After over two years of going to reformer pilates classes several times a week, I have become a total die-hard believer in the many benefits of pilates. And, this is coming from a person who had never stepped foot in a pilates studio before this and often said things like, “Yoga is boring.” #sorry
Fact is, for much of my life, I was an athlete and a gym rat. I needed to run to clear my head, not do a downward facing dog. Lifting weights and pushing myself made me feel like a warrior, not doing the hundreds. But, then I had kids, and suddenly I felt like my body wasn’t my own anymore. I was stuck in someone else’s body – one riddled with chronic pain and symptoms of what would eventually be diagnosed as 2 autoimmune diseases.
Around that time, I stopped working out completely. I couldn’t stand the pain. I needed all my energy to be as fully present for my family as I could. But, the longer I went without strength training and being active, the worse I felt – mentally and physically.
Why I Started Pilates:
After working with rheumatologists for a couple years in order to accurately diagnose my symptoms, I brought up my chronic shoulder pain during one visit. I told her that I thought I needed x-rays, because the pain was constant and very distracting. I even said I was worried that there was some kind of injury or tumor in there that was limiting my range of motion and creating all this havoc.
She felt around for a couple minutes before saying, “Nope, that’s just inflammation.” Then, she said something else, “You should start reformer pilates. It’s really helped some of my other patients.”
While she may have said it casually, I was so desperate for a solution to the pain – I jumped on her suggestion and was googling “reformer pilates near me” before I even got to my car.
Once I found the membership prices, I balked for about five minutes before deciding that it was worth a shot and the worst case scenario was that it didn’t help and I cancelled my membership. I didn’t even consider the best case scenario, but what happened was surprising – even to me. That’s why I’m sharing ten benefits I have personally experienced since starting pilates.
Related: Read my new post with 21 pilates benefits you’ll love.
10 Benefits of Pilates:
1. Pilates balances muscular strength on both sides of the body:
Many pilates exercises require your body to work as a unit, which requires a great deal of balance. But, the fact is, most of our bodies are horribly out of balance. Not only will one side of our body be stronger or more flexible than the other, but if we become inflamed or injured, we can actually compensate for weak or sore muscles by overusing the other side without realizing it. This pushes our body even further out of alignment, which will increase muscle fatigue and pain, creating a vicious cycle. The sore muscles continue to get weaker, not stronger.
Imbalance in the body creates all sorts of havoc – like my shoulder pain. The pilates reformer machine highlights these imbalances, allowing us to slow down the movement until we can perform them with total control. Once balance in the body is achieved, we can slowly add speed, but never to the point of relying on momentum.
Bottom line: restore balance = reduce pain. In about 2 months, my chronic shoulder was gone. It still visits from time to time, but with regular pilates workouts, I am able to manage it almost entirely. But, not just my shoulder pain. I’ve seen a decrease in chronic pain entirely.
2. Pilates strengthens the core:
You’ve probably heard this before – but pilates doesn’t just strengthen your abs. Pilates really strengthens everything in your upper body – back, abs, shoulders, arms – the entire core. My upper body is very, very strong after 2 years of regular classes – to the point that someone hugged me the other day and commented on how strong my back felt! For someone who has really struggled with a lot of physical pain and limitations over the years – I love hearing that my body feels and looks strong.
Having a strong core is is important for everything that we do, including improving our posture and reducing injuries. It’s why we see a huge mix of people in classes, from young athletes looking to balance and strengthen to older people who have been told to go for physical therapy. No matter where you’re at in your health and fitness journey – you will feel welcomed at a pilates class.
3. Pilates reduces pressure on joints:
This is a huge one for me. Joint pain was a significant reason that I had to stop other types of workouts. With pilates, a good amount of the exercises are done while lying on your back on the carriage – which is the name for the reformer machine. By removing your body weight from the exercise, you are better able to isolate the muscle groups, focus on your core, slow down your movements to restore balance, and get a targeted workout without the major joint pain.
While pilates has been called the “zero pain” workout, this is not entirely true, you will experience some muscle soreness and fatigue after working out, particularly in the beginning, but it will NOT be like the pain you experience from traditional workouts.
4. Pilates classes are relaxing:
Yes, there was a time when I really thrived on loud, pumping music, ferocious sweating and anxiety-inducing workouts like cycling classes, Zumba, and more. I even loved just putting on some headphones and running until my body gave out.
That ship has sailed, friends. And, if you’re one of my readers with an autoimmune disease, or one of the 7 million women with an AD diagnosis, you’ll totally understand what I mean.
Now, I relish my pilates classes. I love that the colors in my Club Pilates studio are soothing. I always try to snag the reformer closest to the back wall where there is a gorgeous mural of two people jumping off a cliff into serene blue ocean waters. I love that they turn the lights down, the AC up and there’s only 12 people (at most) in a class at a time.
Pilates classes are often relaxing – even if they’re making your muscles scream – and this keeps me going again and again. Some days I want to go because I want the workout, while other days, I want to go because I enjoy the break. Win win.
5. Pilates improves flexibility:
Pilates really stretches you out. I mean, REALLY stretches you. There are exercises where your legs are in the straps and you’re lying on the reformer carriage and those legs go all over the place.
