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Tone up that wobbly middle. Pilates is a method of exercise designed to strengthen your core. It uses flowing movements and postures to sculpt the body and to get even the smaller and deeper muscle groups rippling.

How does it work?

Pilates is a bit like yoga in the way it uses smooth, deliberate movements and controlled postures to tone and elongate your muscles and increase your flexibility. The main difference, though, is that Pilates is not a holistic health system like yoga – it is focused on exercise and breathing technique alone.

It's a low-impact, deep-reaching work-out for your "core" - your abdominals, pelvis, back, shoulders and buttocks. The secrets to working those deep layers of muscle and truly toning up are: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement. Get all of that right and not only will you have abs of steel, but it will also mean a well-supported spine, which can improve your posture – so, you’ll be rock solid and slouch free.

Pilates can be done alone or in small groups using special machinery, which is designed to make sure you're doing the movements with perfect technique. Larger Pilates classes without the machinery are more popular on the whole - and in a class environment with mirrors (and a qualified tutor) it's also easy to check you have perfect alignment. A class will typically last an hour, starting with a warm up and some light stretches and then working through the sequence of slow, precise exercises.

It’s really important to make sure you’re wearing comfortable, stretchy clothing and preferably nothing too baggy because it can make it difficult to see your physical alignment. Classes are often done barefoot and, like yoga, you’ll need a thin sponge mat to stop you bruising your poor knees. Mats are sometimes provided, but it’s best to ask ahead.

Is it for me?

Anyone can benefit from a good core conditioning, especially if you’ve recently had a child or you’re just getting a little soft around the centre. Because Pilates strengthens and aids flexibility, it can also be used to help people with poor mobility, muscular pain or an injury, but doctors advice should be taken first. Pilates might be popular with yummy mummies, but there is no age or gender limit to good health. Elderly people can often benefit from an increased range of movement and, guys, you should see what it can do for that six pack.

Good to know

Joseph Pilates invented this system of exercise in the 1920's to aid the recovery of bedridden WWI soldiers.

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Questions and answers about Pilates