Pilates was developed based on the concept of integration and comprehensive physical exercise. It was originally used by dancers, but has since expanded to the entire population for both training and rehabilitation.
Why Pilates works so well.
I've utilized this form of exercise in physical therapy for over 10 years, as there are multiple components of the kinetic chain that need to be addressed to exercise the body to its full potential. Pilates embraces and emphasizes each component by looking at the body as whole, addressing posture, breathing, and, working out the body.
Everything in rehabilitation is neuromuscular in nature, meaning you are retraining the neural pathways that direct the muscle activation. Pilates increases body awareness in space, or the movements (and positions) a body is capable of. At its core, it emphasizes this neuronal circuitry as the individual has to attend to all of the components of their own body.
Many of the Pilates exercises used in rehabilitation are simple. "Normal" or uninjured people are unable to perform more advanced Pilates exercises without the correct form. Many doctors see patients who say they do Pilates, yet they complain of back pain or other injuries.
That's why we emphasize the simple, straightforward exercises with our rehabilitation clients. It's important to retrain the individual to correct their form and utilize the whole body correctly when doing this or any other exercise. If they can master this, then they can progress to more advanced exercises.
So, what type of Pilates should you be doing?
Mat Pilates is the hardest form of Pilates. Machine-based Pilates will give you resistance, but also makes these moves easier and not quite as beneficial. Mat Pilates does not let you cheat—it's just you, your body weight, and gravity. Another benefit of mat Pilates is that you can do it anywhere, as all you need is a mat and a little bit of space.
If you're just getting started, I always recommend a one-on-one session, as all aspects of activation are covered before performing more complex Pilates exercises. Group classes are good from a financial perspective, but they also mean you should really know what you're doing. Typically, a combination of group and individualized training sessions yields the best benefit for the buck.