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How can Pilates change your body?
The Pilates method of exercising has become one of the most sought-after ways of maintaining one's fitness. Unique in its approach to working the body "smart", not "hard", it is renowned for achieving long-term physical benefits. It is endorsed by medical and fitness professionals in many countries for its ability to re-educate the body to move efficiently, improving the quality of an individual's daily activities. Pilates is a form of exercise that focuses on the strength of our inner core. Learning to target, strengthen, and enhance these muscles that are primarily responsible for our bi-pedal physical stature, Pilates is a great form of exercise that promotes overall health and well-being. It incorporates slow, controlled movements that require a significant amount of focus. Pilates also promotes deep breathing which not only helps to bridge the mental and physical experience, but improves oxygenation of the blood.
How did Pilates come to exist?
In the early 1900’s a German man by the name of Joseph Pilates spread his theory about exercise and fitness throughout hospitals in Europe. With his state of the art techniques that were invented to allow bedridden patients the opportunity to properly exercise, Pilates established a reputation that not only improved the physical well-being of his followers, but also caught the eye of German military officials. Joseph used a variety of springs and stretchy materials that could easily be incorporated into movements within the limited space of a hospital room.
His movement system was designed to deliver the ultimate full-body workout in a gentle and effective manner, borrowing principles from various Eastern and Western exercise philosophies. He believed that the mind controls the muscles and that endless repititions of meaningless exercises do more harm than good. When exercising using Pilates' principles, the outcome is better posture, stronger and more flexible muscles, greater energy and an increased ability to cope with day-to-day stresses.
After immigrating to the United States in 1926 and establishing his own fitness studio in New York City, Pilates’ techniques became incredibly popular amongst a variety of performance artists and professionals at the New York City Ballet. Many followers of Pilates began to spread this new style of exercise movement and slowly but surely, Pilates became a well-known routine in the areas of athletics, fitness training, and even amongst licensed healthcare providers.
A plethora of well-known dancers and performers studied under the direction of Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara. Even after Joseph died, his legacy lived on thanks to his loyal advocates and supporters who continued to share his technique with others. Today, it is estimated that over 10 million Americans participate in some form of Pilates, and this particular technique and exercise method continues to gain popularity, especially with the help of mainstream media.
What are the fundamental principles of Pilates?
There are six principles which help to define the purpose of the Pilates method:
Concentration - The mind wills the body to perform. It is said that without mental focus during a workout, essentially only half a workout is being done. Visualization assists the individual in using the correct muscles.
Control - Pilates exercises require absolute muscle control to both guard against injury and to achieve full functional benefit from each movement.
Center - The abdomen, lower back, hips and buttocks comprise our "center", the region which Joseph Pilates referred to as out powerhouse...all energy for movement begins here, then continues to the extremities.
Fluidity - It is intended that the exercises be executed with optiomal flow and grace. There are no static or isolated movements, and exercises are never rushed.
Precision - Each movement has purpose and each repitition of an exercise is of high quality, so favorable muscle patterning will become second nature.
Breath - Breathing with intention assists with muscle control. Inhaling and exhaling fully promotes purification and oxygenation of the lungs and bloodstream which energizes the system and gives a feeling of well-being.
Although the routine of Pilates is certainly one that is designed to target our physical health, the overarching basis of this movement encompasses a complete lifestyle of balanced health. The concept behind Pilates is that we can “effectively manage our entire being while providing a positive connection to our sense of self.” Pilates connects our spiritual beings with our physical movements in order to optimize:
Rhythm & Breathing
Control & Concentration
Balance and Core
Relaxation and Whole Body Movement
What are the benefits of Pilates?
A commitment to the Pilates mat work will promote greater trunk and pelvic stability, as well as improving movement and muscle control of and around the spine itself. Such control is a requisite to both preventing spinal injury, and managing any existing back or neck pain. Pilates exercises specifically aim to create muscle balance in the body, greater coordination of movement and control of the abdominals and breathing. These exercises encourage the use of the body as a whole unit, developing strong, lean musculature, rather than allowing individual muscle groups to develop isolated strength and to become bulky. The philosophies behind the Pilates method have been constant for many years, but it is only recently that people have begun to recognize its "tried and true", more holistic approach to maintaining physical fitness.
The Pilates repertoire of exercises is very adaptable, with most exercises having both a modified and a progressive version. This is why Pilates can enable people of all fitness levels to enjoy its benefits. A typical Pilates mat work session will progress the exercises in a particular order, so that the muscles are prepared for subsequent exercises and a full-body workout is achieved. When these series of movements are executed in a precise and flowing manner, an authentic synergy between mind and body is met, natural poise is achieved, and overall well-being is enhanced.
Pilates is a great method to improve your entire lifestyle. It channels both a sense of physical wellness as well as mental clarity. It fosters a strong connection between our thought processing abilities and our physical, bodily movements. Pilates has gained a reputation for reducing stress and improving blood circulation. It strengthens our muscles, improves flexibility, enhances grace and coordination, and even promotes endurance. Because Pilates incorporates both mental and physical health, it is a great way to completely transform your entire life into one that healthful and strong.
