regardless of your body type, physical activity level or ability, you’ll find Pilates an exceptional method for sculpting and strengthening your body. Dancers have used this technique for years to help improve their flexibility, agility and strength. Perhaps the biggest benefit of Pilates is it lengthens the muscles, creating a long, lean and toned look.

Like yoga, Pilates focuses on the mind body connection. This means when performing pilates exercises you combine breathing exercises, weight training and even some gymnastics like techniques to bring your body into balance and proper alignment. The founder of the program, Joseph Pilates, believes that imbalanced muscle groups in the body lead to postural problems and misalignment in the spine. His goal in developing this technique was to provide a sculpted and strong body that is able to retain its proper alignment. The technique has been around since the 1900s. Since then some refinements have been made, but the basic principles of a Pilates program remain the same.

How Does It Work?
Pilates combines strength and stretching routines to help exercise the entire body. The fluid movements associated with pilates do not seem challenging at first glance, but are effective for strengthening the muscles in the body. The method helps build your body from the inside out.

Many gyms and health care centers offer Pilates machines you can perform a series of exercises on. You can also however perform pilates using simple mat exercises. Thus Pilates is accessible to everyone, as you can even perform the exercises from the comfort of your own home.

Here are just a few benefits the Pilates method has to offer:
  • Can improve mental clarity and focus.
  • Improves muscle strength, control and agility.
  • Lengthens the muscles helping create a leaner appearance.
  • Can reduce pain and discomfort.
  • Excellent technique for developing abdominal and back muscles.
  • Promotes flexibility and relaxation.
If you want to try Pilates at home, there are many excellent DVD’s and videos you can select from. You might try an introductory class or two if you can find one locally. This may help you better understand some of the postures and movements required before trying out your home program. Remember, one of the best benefits of this natural healing and strengthening program is you can do it at home with no equipment at all.

Pilates and Back Troubles
Many people use Pilates to relieve or address chronic or acute back pain. Several studies suggest that Pilates is an effective technique for reducing mild to moderate back pain not associated with degenerative disk disease or other serious disorders. I had the benefit of having several Pilates one-on-one sessions with a physical therapist several years ago when I started experiencing severe lower back pain. The pain was preventing me from jogging and engaging in other vigorous activities. Before my Pilates sessions, I had tried many other therapies including orthotics, traditional PT and some chiropractic care (which I also found helpful).

My instructor worked with me to develop a series of machine based exercises combined with some floor exercises and breathing exercises I could perform at home. From personal experience I can say that Pilates was helpful for reducing my pain very rapidly. I continued the program for a few months after my first sessions.

Individual or private sessions rather than group sessions may be more helpful for you if you are experiencing any type of chronic or acute back pain. One perk, your health insurance may cover some Pilates training if received by a trained physical therapist. In my case part of my training was covered, the rest I considered a worthwhile investment. Pilates is an excellent tool for learning how to use the muscles in your body properly, and for learning how to identify what movements or behaviors may cause you pain the future. Combined with a good diet and stretching routine, Pilates can benefit almost anyone.

Many of the movements related to the Pilates method are often challenging. Thus they may not be suitable for some patients with severe back pain. Remember if you are experiencing any back pain it is important that you talk with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, whether therapeutic or exercise. If you are looking for a challenging and natural way to heighten your body mind connection while staying fit and trim, try Pilates. You may be pleasantly surprised by the changes that occur in your body.