Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that can easily be done at home. Practiced among women of all ages and fitness levels, it’s beloved for its ability to improve posture and balance while also toning the body. Though pilates originated nearly one hundred years ago, its popularity is at an all-time high. Evidence of this can be found on TikTok, where the pilates category of short videos has nearly 3 billion views.
Grace Albin, a Florida-based pilates instructor, has witnessed this growth firsthand. Her pilates-centric Instagram account, where she posts short, easy-to-follow videos of her workouts, has 330,000 followers and counting. The secret to her success is the variety of her videos. There are traditional floor pilates exercises (Albin’s workouts are intended for accessible home practice, so they don’t require the use of costly pilates machines called “reformers”), as well as aerobic standing exercises and routines with and without weights.
Albin spoke with FIRST For Women about her practice, and shared tips for anyone looking to start a pilates routine at home — because it’s never too late to incorporate new moves into your life.
1. Slow, controlled movements are key.
If you’re new to pilates, you’ll find its slow and steady pace dramatically different from other workouts — and that’s a good thing! According to Albin, it’s pilates’ “emphasis on posture, core strength, and smooth movement” that sets pilates apart from other fitness styles. She points out that these elements are often missing from more fast-paced cardio routines.
The intentionality of pilates isn’t only good for your body — it can also be good for your mind. “Joseph Pilates [the founder of this form of exercise] was a pioneer in that he realized a few slow, controlled movements give more results than rushing through a bunch of reps quickly and haphazardly,” Albin explains. “This forces you to focus on form and quality of movement, rather than on quantity.” Finding control through focused movement doesn’t merely yield more core strength — it also “reverberates for the rest of the day,” as Albin puts it. In other words, practicing pilates can inspire you to perform additional tasks in a calm manner — and in these stressful times, that’s something we can probably all benefit from.
2. Focus on your posture, but don’t get discouraged.
In a modern world of cell phones and desk jobs, many of us sit hunched over a device for most of the day and struggle with posture or back and neck pain as a result. But pilates emphasizes the importance of maintaining a strong and elegant form — and thankfully, posture is something we can work to improve. “Although Joseph Pilates’ early clients were young professional ballet dancers, the benefits they sought are particularly helpful for mature women,” says Albin.
Pilates exercises are great for lengthening the spine and preventing slouching — both of which are important for mitigating the negative effects of poor posture that can creep up on us as we age. Worsened posture happens due to a loss in muscle mass, shrinkage of spinal disks, and weakened bones (a condition that’s more common in women, as women’s bones are smaller than men’s and we tend to lose bone mass following menopause). Women are also more likely to experience kyphosis, a condition which impacts posture and can be brought on by brittle bones. While these side effects of aging may be unpleasant, that doesn’t mean they can’t be reduced.
When you’re just starting pilates, Albin advises you not to overthink it. “Just do some movements as best as you can, and don’t worry about your breath pattern or achieving the exact body positioning or completing an entire hour,” she says. “Listen to your body and gradually layer in the more advanced aspects of a pilates routine, and it will naturally get easier every single time.”
3. Work with what you have at home.
Unlike many types of workouts, starting a pilates routine doesn’t require a shopping list. “Many people enjoy doing mat pilates [pilates done on a floor mat rather than with a machine] at home because it provides an effective workout with body weight and no need for gym equipment,” says Albin. She has plenty of mat video routines you can follow without needing any additional props — but she also encourages getting creative when you want to mix it up.
“A barre is no different than a windowsill or a chair with a high back. Laundry detergent jugs can be dumbbells. Your child’s soccer ball can function as the small pilates ball we’d use in a studio class. A small coffee table can be a step bench. And you can even use a big sofa cushion as a stability ball!” Stay open to incorporating everyday objects into your fitness routine, and you might be surprised by your success.
Grace Albin’s Target-Toning Routines
You can find hundreds of pilates routines on Albin’s Instagram account — but below you’ll find three of our favorites. She recommends these videos for toning three specific body parts: the back, the abs, and the arms. Best of all, these exercises only require the use of a simple floor mat. A pilates mat is similar to a yoga mat, but thicker; Albin recommends a mat that’s at least half an inch thick. We like this one from ProsourceFit (Buy from Walmart, $20.99 or $31.99), which comes in half-inch and one-inch sizes and is made from a sturdy foam.
Pilates for Your Back
This super simple routine can help to improve posture. The small, measured movements have a big impact — as Albin writes in the video description, “you only need to lift [yourself] a few centimeters to really feel the muscles working!”
Pilates for Your Abs
Many women struggle with keeping their abs firm — but if you stick to a consistent pilates routine, you will see marked improvements in your core. This one is intense, but if you move slowly and thoughtfully and modify the exercises as needed, you’ll no doubt feel the benefits.
Pilates for Your Arms
If you suspect your arms are sagging, this planking routine will help you build back strength. While some of the balance moves may be challenging, Albin says you can mix and match different arm and hand positions to prevent wrist pain.
Ultimately, Albin understands that the hardest part of working out is finding motivation. “You have to prioritize your own exercise regimen as highly as your obligations to other people,” she advises. “And don’t feel guilty about doing so!” A little bit of pilates can go a long way — and if you make the time for this form of exercise, you may find yourself both toning up and bringing more mindfulness and body awareness to your daily life.
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