First there was Step, then there was the Slide, then Spinning, the mini-trampoline, and perhaps an African Funk Cardio class. We all get excited about the newest classes and instructors, hoping to find the magic bullet that will give us more energy, relieve stress, improve our health and give us the body we’ve always wanted. But just as easily and quickly as we write out a check for a brand-new membership at a high-tech gym, somehow we end up languishing on the couch again. Perhaps we’ve lost interest because we are bored, aren’t seeing results, or have an injury. The check has cleared, the money gone, and we’re no better off than when we started.
First of all, we should be applauded for just trying to get fit. According to recent statistics, less than 1/3 of the American population gets moving on a regular basis. Secondly, rather than finding fault with ourselves and our seeming lack of motivation or even the type of exercise we’ve chosen, let’s look a bit deeper into the problem. One of the most significant reasons for lack of results and progress is a person’s inconsistency. What happens is we work out consistently for a short time, wind up hurting ourselves, and then stop. In order to get the most out of any kind of fitness program, our abdominals need to be strong, our posture correct, and our alignment worked on. When all of these guns aren’t blazing, we are more prone to injury, back problems, and not able to isolate effectively the specific muscle groups we are working.
To date, there is only one form of exercise that can alleviate all of these problems and boost the benefits of your other workouts, while making profound long-lasting changes in your health and appearance— Pilates. Power Pilates is the largest Pilates teacher training organization in the world that teaches the classical Pilates system brought to this country by its inventor, Joseph Pilates, in 1923. He devised the system of stretching and strengthening to rehabilitate in-ambulatory veterans during the First World War. All of the exercises revolve around the premise that all movements should initiate from what is called the core (abs, lower back, pelvic floor, and inner thighs) of our bodies. These exercises can be done on a mat, or with special equipment, such as the Cadillac, Reformer and High Chair; seated, standing, on your side and lying prone. Whether you choose to do it with or without the equipment, Pilates will elongate your spine and strengthen your core muscles, which will create an equal balance of strength and flexibility between the abdominals and the back muscles. This equilibrium allows us to take all the stress out of our torso and hips and relieves tightness in the joints.
In recent years, Pilates has enjoyed a surge in popularity due to its increased acceptance as a mind/body form of exercise. Pilates is particularly popular with professional dancers and athletes due to the system’s astonishing ability to diminish chronic aches and pains and rehabilitate the weakened and injured muscles that result from their activity. Pilates devotees have also noticed an interesting and highly motivating by-product when they regularly perform this system of movement— their bodies became longer, leaner and better toned. Definitely a positive side-effect if there ever were one!
Because it alleviates the pains and effects of chronic injuries, strengthens the core muscles, increases our range of motion, and improves flexibility, Pilates will also improve your performance in any sport. In golf, having the ability to turn through your hips completely allows for a better swing, more distance, and more control. The added strength Pilates gives to your lower and upper body will give your tennis game more fluidity and accuracy on the court, as well as reduce the possibility of injury, due to improper posture.
Pilates will also advance your progress in the gym and with a weight-loss program. Many of us have spent endless hours working out in an attempt to look and feel better. Many times, however, our problem areas remain unchanged. The reason? We are not utilizing our muscles correctly. Many people let their belly pop out while exercising, which prevents it from becoming trim and puts strain on the lower back. In addition, thighs and buttocks may not be reduced because of the way we are utilizing our muscles. Pilates, when taught classically, teaches us to initiate all of our movements from lifted abdominals, which lets the other muscles work more efficiently. Performing Pilates lengthens the lower back thus elongating the torso and flattening the stomach. It also reduces the size of our legs, hips and buttocks, because we lose the compensatory muscle tightness we’ve developed due to weak lower backs and abs. Once our muscles ease up, they can fully reap the benefits of our workouts to create defined and lean bodies.
Five Tips for Mastering Your Pilates Practice:
- Don’t Suck in Your Gut: The most crucial part of Pilates form is to isolate and “lift” all the muscles in your “core:” the lower back, ribs, inner thighs, pelvic floor and abdomen. It is not a tightening or crunching in of your stomach. Focus on pulling your naval into your spine then letting your back sink into the floor and then pressing your ribs into your upper back.
- Look at and listen to your body: If at any time during an exercise you feel discomfort in your lower back or see your stomach pop out, you should either bend your knees, lift your legs higher, or both.
- Stay isolated: When they first start Pilates, many people with weak abdominal muscles grip with their thighs, rather than using their abs to help them roll up from a prone to a seated position. This will prevent your abs and lower back from getting stronger, plus it can give you unnecessarily sore and even over-developed quadriceps.
- Think quality. Not quantity: Maintaining perfect form is far better for your body than cranking out a few extra reps with poor alignment, which can lead to an injury.
- Don’t hold your breath: While there are specific breathing patterns in certain Pilates movements, in the beginning just make sure you are taking deep, regular breaths throughout every exercise.