What do you get when you combine the
breath and mind work of qigong, the stretching and
flexibility of yoga and the muscle strengthening
of resistance training? Well, Pilates of course.
By now many of you have heard something about Pilates.
I’d like to take this opportunity to explain
this unique form of fitness. You may not know that
Pilates has been around for over 90 years. In the
last couple of years it has gained in popularity,
and you can now find it in most major cities across
the United States, Canada and Europe.
Pilates training has many benefits:
- Increased core strength and stability
- Improved flexibility
- Longer and stronger muscles
- Decreased back pain
- Stress reduction
- Injury prevention
- Increased spinal mobility
- Effective post-rehabilitation
- Increased mind-body awareness
- Integration of the entire body to work
- Increased balance and coordination
- Improved athletic performance.
Joseph Pilates developed his exercise system in
Germany in the early 1900s. Sickly as a child, he
was determined to overcome the limitations of his
weak body, leading him to develop this muscle-strengthening
program. In 1926 he immigrated to the United States
and opened his first Pilates Studio in New York City.
It quickly became popular with dancers and performers.
Balachine and Martha Graham were early enthusiasts.
The greatest reward: Pilates strengthens
your core muscles
Five basic principles form the foundation of this system.
The principles are applied simultaneously throughout
each exercise. This creates the mind/body awareness
that allows the person to be in control of his or her
body, maximizing the technique to achieve the best
possible results. The five principles are:
2. Pelvic placement
3. Rib cage placement
4. Scapular movement and stabilization
5. Head and cervical placement.
The main benefit of Pilates training is core strengthening.
The core muscles include the transversus abdominis
(lower abs), your obliques (the muscles along your
sides), adductors (inner thighs), hamstrings, gluteus
maximus (butt) and your back muscles. An important
element in Pilates training is stabilization of the
body and limbs throughout movement. This requires
strengthening and coordination of all the stabilizers
of the body. The stabilizers include the core muscles
as well as the muscles of the shoulders and back.
This is very subtle work. Each exercise, no matter
how simple it appears, requires complete concentration
to control the specific muscle groups, while maintaining
the five principles. It requires an enormous amount
of mind-body connection. It also requires a very
specific breath pattern for each and every exercise.
This is why it is very much like yoga and qigong.
A safer and more effective way to flat,
toned abs When doing traditional sit-ups
or crunches, many people allow their stomach to
bulge out. Not only is this an ineffective way
to train your abdominals, it trains them to stick
out. Most people want to achieve a flat and toned
stomach, not overly developed rectus abdominals.
It also makes the back more vulnerable to injury
because the abdominals are being trained to pull
away from supporting the back instead of pressing
into the back to help strengthen it. This is only
one example of how Pilates core strengthening differs
from other forms of exercise.
A “torture-table” that lets
you lengthen and strengthen simultaneously
Within Pilates there are two forms of training: equipment-based
and matwork. You may have seen or heard about some
very unusual looking equipment. A few people have described
it as a “torture-table.” It’s really
called the Reformer, and it is not as sinister as it
looks. The table is based on a system of springs and
pulleys. This allows the body to work on strengthening
and lengthening at the same time. It also enables the
entire body or groups of muscles to work synergistically
together while maintaining proper alignment. The advantage
of the Reformer is that it can make some exercises
easier for people with injuries or harder for people
who want to build strength. The Reformer also allows
for more upper bodywork, as in scapular stabilization
and strengthening for shoulder injuries.
The second form of training is matwork, which is
based on the same principles and has many similar
exercises as the equipment-based workouts. There
is a lot of flexibility in the matwork to accommodate
different levels of fitness and body types. The exercises
are designed to be easily modified to assist people
with injuries or other issues. Most good Pilates
trainers will recommend their clients do both equipment
and matwork exercises for a well-rounded training
Valued by the medical community
One important reason that Pilates is gaining in popularity
is that it is very well respected among the medical
community. In fact, many physical therapists use
Pilates in their rehab programs. The spinal flexibility
and mobility that are key benefits of Pilates training
make it an invaluable tool for doctors, physical
therapists and chiropractors.
Enhances performance in all sports--from
golf to dance
As a dancer, martial artist and Pilates instructor,
I see first hand the value and importance of the deeper
stabilizing muscles. They prevent injuries, and are
essential in functional strength, mobility and coordination.
The importance of strengthening the core and stabilizers
can be illustrated by the person who is proud of his
six-pack abdominals, but who throws his back out when
he shovels the snow, or the softball player who throws
out his shoulder after the seventh inning. For the
average weekend warrior or those just interested in
improving their golf game, Pilates offers the perfect
cross-training activity. And it is perfect for the
competitive athlete who wants to improve his or her
strength, coordination, flexibility and breathing.
Pilates is also very popular with dancers because of
the injury prevention. Dancers live one injury away
from unemployment, and Pilates is preventive medicine
for them. Dancers also love how Pilates provides muscle
strengthening that is not big and bulky but long and
lean. Pilates supports people in any physical activity
and any fitness level. There is no better way to ensure
a healthy and functionally fit body.
About the author
Andrea Du Cane is a Stott Pilates-trained instructor
and currently teaches classes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Andrea is also a certified instructor in the Russian
weight training system of Kettlebells. She has over
twenty years of aerobics, weight training and fitness
experience, with an additional background in classical
ballet and jazz dance. She has trained in a number
of Eastern health and martial art disciplines including
kung fu, yoga, tai chi, and qigong. For information
on classes please call Andrea at or 612-802-3687
or email her at email@example.com.