Now that the new year is upon us, it’s a good time to do a self-audit of the things that went wrong, right, or what you want to change in life. One common New Year’s resolution is to get healthier. For some that might mean showing up to the gym or cutting back on the carbs. But if you’re constantly looking down at your phone or slouching, a healthy goal could be to improve your posture and balance.
Enter Pilates, a low-intensity and beginner-friendly workout intended to build strength and flexibility to support every body muscle. You can go to a class, take one-on-one lessons with a certified instructor, or follow instructional videos at home. Lauren Vestal, a certified Pilates, yoga, and breathwork instructor based in Tennessee, says that if you’re hunched over a computer all day, Pilates can help spread the collarbones wider, pull the shoulder down and back, and focus on smaller movements to keep you stable. “You’ll see yourself standing up taller and straighter over time,” she notes. With enough repitition and effort, Pilates can have a lasting impact on your health, while improving your relationship to your body.
How does Pilates help with posture and balance?
While Pilates is a full-body workout, there are targeted exercises for improving balance and posture. Much of the practice focuses on strengthening your core—the pelvis, lower back, hips, and abs—and teaching it how to work in harmony as one unit. “If your hips are uneven, you may feel a bit wobbly in the knees or ankles,” explains Vestal. “Pilates is awesome because you can target specific muscles, small or big, which will allow for greater stability throughout the body.” A stabilized trunk gives your body better support to maintain an upright and erect position, whether you’re playing sports or lugging groceries around.
Building a strong core improves balance as well. Think of standing on one leg, which most humans aren’t accustomed to doing. Chances are you might feel wobbly and possibly tumble after a few seconds in that stance. But, Vestal says that the more consistent you are, the more you’ll build up the smaller stabilizing muscles and joints to keep the core tight and engaged. “That will keep you centered and balanced.”
Pilates benefits all ages. A 2018 study in 17- to 22-year-old dancers showed improved body posture after taking classes twice a week for 14 weeks. This included fixing forward head postures, hyper-extended knees, and foot movements that can cause injury. Another study in older adults who do Pilates regularly showed a significant improvement in their balance and decreased risk of falling.
One of the best starting points for posture and balance is an exercise called bird dog, says Vanessa Johnson, the director of instructor training for Club Pilates in Hawaii. Other good moves to start with are planks and swans.
What’s the best way to do Pilates?
Compared to standard gym routines, Pilates requires little gear and offers plenty of online resources. You can start at home with a yoga mat following along with an instructor online. For those looking to make more of an investment, a Pilates reformer machine could be a supportive tool for your training. This bed-like platform uses the spring and levers to create resistance for a more intense workout.
Johnson recommends trying an introductory class at a studio to see whether Pilates is a good fit. One benefit of training with a professional is they can guide you as you learn the practice. Not only can they provide easier or more challenging adjustments to a workout, but they can fix your form if it’s incorrect. “Oftentimes people don’t realize their posture is wrong or that they need to activate a particular area of your body at home unless somebody’s checking in on them,” Johnson says.
Another perk of attending in-person classes is that you’re leveling up your commitment—about 43 percent of individuals give up their New Year’s resolutions after a month. When people buy a package or membership, Johnson says she sees them “sticking with it and meeting their goals more often.”
How long does it take to see results from Pilates?
There’s no magic number when it comes to Pilates, but there are some baselines for how much time and effort you should put in.
All experts recommend a minimum of two workouts a week to see progress. “If I see people in the studio twice a week, I would say you’ll see results in about two months,” Johnson says. She explains you’ll start feeling differences in your posture and balance at first. After 16 to 20 sessions, you can expect other people to notice changes in your body. And after 60 sessions, she says “your body is just a different body.”
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Jaclyn Forrester, a Pilates instructor and the owner of Niche Pilates in Virginia, says it’s ideal to attend an hour-long class twice a week—but admits that’s not always possible. She recommends people “mix it up” by coming to a full class and doing a 10 to 30-minute class online. You can also supplement your workout by doing other activities such as cardio.
Forrester also stresses that the exercises are not a cure-all for bad posture and other physical issues. “What are you doing all the other hours you’re not doing Pilates?” she asks. Continuing bad habits like slouching or eating fast food, for example, can mean it will take longer to see results. “You have to really be mindful of everything else that you’re doing in your life,” Forrester says.
Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t see results right away. “It doesn’t have to be your best workout, and your practice will not look like the person next to you in class,” advises Vestal. “But getting yourself out there and putting in the work will eventually lead to more mobility, flexibility, and strength so you can live fully.”