Is a Pilates Workout Right for You?

Chances are you’ve heard or read about Pilates classes if you’ve been scoping out the fitness scene. Maybe you’ve even wondered about mysterious terms like “the Hundred”  or “the corkscrew.” If you want to find out what it’s all about and whether it’s right for you, we’ve got all the buzz for you here.

What is it? It's an exercise technique invented for injured dancers about a century ago by ex-carpenter and gymnast Joseph Pilates. There are two ways to practice Pilates (pronounced pih-LAH-tees). You can take a group class on a mat where you'll do specialized calisthenics exercises, or you can take private lessons on a series of specially designed machines with such exotic names as the Cadillac and the Reformer. Whether you take the mat class or use the machines, all Pilates moves are designed to work your powerhouse muscles—abs, lower back, thighs, and buttocks—and to teach you proper alignment so you move more freely and gracefully.

Why we love it: Pilates incorporates so much of what today's exercisers need. It increases strength, flexibility and endurance and improves posture, alignment, coordination and balance—all without building bulky muscles. Nothing is forced or repetitive; you emphasize correct form rather than going for the burn.

Drawbacks: It's expensive. Private lessons will set you back $40 to $200 a session. By comparison, mat classes are a bargain, running $12 to $25 a class, depending on the instructor or the part of the country you're in. Many gyms offer classes to members at no additional charge and private instruction at a discount. If you like to master things quickly, this may not be the workout for you. Like dance, yoga and martial arts, learning Pilates is a long-term, evolutionary process.

Insider information: It doesn't have to be named Pilates to be Pilates. Because of trademark issues, many instructors have chosen to rename their workouts even though the basic elements remain the same. Two Pilates-inspired workouts we love: The Jennifer Kries's Pilates Method and IM=X Pilates.

Hot tip: Can't find a class near you? Check out the Method video series starring Jennifer Kries. It's the next best thing to having an instructor standing beside you.

Sample Move: This curl and lift move is a foundational exercise in any Pilates-inspired workout.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, legs pressed together and feet flat on the floor, hip width apart.
  2. Pull your abs into your spine and hold your arms out straight at your sides and slightly off the floor.
  3. Moving slowly, curl upward until your chest touches your knees: first lift your head off the floor, then your shoulder blades, then one vertebra at a time. If necessary, assist yourself by holding onto the back of your thighs.
  4. Sit up tall at the top of the movement then round your back and lower with control.
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