The Side Effects of Pilates – More Than You Bargained For

When I first started Pilates, I was hoping to find an exercise system that could alleviate the shoulder and back pain I was suffering from. As I was spending many hours every day sitting at the desk in front of the computer, always in the same position and always holding my shoulders up when typing, all my muscles and nerves in that part of the body seemed to be permanently stressed.

You could say, I was a good example of what Joseph Pilates would have called a victim of ‘modern life-style, bad posture and inefficient breathing’ – and that over 100 years ago. So I had high hopes to sort out my shoulder and back problems doing Pilates exercises. However, I didn’t expect and didn’t even spend a thought on the possible side effects of Pilates.

Well, to be honest, when you are constantly in pain and can’t sleep properly because there is no comfortable position you could lie in, you only think of how to get rid of the pain. So, you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when not only the pain eased off – and that only a few weeks of exercising regularly – but my whole body and mind seemed to be changing slowly. And that change was for the better.
So what changes were happening?

More energy, better sleep

One of the important changes that went along with the pain reduction was much better sleep. Unlike before, I didn’t spend hours lying awake in bed trying to find a comfortable position. Now, I could lie on my back again or on my side and shoulder without being aggravated by pain. And also, I often managed to sleep through again, something I hadn’t been able to for a long time.

The other thing I noticed was that during the day I felt quite energized and more positive about my life in general. Of course, this partly had to do with the fact that I wasn’t permanently exhausted due to lack of sleep.
However, the fact that I felt particularly well right after a Pilates workout showed me that there was more to it than just having enough sleep.

According to Joseph Pilates, applying his exercise system not only improves the blood circulation as the blood is loaded with oxygen during deep breathing, but also the circulation of fluids in the body thus helping the body to detoxify. The effect is a detoxified body and a brain supplied with oxygen-rich blood. So the brain feels more alert, happy and calm while the body feels energized and more resilient.

Improved posture, better alignment

We all have bad habits and we know we have. Some of these bad habits might be almost as old as we are. Others may have developed over the years. And that was true for mine as well. For example, I never stood straight when waiting somewhere and usually rested most of my body weight on one leg. Or I was often slouching over the desk and computer when working. Another of these bad habits was carrying heavy bags or heavy items on one side only – and carrying my daughter around on one side when she was little.

Although I was aware of these bad habits and I knew quite well that I shouldn’t slouch, have all my weight on one leg or carry things on one side only, I just couldn’t change these habits. It takes a lot of body awareness to change things like that. And this is where Pilates helps.

One of the principles of Pilates is being in full control of your movements and your body during exercises. To control your movements you need to concentrate and perform each movement consciously. This means both body and mind have to work together while they are trained or re-trained to perform a particular movement. They learn to tense certain muscle groups only and to relax those that are not required.

All of this is supported by controlled deep breathing helping the mind concentrate on the movement. It is a process of training/re-training that teaches the body to use the appropriate muscle groups for each movement.

The result of this is balanced muscles, which in return leads to better alignment and ultimately to a better posture. For me, this means no more slouching – well, at least only rarely – standing upright on both legs while waiting, and making sure I balance out any weight I need to carry. And this feels natural to me now as my muscles are more balanced and consequently, my body is better aligned.

More flexibility, less stiffness

As you get older, you tend to accept, or even expect, to be less flexible and a bit stiffer than during your younger years. And so did I. I was convinced that not being able to bend right down to the floor with straight legs or not being able to lift your leg up high was something you had to put up with.

So I was really surprised one day when I went to a fitness fair with my sporty teen-aged niece to find out in an experiment that I was much more flexible than she was. That surely couldn’t be right. But it was. I could bend my back much more than she could. What a revelation!

So there was another side effect of Pilates, and this is easily explained. As Pilates workouts concentrate on slow deliberate stretching and on targeting individual muscle groups, every muscle group is being worked and stretched. This is also true for the smaller ones that are usually ignored resulting in weakness and stiffness. And this systematical stretching of each individual muscle group is responsible for greatly increasing your flexibility.

I have to say, with my regained flexibility, I feel quite rejuvenated now. It’s so uplifting to see that you can be as flexible – or even more flexible – than a fit teenager.

