Pilates builds strength, flexibility, endurance and coordination through a body conditioning routine. Pilates began as a system of mat exercises, using body weight and gravity as resistance. These exercises, called Pilates Mat or mat work, focus on the torso, which creator Joseph H. Pilates felt was the foundation of physical strength. Later, he designed exercise equipment—springs, straps and movable platforms—to add to the mat routine.
While the mat work and equipment exercises may be used together, by doing Pilates Mat alone regularly, you can develop a stronger core, more flexibility and muscle tone and better coordination. However, many students feel that using the equipment once or twice gives them a better understanding of Pilates and has a positive effect on their mat work.
Pilates DVDs can show you what an exercise looks like, but DVDs can't judge your readiness to perform the exercise safely. Most injuries from Pilates occur when a student is trying to complete an exercise that is too advanced for his or her level. A good instructor will be able to choose appropriate exercises for you, show you the correct form to use and modify exercises when they are too challenging. Learning the principles of this mind/body fitness modality will ensure you get the most out of each exercise and can achieve the results you seek.
To learn the method safely for a relatively low cost, take a few Pilates Mat classes from a fully certified instructor. Classes may be offered inexpensively through your local recreation center or YMCA. After learning the principles of the method and proper form, ask the instructor if he or she can recommend a Pilates Mat DVD for your level. As with any exercise, when practicing Pilates at home, be mindful of your body, and stop if you feel any pain or strain.