Pilates has long had a good reputation as a rehabilitative form of exercise, often recommend after an injury or during pregnancy. With the rise of COVID-inspired at-home workouts, Pilates has attracted more attention as a type of exercise that offers far more than simply a rehabilitative activity. We talk to Pilates expert Anna Johnson, founder of innovative streaming service, Haus Pilates, to dispel the myths.
What benefits does Pilates have on your mental health?
It’s about what exercise does for your mental health. It’s so important to have a moment for yourself and exercises forces you to do that. We’re so eager to rush through life, and exercise is a way to press pause. Pilates is especially great for our mental health because one of its fundamentals is connecting movement to the breath.
A lot of the time we’re carrying our breath in our chest, and this signifies a lot of what going on with us mentally. Having this pause and doing mindful movement means rather than escaping our thoughts we’re using it to process emotions. Pilates is moving your body in a way that it wants to move rather than pounding it, and this enables you to think.
How can Pilates help with your overall fitness?
Pilates is amazing for preventing injuries, yet a lot of people come to it after an injury. It’s a way of exercising that strengthens, tones and lengthens your body which helps with any other sports you’d like to do and everyday life. You’ll then have the strength in your core which can reduce injury.
It’ll give you that flexibility and it’s something you can do forever. My clients range from 20-year-olds to 70 year olds, which proves you can do it for a long time to keep your body lubricated without causing injuries which may lead to rehabilitation work. It’s a way of exercising that’s so good for your body and which balances out other types of activity. There’s such a misconception around Pilates because it’s recommended for things like a bad back, but you can get in such good shape from it and work hard and get your heart rate up. We do exactly that in my House Pilates classes, which is basically Pilates to house music.
Have you found that Pilates helps people with their body image and confidence?
I trained as a dancer, so I had some muscle underneath, but when I stopped dancing a followed the trend of what everyone else was doing, rather than what my body preferred. I used to run and do HIIT, and not enjoy it. It wasn’t about what my mind wanted, but what I thought I should be doing.
A lot of people think they have to do a certain type of exercise to get the body they want, and this stops people from exercising. I’ve experienced that and that’s why I know that it’s important to listen in to your body and do something you enjoy.
You should leave the class feeling confident and not feeling stressed. Stress in itself is something we want to avoid because it raises your cortisol which can lead to stubborn tummy fat, also there are practical reasons for doing the type of exercise you find joy in.
I’ve had people come to me saying that they feel more confident after doing my Pilates classes, and although it’s not all about losing weight, it is a good way to do that too. With Pilates just 20 minutes, four times a week can make all the difference.
How accessible and safe is Pilates when you’re pregnant?
You rarely see exercise pushed as much as Pilates is for pregnancy and that in itself is beneficial because people love science. To have someone knowledgeable to say that it’s recommended makes it feel safe.
As long as you’ve been signed off and have no complications it’s an amazing and accessible form of exercise to do. You don’t need to go to a studio, there are online workouts, which will include my own pre and post-natal arm to Haus Pilates from next year. It is nice to build a network of expecting mums in a class but doing it at home allows you to take it in your own time. Plus, it gears you up for labour and prepares your body postnatally. It’s exercises like squats and upper body strength that are so important both during childbirth and for holding and carrying your baby when it arrives.
What are your top tips for women looking to begin Pilates pre or postnatally?
Moving during pregnancy and any worries around this are always totally valid, so make sure you are signed off postnatally and listen to your midwife and doctor’s advice before and after having your baby. It’s also important to listen to your body.
Prenatally, I’d advise you to take it easy in the first trimester in particular and to regularly check in with how the movement feels. This is especially true if you haven’t done Pilates before. Just know that it’s your body and your experience, but ultimately, it’s good to keep moving unless you’ve been told otherwise. Pilates will prep your body, making it nice and strong and improving your pelvic floor.
Also, surround yourself with people with the right knowledge. I tend to use every day, relatable cues to help you work within the right limits. This also comes down to finding an instructor that you like. At the end of the day, you’re not going to go back if it’s not fun.
Where can people start if they want to make Pilates a part of their everyday lives?
With any exercise I’d say forget the big plans and think about what you can do realistically. Feeling like you have to work out for an hour or it’s not worth it, isn’t helpful. Shorter more consistent exercise is a way to do stay fit and slot it around your day. If you want to try something new you can always look for free trials too, which is why I run a free 7-day trial to enable people to try my classes out.
What specific reasons do people engage with Pilates?
Excitingly I think the pandemic has meant that Pilates is having a moment. During the pandemic, people engaged with it more because it’s a great form of exercise to do at home, and I’ve seen it a lot more on social media too.
Another perk of the job is that people have told me that my classes have healed their sciatica. There are those who come to it to try something new and simply realise it’s for them. But its real benefits include working out issues like back pain, toning, lengthening, increasing flexibility and boosting your confidence.