Who is a good candidate for Pilates?
Because the level of difficulty within any Pilates routine can be customized for each individual, Pilates is perfect for everyone. After all, it was originally designed for patients who were confined to a hospital bed! Regardless of age or physical ability, Pilates is an exceptional method of physical activity.
Many dedicated athletes and fitness enthusiasts enjoy participating in Pilates because it is a low-impact form of training that can be completed just about anywhere. Participants do not have to invest in any expensive equipment, although a fitness studio dedicated to Pilates might choose to do so, there are plenty of Pilates techniques that need nothing more than your physical body. For athletes, Pilates improves balance, flexibility, awareness, and control.
Pilates is an exceptional form of physical therapy for individuals who have experienced injury or some other physical limitation. In fact, many physical therapists regularly incorporate Pilates techniques into their rehabilitation regimens. Pilates has been proven as an effective treatment for chronic pain, joint replacement surgery, multiple sclerosis, nerve conditions, or some other physical complications that affect the muscular and skeletal systems.
Pilates is also a great avenue of safe physical activity for expecting mothers. Not only does it promote flexibility and healthy posture amidst drastic changes in the woman’s center of gravity, but it coaches breathing technique, improves hip mobility, and improves the health of the pelvic floor.
What is the best way to get started with Pilates?
The most efficient and authentic way to become involved in Pilates is to attend a class taught by a certified, experienced Pilates instructor. Although there are certainly plenty of exercises and movements that beginners can conduct at home, an instructor can provide helpful suggestions and critique that will help ensure you are performing the movements correctly. They can also motivate you and challenge you to attempts movements that you might otherwise be intimidated to try.
If you are uncomfortable in a class or face-to-face setting, there are plenty of videos so you can participate in this method of exercise right in the comfort of your own home.
What kind of equipment is used in Pilates?
A typical Pilates routine can be performed with or without the addition of enhancing equipment. It is recommended that beginners introduce themselves to the fundamental practices and physical principles of Pilates using only the basics, themselves, and perhaps a mat for added comfort.
Basic equipment that further accentuates and enhances the Pilates experience include balance balls/boards, resistance bands, and flexible spring/ring circles. Similar to ballet, many Pilates professionals regularly incorporate the Pilates technique into a routine at a stationary bar that is mounted on the wall and parallel to the ground.
More complex Pilates equipment includes wall towers, trapeze bars, the Cadillac (which is representative of a hospital bed), the exclusive Reformer, CoreAlign, Orbit, Step Barrel, LadderBarrel, and the Chair.
What does a typical Pilates routine look like?
There are thousands upon thousands of different movements and techniques behind the Pilates method, and when incorporating various pieces of equipment or accessories, the possibilities for exercise are literally endless.
For the most part, Pilates movements are slow, smooth, and controlled. With proper breathing and focus, this precise form of movement maximizes your muscular discipline and physical power. Some of the most popular moves for Pilates beginners include:
Strong abdominals are more important to you than achieving a 'six-pack'. Good quality movement while preventing spinal injury begins by working the muscles from the inside out. This means refining the action of the abdominal muscles so that you can work the deepest layers responsible for maintaining 'core' stability. To target this area you need to focus on the 'drawing in and up' of the lower abdomen -between the pubic bone and navel. Imagine zipping up the abdominals starting from the pubic bone, as if you're zipping up tight jeans! Use pelvic floor muscles and flatten and tighten the abdominals towards the floor, without actually disturbing your neutral pelvis. Try not to tense up the gluteal muscles (buttocks). Imagine that your whole navel and waist area is shrinking, as though held in by a corset. During a pilates session an instructor would typically describe this action as 'scooping', 'drawing in' or 'pressing the navel to the spine' in order to ensure that the deepest layers of abdominals are strengthened.
Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Keep a steady pace, and ensure both the lower abdominals and the corset action of the waist remain active.
What is the difference between yoga and Pilates?
Despite the fact that yoga and Pilates are very similar in many ways, they are not the same exercise method. Although both forms of movement promote both physical and mental well-being, yoga tends to have a higher concentration on breathing and stationary poses. Pilates in general tends to hold a stronger focus on strength training and physical challenge. Also, it is rare that yoga incorporates some of the more complex pieces of equipment and machinery that are exclusive to the true techniques of Joseph Pilates himself.
The Pilates method has emerged from various philosophies that endorse physical health and longevity. This technique of conditioning the body and mind was developed with the intention to re-create an individual's approach to exercise and fitness in general. Far beyond the "no pain, no gain" mentality of working the body, Pilates enforces muscle control and endurance without resulting in post-exercise soreness and fatigue. This method is suitable for all ages and levels of fitness. It incorporates all the essential concepts in order to achieve postural and lifestyle improvements and sports-specific cross-training benefits and provides a way in which to learn about your body and develop greater levels of agility, energy and concentration.