How to Up Your Pilates Game

By Jennifer Blake |

In Pilates, the emphasis is on quality of movement over quantity. That’s what makes the workouts difficult — and so effective.

“Pilates is one of the best methods for improving your posture and spinal health because it mobilizes your spine and strengthens the supportive muscles,” says Kathryn Coyle, Life Time’s national Pilates program manager. “Everyone has something to gain from Pilates.”

The method targets the body’s core, which includes all the muscles from your chest to your hips, all the way around your body, including your deep abdominals, back, and pelvic floor. With all movement originating from the core, the low-impact exercises also emphasize postural alignment, dynamic stretching, and powerful breathing.

A 2016 study found that eight weeks of Pilates classes improved abdominal endurance, flexibility, and balance. These benefits can also boost performance in other sports while helping prevent or rehab injuries.

Plus, the muscle-balancing exercise protocol handily counteracts the effects of long days of sitting at a desk.

Still, Pilates can be intimidating. It involves twists, rotations, isometric holds, pulses, body-weight lifts, and an often complex lexicon.

Exercises can be performed on a mat or with equipment. The reformer, for instance, uses spring resistance to not only increase load but also support the body through varied ranges of motion. A more portable support tool is the Pilates ring (also called a magic circle), which can assist with alignment and engagement.

But it can be tricky to correctly activate the muscles needed to perform Pilates exercises.

“Pilates has a learning curve,” says Tina McAlpine, Pilates coordinator at Life Time in White Bear Lake, Minn. “My advice is to give it time.”

These technique tips and drills can help you elevate your practice.

When choosing a class type, you’ll likely be faced with the question: mat Pilates or reformer?Mat Pilates is performed using a mat that is slightly thicker than a .The reformer is a machine featuring a sliding platform, stationary foot bar, and springs and pulleys for added resistance; it’s the most common piece of equipment you might find in a class.In addition to adding resistance, the equipment can help you find the right position, as well as support your body against gravity. This makes it an ideal starting place for beginners, says Coyle, adding that mat Pilates is the more challenging variation. (Note, however, that reformer classes are often more expensive.)Some classes will incorporate both mat and reformer work, and possibly also include a tower, a wall unit that allows for horizontal and vertical exercise progressions.Whichever class type you choose, the focus is control — not muscle exhaustion or working to failure.Try both if you have the physical and financial resources to do so, and see which you prefer. In either, make sure to inform the instructor if you’re new or .In Pilates, your powerhouse is the area of your body from your ribs to your hips: It includes your abdominals, lower-back muscles, , and pelvic floor (the sling of muscles at the base of your abdomen that attach at your hips and support your pelvic organs). These muscles work together to support your trunk and stabilize your spine.A foundational Pilates technique called the scoop is designed to activate your powerhouse. Try this exercise to find your proper scoop position:You’ll hear many variations on this cue in Pilates classes. “I like to use a lot of layperson’s terms to help participants relate,” McAlpine says. Here are some common cues:These cues help you visualize and initiate the scoop in order to stand or sit up straighter and tighten your midsection. This helps you naturally know how the scoop feels, and the more you practice, the better you will be able to perform your Pilates exercises.Tighten up your clothes, that is. In Pilates, you’ll be moving through a variety of poses, and a loose T-shirt might slip over your head, and baggy shorts could ride up. Choose more fitted shirts, leggings, or compression shorts to keep your clothing from becoming a distraction and to allow your instructor to see your alignment.Additionally, some people prefer wearing nonslip socks or gloves over going barefoot or barehanded toand connection to the mat or reformer.

A portable alternative to the reformer, the wheel adds resistance and feedback to your at-home practice. $215–$275 (mat not included) at .This flexible, padded ring can be used to add resistance towhile providing kinesthetic feedback to help fully engage the right muscles. $20 at The nonslip soles on these socks improve grip and control. The five-toes design allows toes to move freely and without constriction. $14–$22 at

Because Pilates is so portable, the best way to improve your performance in class is to practice a couple of the most popular exercises on your own. The following four moves all focus on the scoop. Working on these will not only translate to whole-body benefits, but will also grant you the good form to keep yourand lower back safe by tapping into and building your core strength.In class, you can perform all the moves on a mat using body weight only or on a reformer. At home, a yoga mat or towel work great. Practice these moves on days you can’t make it to class or tack them onto your existing strength- or . Just remember that Pilates is hard work, and your muscles will need time to recover. Experience Life.

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