If you're looking for a low-intensity workout that strengthens muscles and improves flexibility, Pilates is a great choice. Originally developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, the regimen has gained a strong following, including a celebrity fan base that includes Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet.
The Pilates method is a series of very specific, controlled movements and exercises that focus on spinal alignment and breathing patterns to strengthen the core muscle groups and improve flexibility. Many of the movements are performed as mat work or utilize a spring-resistance exercise machine, with the Reformer being perhaps the most well known.
In the past decade, Pilates has increased in popularity thanks to its ability to create a long, lean, toned physique. Due to the specialty equipment and the need for a well-trained instructor who understands the nuances of each exercise, private classes were considered the ideal setting for practicing Pilates. However, they can sometimes cost upward of $50 per session. Group classes are more cost effective, but can add up over time. Of the numerous at-home Pilates workout DVDs released over the last few years, most focus on Pilates mat work, which requires no special equipment. Many of the country's foremost Pilates instructors have created video series, meaning you can get top-rate instruction at home for a fraction of the cost of private sessions.
Before selecting a Pilates video, there are several factors you should consider. First, look at the program: Some DVDs feature just one routine that can become stale quickly. Choose a video with several routine options or one in which the instructor offers exercise variations depending on your abilities. This allows you to continue to use the program as your fitness level increases.
Second, consider your fitness goals. Pilates is primarily designed to tone the body. If you want to lose weight as well, look for a weight-loss specific video. This type of Pilates DVD incorporates cardio-based elements to help raise the heart rate and burn calories more effectively.
Most important, since Pilates is a very subtle program, instructors must be well trained in the field to develop truly effective routines. Look for instructors who can offer specific tips on body alignment and breathing patterns, and who display a pleasant, personable demeanor.