People who do Pilates exercises will tell you they've seen improvements in their range of motion, flexibility, circulation, posture and abdominal strength, along with reduced back, neck and joint pain.
Forty years after his death, the system of exercises developed by Joseph Pilates has never been in such demand.
Pilates experts will tell you that his system is an education in body awareness, that it changes your shape by educating you in daily life. Whether you're cooking, brushing your teeth or sitting on your couch, it teaches you to pay attention to your body posture and how you use it.
Think of a tree, Pilates experts say. Does it have all its strength in its limbs? No. The tree is only as strong as its trunk and roots. Without a strong trunk, the tree would topple over.
It's the same for human bodies. If you don't concentrate on building a good foundation and a strong trunk or core, you'll end up tight and limited in some places and weak in others, injury-prone and susceptible to the pitfalls of your occupation or chosen form of exercise.
Pilates experts also say that it's important not to equate a stronger core with a flatter stomach. Rather, Pilates gives you a stronger, healthy back and body. As you develop body awareness, stand straighter and gain flexibility, Pilates will shift your shape.
Instead of working major muscle groups in isolation, Pilates works the whole body in synergy, which is how you should be moving on a daily basis.
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 specific needs. But Pilates used both mat exercises and equipment with his clients.
In general, people will get the best benefits if they utilize Pilates as a system, doing exercises on both the mat and the equipment. For someone who has limitations, Pilates equipment is a great place to begin because it was designed to help people do the mat work properly.
Some 50% of adults experience back pain at some time in their lives. Pilates and other exercises that focus on the stability of the muscles that support the spine might seem like a perfect solution. However, not all pain is the same. Without a proper diagnosis from a physician or health care professional, Pilates could do more harm than good.
That's not necessarily to say that Pilates won't help. 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.
However, it's a good idea to first find out what may be generating the symptoms of pain. Without a proper diagnosis, even the best instructor cannot design a safe and effective exercise program.