Some of the exercises stretch areas of my body I don’t even think I use. But, I’m grateful for it, because the more flexible we are, the less we’ll be prone to injury and pain as we age. I already have enough pain, thank you very much, so I gladly stretch and am grateful for the flexibility that pilates provides.
Because of these movements – it can be hard to find the right leggings that don’t roll down and allow comfortable movement. Check out my new post with my 7 favorite workout leggings for pilates.
6. Pilates will lengthen your body:
If you have an image of what a pilates instructor looks like – you’re not too far off. Pilates is a very lengthening workout. Even when you’re doing traditional strength training exercises like bicep curls or leg lifts, you’re doing them slowly with cables, rather than using weights and momentum. The difference is more stretching and strengthening and less compacting muscles to create those bulging biceps.
While you may not get inches taller, you will appear taller, because your posture will also be much better. I have also noticed some subtle changes to my natural shape. Of course, pilates alone won’t cause you to drop the lbs, but combined with healthy eating, you can really see a change in your physique with regular pilates classes.
7. Pilates improves breath control:
Breath is very important in pilates and teachers queue how you should breath according to the exercises. Breathing and controlling our breath is also a very powerful way to improve focus, reduce stress, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety – among other things.
Breathing is so powerful, there are entire apps dedicated to helping you breath. I wrote a post with free meditation apps and many of them use breathing exercises to help. Breathing exercises, too, can also be done in isolation to help improve mental and physical health.
The longer I have done pilates, the more I find myself automatically breathing a certain way and controlling my breath in stressful and unexpected situations.
I also regularly see pregnant women in class who share that their doctors say they should continue with classes as long as possible, not only for the strengthening benefits, but also for the breathing practice.
8. Pilates is great for spine health:
Truthfully, I never thought much about my spine before. Even as someone with slight scoliosis, I just never really paid much attention to my spine.
Well, Joseph Pilates, the creator of pilates, thinks the spine is very important. He said, “If you’re spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
Luckily, pilates is exceptionally effective at maintaining a flexible, healthy spine.
9. Pilates improves age-related injuries:
It is easy to think that certain injuries are related to age, but Joseph Pilates says no – this does not need to be the case. He believed so strongly in the age-related benefits of pilates that he said we should not be considered old age until we reach 100. I know quite a few people in my life that start slowing down considerably in their 60s and up, so this seems an ambitious statement.
However, being in these pilates classes regularly, I am no longer surprised to see someone twice my age who is stronger and better at pilates than I am.
I want to be like those people as I age.
10. Pilates improves athletic performance:
Here’s the one that has shocked me the most. You really don’t start breathing heavily in pilates classes. Unlike other workouts, I sometimes leave a great class without even breaking a sweat! So, I really didn’t think that pilates was going to drastically improve my athletic performance in other areas.
Well, about a year ago, I decided to cancel my membership after over a year in favor of a gym membership with free childcare. I wanted to workout during the day instead of at night when my kids were being watched.
That gym only had traditional workout machines, high intensity cardio classes, weight lifting classes, cycling classes and yoga workouts. I decided to try out some of the more intense, cardio style classes and cycling classes, fully expecting to find my limits and not be able to finish them. But, I was shocked! Not only could I keep up much better, but the instructors would comment on how great my form was for a new student. Sure, I was just as flushed as everyone else who took the class, but I didn’t have the horrible boomerang physical pain that I experienced prior to starting pilates.
This explains why we’ve had prima ballerinas, marathon runners and even professional hockey players in classes! They’re after the kind of balance and core strength that pilates can provide, so they can use that to improve their skill in their other sport.
I started pilates as an act of desperation to find something that would help ease the chronic pain in my body. What I got was much, much more. And, in addition to the stress relief and strength from the classes, I’ve also formed very close friendships with people who teach and attend classes. I even found my current babysitter from a pilates class – she’s awesome!
I’m a huge fan of pilates and a big believer in the many benefits of reformer pilates, specifically. I’d love to share more or answer any questions you have, so let me know!
Also, if you’re looking for more posts like this – you might also like these:
- How to lose weight if you have an autoimmune disease
- 10 free yoga flows on YouTube for chronic pain
- How to start a pilates practice if you have an autoimmune disease
- 6 best weight loss apps that really help
Have a fabulous day,
It really helped when you talked about Pilates and how they help improve your body’s balance! Recently, my wife said she’s interested in working out again and trying out a new type of exercise. My wife had our baby a few weeks ago, and she wants to start getting back in shape, so I’ll be sure to share your tips with her! Thanks for the advice on how Pilates is an excellent workout!
That’s awesome. Pilates is incredible for balance, spine health and core strength. I hope she loves it, too!
Awesome article! As a lifelong athlete and middle aged woman with AD and chronic joint pain, I think I’ll give it a try. Thank you.
I’m so glad you found this helpful. I wrote another one with a detailed review of where I take pilates classes, Club Pilates. Maybe try to find a gym near you? Here’s the link if you’d like to read it: https://www.ispyfabulous.com/club-pilates/