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Fed up of running in the rain and sick of the sight of the swimming pool, why not try Pilates this winter?

Our foolproof guide will tell you all need to know about this popular exercise so you can decide if it is for you.

What is Pilates?
Pilates is a gentle exercise that aims to strengthen the body with specific emphasis on core strength to improve general fitness and wellbeing.

It was created by German-born Joseph Pilates who developed the exercise believing that mental and physical health were linked. Pilates immigrated to the US in the 1920s where he opened New York studio and taught for many years but his legacy lives on today in studios around the world.

I have heard about apparatus and mat work, what is the difference?
Mat work can be done on the floor alone or it can incorporate equipment such as hand weights, stretch bands, gym balls and foam rollers all of which can add intensity to a workout. The Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Spine Corrector and Ladder Barrel are all equipment designed by Joseph Pilates that are part of the plan.

Who can do Pilates?
One the great things about Pilates is that it is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. From total beginners to professional ballet dancers, the exercises can be tailored to each student so they can challenge their body and build strength.

We do suggest that before starting a new exercise regime that you talk to your GP about any health concerns or injuries.

What should I wear?
The key thing when doing Pilates is to be comfortable. Many people go for gym clothes but soft, cotton breathable trousers and a cool t-shirt or top are perfect for a beginner finding their feet.

What do I get out of Pilates?
Practicing Pilates on a regular basis can help improve balance, joint mobility, muscle tone and posture. It is also an excellent way to focus the breath to relieve stress and tension.

Can Pilates help reduce back pain?
There has been research and evidence that claims Pilates can offer pain relief to people with non-specific lower back pain. Using apparatus offers support someone with back pain but for these to be effective, they need to be tailored to the individual by a qualified health professional. Do remember that most Pilates teachers are not medically qualified and therefore they aren’t able to prescribe medicines, treat injuries or offer therapy.

Can Pilates help me lose weight?
As Pilates is a muscle-strengthening activity, it can help maintain a healthy weight. Some classes are gentle and others are more dynamic and offer a harder workout. If you are looking to lose weight, it is best to combine Pilates with a more aerobic activity like cycling, running or swimming as these increase the heart rate and help improve fitness.

Can Pilates cause injury?
In general, injuries are uncommon because Pilates is a low-impact exercise. The key thing is to find a qualified teacher and a class suited to your level of fitness and ability.

What’s the difference between Pilates and Yoga?
Pilates and Yoga are both exercise methods intended to develop balance, flexibility, posture, strength and promote mindful breathing and both connect between physical and mental health. With yoga there is more of a focus on relaxation and meditation is key to this discipline. Pilates can be done using apparatus and mats, whereas classic yoga doesn’t require equipment. The exercises in Pilates flow without the static poses associated with yoga.

How do I know which class is right for me?
Pilates is taught in gyms, village halls, parks and small studios decked out with professional equipment. Classes are taught in small groups or on a one-to-one basis and tend to last between 45 and 60 minutes.

There is currently no legal requirement to be registered or have a Pilates qualification. However, experienced teachers tend to have a minimum of 450 teacher-training hours and there is a recognised level 3 qualification for mat-based Pilates teaching.

As well as looking at experience, it is also a good idea to try a class, see if you like the teacher’s approach and rapport with the students and maybe ask others what they think.

Once you have found a teacher you like, take time to get used to the exercises and find your Pilates comfort zone and we are pretty confident you will enjoy it and find many benefits.