CLASSIC / CONTEMPORARY PILATES
Pilates is a body mind health and wellness practice created by Joseph H. Pilates who developed the conditioning method almost a decade ago when he was inspired to heal and strengthen his own body’s ailments and then later to assist in the rehabilitation of world war veterans bedridden from injuries incurred in battle. Pilates is both a therapeutic modality and fitness practice that emphasizes the uniform development of a balanced musculature achieved through principles of core centering and control, focused breathing, and precise movements of intentional effort concentrated into a purposeful practice. The practice of myriad pilates movement patterns and coordinated synergistic sequences facilitates enhanced kinesthetic awareness as well as greater ease and efficiency in functional movements, incurring greater agility in the performance of athletic abilities as well as more confidence and grace in everyday practical actions. Joseph Pilates taught that moving better meant feeling better. Feeling better is the direct result of the inherent joy that accompanies a better functioning body and alert mind improved by the vigor that a concentration of focused exercise induces.
Over the last decade pilates has grown exponentially in popularity.
Today pilates exercise classes are a staple in fitness clubs and movement studios all across the country. The extensive appeal of pilates at present is no wonder because the method can be tailored to a wide range of individual talents, needs and desires. Dancers were among the first group to embrace the pilates method because they immediately sensed the integral core stability and alignment improvements that reconditioned muscular imbalances, helped to prevent injuries and greatly benefited their dance technique.
Today not only are many celebrities hooked on the sentient and aesthetic results but increasingly more professional athletes are also joining the fold because they want the neuromuscular gains, integrated core, flexibility and strength that will give them the athletic edge they need to achieve. Sport super stars know that fitter bodies, enhanced kinesthetic awareness, core strength, power and agility improve performance and prevent injuries. Better game results and fewer injuries mean career longevity.
Many say the founding creator of this style of exercise, Joseph Pilates, was a man ahead of his time. Today his method is quickly becoming one of the most popular exercise systems in the western world, able to inform optimal performance and enhance everyday well being.
Why? Because pilates works for every body no matter how fit or unfit!
Today it seems as if everyone has heard of pilates. Many people are practicing it, either taking a class at their neighborhood gym or working with a professional practitioner. Many physical therapy and rehabilitation centers are incorporating pilates methods and adding pilates props and equipment, rollers and reformers, circles and chairs, balls and barrels, flex bands and trapeze tables, into their practices. There is more interest in pilates today than ever before with new moves, methods and applications envisioned everyday by both fitness professionals and physical therapists.
Indeed, one reason for its surge in popularity is that it works well for many different types of people. Young dancers and pro athletes, seniors, pre and post natal women, individuals with back pain, arthritis and or fibromyalgia can all benefit from a pilates program designed to address their particular needs. Athletes and dancers appreciate the physical challenge, seniors appreciate the stretching and toning benefits, women trying to bounce back from pregnancy love how it firms the core abdominal that supports the back and people who are at various stages of physical rehabilitation appreciate how effectively yet gently it targets weakness, strengthening the body as an integral whole.
It is no wonder most pilates practitioners enjoy their pilates practice because pilates is a versatile and adaptable method of movement that excites, invigorates and energizes.
Success doing pilates is really guaranteed because there are so many variations and modification that will either challenge or assist the exerciser meeting him or her exactly where he or she is at. All exercises can be modified for greater ease or varied for enhanced challenge. They can be bolstered with small props, refined apparatus or elaborate equipment that will make the workout more effective and fun, both safer and more challenging for anyone and everyone at any level.
Core centering is central to the pilates method.
Pilates practice focuses on the development of core strength and control, proper spinal and multiple joint alignments, stabilization and movement integration centered through the powerhouse or most central core of the body. The essential core muscles are not just the abs (rectus abdominal, transverse and obliques) but consist of all the muscles that move and stabilize the spine and integrate movement through the torso. These include the abdominal muscles as well as the muscles of the back, hips and shoulder girdle.
The principle foundation of pilates is understanding how the core muscles function as an integral whole and how to engage them accordingly whether that involves moving or stabilizing the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle according to the exercise purpose or movement intention. When the core muscles are working synergistically, as they are trained to do in pilates, they facilitate a balanced musculature and optimally aligned posture that supports all the movements of the body.
As you develop more core awareness and torso strength your kinesthetic awareness and control is also heightened. Your posture improves through better alignment and core stability. Better control of the torso means improved functional movement throughout the body. This core integration improves poor postural alignments which is how pilates participants are able to lessen and eliminate back and joint pain. As the spine is properly stretched and aligned, then stabilized and supported by adequate torso strength, gravitational forces are distributed more evenly throughout the body easing pressure on the discs of the spine as well as ankle, knee and hip joints when upright whether walking or running. Back tension is relieved enabling the body to move more freely with greater ease and efficiently.
Pilates is a unique exercise format exclusively designed by Joseph H. Pilates based on six principles of body, mind, spirit, unified action.