Toned body, less body fat

Before starting Pilates, I had the preconception that this was more of a physiotherapy program than a fitness regimen. After all, this was often recommended by physiotherapists to help eliminate back pain. But I quickly realized that I was completely wrong. It can be both. It can be a very effective type of physiotherapy program as well as a fitness regimen toning your whole body. And this is how I first found out.

I had started doing Pilates sometime in March when it was cold and you needed long-sleeved tops to keep warm. Second half of April, however, it started to warm up. So I started to wear short-sleeved tops. One day, I was meeting up with a friend and, out of the blue, she was remarking on my firm upper arms – I used to have ‘bingo wings’, quite wobbly arms, so must have been quite noticeable. Later, I checked the rest of my body.

In fact, it was not just my arms that were more toned. My stomach, legs and buttocks looked much firmer as well. This is because my Pilates workouts involved the whole body and all muscle group rather than just a few like weight lifting exercises. So the whole body got toned as some sort of side effect. Also, it seemed that I had lost body fat since my stomach and other areas were much firmer.

While you can’t simply replace body fat with muscles without burning the fat first, it looked as if body fat had made way to muscles. One explanation is that instead of snacking a lot during breaks, I had started to do a couple of Pilates exercises instead. So these ‘mini-workouts’ helped in two ways: they made me burn fat and helped me build muscles. A real win-win situation.

Total body solution

Whatever your reasons are to start Pilates, whether you want to tackle back, shoulder and neck issues, improve your posture and body alignment, gain more flexibility and mobility, strengthen your core, work your muscles for a toned body or just have a workout for a more relaxed and energized mind – you’ll get it all.

In fact, you may even get more than that as the side effects of Pilates are numerous and apply to both body and mind. And it is one of the few exercise systems that is beneficial to almost anybody. So quite a universal solution that can be tailored to fit each individual’s need.

For me, starting Pilates was one of the best decisions in my life, and it’s not just an exercise regimen, but a life-style choice in itself.

Click here to find out how Pilates can help you lose fat

Click here to read about how Pilates can help with incontinence

Click here to find out more about Pilates back strengthening exercises

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Side Effects of Pilates – More Than You Bargained For”

  1. When I saw the title of this article, I thought it was going to be a negative review! How wrong I was. What great benefits from doing Pilate exercises. I think this might be something I need to look into myself. Any tips on starting out? I do pretty much zero exercise at the moment and this has given me a kick up the pants to think about getting fit ha!

    • Thank you for reading my article, Ruth.
      Yes, Pilates is a great exercise regime suitable for almost anybody, and I can really recommend trying it out.
      If you haven’t done any Pilates before, it would be best to book an introductary session or class with a qualified instructor first so you know how to do the exercises correctly. Once you know the basics, you can easily do Pilates at home. There is a huge number of exercises available for beginners, either mat-based or involving some sort of equipment, and you can then put together you own program, follow a DVD, online videos or a book, whatever suits you.

      I hope I have answered your question, but please let me know if I can help with anything else.

      All the best,
      Sammy-B

  2. What an awesome article!
    I’ve always been an yoga girl myself.
    You’ve just changed that.
    I’ve been reading a lot about Pilates, not sure why I haven’t tried it yet.
    All the reasons you pointed out were enough to do the trick.
    Thank you so much for sharing this post.
    Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Boryana. I’m glad you liked my article and I’m sure you would enjoy Pilates. If you have already done yoga, it will be very easy for your to get started with Pilates, as Yoga and Pilates have some principles in common. Definitely an exercise regime worth trying.

      Should you need any additional information on Pilates workouts, just let me know.

      All the best,
      Sammy-B

  3. Thank you for the amazing article. I am inspired to get toned and I really don’t like yoga! I have been looking for an alternative and something like pilates may be a better fit. I like the way you have described the way your body has responded to the work you are doing and I am certain I would benefit from more flexibility! Thank you for this, I will do more to take care of my aging (less toned) body now!!

    • Thank you for your great comment, Kathleen. I’m glad my article has inspired you to give Pilates a go. It really is a fantastic exercise regime and suitable for every age group regardless of the fitness level. I’m sure you will love it and feel and see a difference in your body very soon.

      If you need any help getting started, just drop me a line and I will be more than happy to give advice.

      All the best,
      Sammy-B

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