Updated: May 1, 2020
"How many times a week should I do Pilates?" a question often asked of any Pilates instructor.
This will depend on yours fitness level and goals. While some use Pilates for rehabilitation, other popular goals include increased strength, enhanced flexibility and the toned "Pilates body."
If you want to increase your strength and flexibility over the long term, you have to rely on your motor learning, motor memory and muscle memory. Therefore, one session a week is rarely, if ever, enough.
Recommended Exercise Frequency
The government's general recommendation for exercise suggests at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, coupled with strength training on 2-3 days per week.(http://www.nhs.uk/)
There is also the need to keep exercising regularly, to maintain results. Based on these recommendations one Pilates session per week is not going to be enough
After each Pilates session the body will regress, how much it regresses will depend on the amount of time that has has passed between sessions. Those of you who practice Pilates regularly (several sessions per week over an extended period) build up neuromuscular coordination and memory. This is not the case if you are a beginner. If you are new to Pilates and allow an entire a week to pass between sessions, then you may regress into old patterns and return to nearly the same state as before the previous week’s session. So, just attending once-a-week will mean that we may be starting from scratch at every session.
Motor Learning and Motor Memory
We don’t consciously think about our movements when we sit, walk or stand. Such behavior is automatic, thanks to years of repetition that starts when we are babies. Watching a child learn how to walk reminds us of how much practice, stumbling and dedication it takes to instill a behavior. A problem arises, however, when automatic movements are bad for the body, such as when we have poor posture, this will eventually take a toll on overall health and well-being.
Pilates aims to correct bad motor behavior by replacing "bad" movements with good ones. Just as it took years to establish poor motor behavior, it takes time for the body to automatically move in a way that is balanced, healthy and beneficial. With enough repetition and practice, Proper posture begins to take over while sitting, standing, walking or performing any task. With enough repetition and practice, Pilates transfers to daily life. The key is repetition and practice.
Motor learning and memory rely on muscle memory. As with all memories, muscle memory is retained and stored in memory patterns in the central nervous system. While repeating a behavior a few times may form a pattern in the short-term memory, that pattern is easily forgotten after a few minutes. When we repeat a behavior, we retain the memory pattern and store it in long-term memory, where it can remain for a lifetime (Muscolino 2011).
Repetition is the key to transferring muscle memory from short-term to long-term memory. Short-term memories involve functional changes in the neural pathways, whereas long-term memories actually change the structure of the pathways so the muscle memory can be recalled.
Commitment Achieves Results
The more any new skill is practiced, the better the results. Pilates is no different. Pilates relies on muscle, motor and cognitive memory, all of which rely on repetition.