Joseph Pilates original method of physical conditioning was called “Contrology.” He described “Contrology” as a body, mind , spirit method of conditioning that facilitated enhanced wellbeing. The six core principles associated with the foundational essence of his method are: breathing, centering, flow, control, concentration and precision. Joseph Pilates deemed these essential integrated elements be present for an effective invigorating workout to occur.
While many movement modalities like dance, yoga and marshal arts also engage these principles and require a high degree of core strength and control to facilitate better performance, developing a functional core with torso stability and precise alignments is the primary characteristic on which the pilates method as an exercise form has evolved. Core centering, along with Joe’s other five principles, is the somatic foundation that elevates the pilates method above other exercise formats where more emphasis is placed on isolation and quantity rather than integration and quality. Fitness practice are continually evolving and the best practices today are those that have take their cue from pilates seeking to harness the power and potential of an integrated unified body not one emphasizing isolated parts.
Quality with attention to form more than quantity of repetitions has always been the focus of pilates workouts and should be part of any exercise regimen. Reason would question the value of endless repetitions if the exercise is not done properly? Of course some good comes out of any exercise, even poorly performed exercise, however, if too many repetitions of misaligned limbs are done with some intensity on a regular basis, more harm than good could possibly be the ultimate outcome.
The amount of repetitions done for any particular pilates exercise depends upon the type and intensity of the action being performed. With pilates, high repetitions is not the goal, but rather performing each action full out, with a precise intention and concentrated effort is the exercise objective. Theoretically this should yield less stress with greater benefit and achievement of the best results in less time. Pilates is about working smarter not harder. Pilates is about living invigorated and pain free, not courting and sustaining pain for greater muscle size. Pilates is about facilitating a toned and optimally proportioned body, a lean, agile vessel for moving and living well, not breaking down muscle fibers to incur the bulk of entropic mechanisms.
For example, the ultimate goal of resistance training is usually to build muscle. Thus, more focus is placed on techniques that will overload muscles to bulk up the body without necessarily attending to the body as a balanced vessel that functions as a whole integrated through the core. Aerobic activities like running, cycling and swimming are excellent for cardiovascular benefits, however, they are often done without much attention given to the role core alignment and stability plays in supporting the actions of the torso, hips, shoulders, arms and legs.
Pilates experience that attends to the primary role of core strength and dynamic alignments will help facilitate better performance during other activities as well which will in turn minimize and prevent potential injuries in the gym or out on the court. Ultimately, those who truly succeed in their chosen physical enterprise or athletic sport learn to effectively engage their core muscles. The pilates method is an integrative progressive practice that starts with the defining core, building a balance of strength and flexibility, coordination and control, agility, precision, power and grace, right from the get go and on.
Choosing between pilates mat exercise and equipment options.
While mat work may be perfect for many exercisers and the more affordable choice there are many advantages to using equipment especially for those with physical limitations or professional athletic aspirations. Anyone who has become de-conditioned over time or is simply seeking to improve kinesthetic awareness can greatly benefit from working out on a pilates reformer. For everyone considering the inclusion of pilates into their movement practice, whether geared toward fitness or oriented for rehabilitative purposes the options provided by the equipment are considerable and far reaching. Many professional dancers, athletes and weekend warriors have come to know the great benefits of exercising on pilates equipment as a result of the additional support and or greater challenges the equipment offers.
Equipment options are often recommended for new exercisers because the apparatus consisting of tables, gliding platforms, bars, levers, springs and pulleys, can provide assistance, making challenging movements easier even attainable for beginners or exercise newcomers. With the aid of the equipment anyone no matter how out of shape or physically challenged can feel success. The diverse movement options provided by the equipment also offer more tangible feed back and tactile guidance for new learners enabling them to quickly improve their form encouraging them to accomplish difficult movements with greater efficiency and ease sooner.
The advantage of pilates mat work is that it can be done anytime, anywhere at the gym or in the privacy of your home. While many of the classic mat exercises are fairly advanced requiring both flexibility and core strength it is a great place to start if equipment options are not available in your area or in your budget. Many exercises can be modified or done in combination with a variety of small portable props, such as balls, bands, circles, rollers and blocks to make challenging movements more accessible. These also offer tactile support and guidance to facilitate engagement and learning. There are also many dvds on the market that will give the viewer a basic introduction to essential pilates moves and core principles.
Pilates exercise on the equipment does however have greater appeal for those who can afford it. There are four basic pieces of equipment including the most popular reformer, the trapeze table or aka cadillac, the wunda chair and barrel. Newer innovations include the corealign and avalon chair. Starting with the best movement options and then modifying each variation appropriately, a professional practitioner working with individual clients can use the equipment to their best advantage, identifying the best movement options, whether designed for therapy or general conditioning, making each movement choice more effective through appropriate support, assistance and or resistance provided by the equipment.
Active participants learn about their body’s natural proclivities, structural limitations, movement habits and ultimate potential incorporating more pilates principles more effectively as they go. Equipment sessions can be designed to accommodate diverse talents and abilities making the exercises and movement objectives as easy or as challenging as is suitable according to the needs and skills of each participant.