Today I am happy to introduce you to my friend and fellow writer Becky Kay. She is a long-time Pilates instructor, so she has a deep appreciation for the intricacies of the practice. In this article, she discusses a few of these intricacies so you can appreciate them too!
Over to you, Becky!
Pilates is not new on the exercise scene—not by any means. It’s been around much longer than most people are aware (we’ll get into that later). But a lot of people still don’t really understand what it is or what it does for the body.
I have been instructing Pilates for over eight years and I still get questions like “does Pilates work your abs at all?”. If I’m feeling feisty, I say “no, not at all”.
If I’m being honest, I say that it is one of the most ab intensive exercise methods out there because the focus is on the core of the body which is defined as your rib cage down to your mid thigh—top to bottom and front to back.
Despite its long history Pilates is a new and daunting idea to a lot of people. The lack of Pilates knowledge and know-how prevents a lot of folks from reaping the many benefits Pilates has to offer.
Allow me to shed some light on the amazing exercise discipline called Pilates!
1. Pilates Originated in Germany during World War I
The inventor of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, was quite an interesting character! He spent his childhood in a sick, frail body. As a young man he became passionate about physical fitness as a means to strengthen his body and transform it into a strong machine.
Pilates became a student of many physical fitness disciplines to strengthen his body and build up his health. He was hugely successful! He boasted skills in gymnastics, karate and boxing. He even was a circus performer at one point!
Around the time of WWI, he had developed such an effective method of exercise that he began to make a name for himself. His help was even sought to train soldiers. He declined because he was a pacifist and wished to stay out of wartime activity.
Eventually Pilates found himself in a war prisoner camp but, instead of wasting away, he became stronger and healthier. He began training his fellow prisoners and they, too, became strong and resistant to disease that was claiming lives all around them. He gained much attention due to this phenomenon and actually ended up training prison guards. Pretty crazy, huh?
2. Pilates Is Not Just for Women
So often I hear people complain about various aches and pains. From my experience as a former hip and back pain sufferer, I know that Pilates can be instrumental in relieving chronic pain so I often suggest trying Pilates as a method of pain relief.
Many of these conversations are with guys.
Sometimes it’s my brothers. Sometimes it’s my husband’s friends. But the response is almost always the same: they poo poo the idea of Pilates claiming that it’s ”for girls”. Oh, the insanity! Actually, in my class, we have a pretty even mix of men and women. Sometimes the guys even outnumber the gals!
Men and women alike can reap amazing benefits from Pilates because, let’s face it, most of us live a more sedentary life than is ideal. We all get a little stiff or even notice muscular weakness as we get older. The great news is that there is a lot we can do to combat this. Pilates is a great choice!
Even though men and women are put together a little differently, all the main parts are there—arms, legs, abs, back…you get the picture. Because Pilates primarily stretches and strengthens the muscles of the core, both genders can experience significant changes in strength, tone and flexibility. These physical changes can be dramatic and rapid if Pilates is practiced regularly.
While women love the aesthetic benefits of Pilates, men often take the class to improve in other sports. Some of the regular attenders of my class are avid runners, bikers, golfers and weight-lifters. They range in age from mid-twenties all the way up to one very fit gentleman who just turned 70. He can put many younger newcomers to the class to shame!
3. Pilates Supports the Back in Ways Other Exercises Cannot
One of my absolute favorite aspects of Pilates is how it builds and supports a strong back. There are several ways this is accomplished. First, we already talked about how Pilates works to strengthen the abdominal muscles. This, in itself, helps to support the back and keep the spine aligned and healthy.
Add to that the fact that a good class will also focus almost equally on the back side of the body and you now have a nice, strong girdle of protection surrounding your spine. How great is that?
But, that’s not where the good news ends. There is a series within Pilates called the side kick series. Each instructor does it slightly differently and may even call it by a different name but it is always present in a classic mat Pilates class. Each leg is worked, one at a time, in a series of movements designed to strengthen and stretch the small muscles in the hip joint.
The sidekick series also promotes flexibility and strength in the muscles of the upper leg—the hamstrings and the quadriceps. What’s so great about that? Studies show that a good deal of back pain actually originates in the hips.
Yep, weak hip muscles can either be strained or too tight from sitting too much or from improperly balanced exercise routines. This imbalance causes a pulling on the spine which knocks the back out of whack. This is when people experience back pain and injury.
If the imbalance is allowed to continue unchecked for long enough, it can even create enough pain and physical change in the spine to necessitate back surgery. No fun! And as far as the quadriceps and hamstrings go, you may have already guessed that if they are either too tight or grossly unbalanced in strength, they can pull the hips out of alignment which then affects the back. It’s my guess that, barring specific injury, most back issues don’t start in the back but in another part of the lower body.
Regularly practicing Pilates can naturally help your body combat these effects of overworking or underworking the muscles and help to ensure a healthy back and hips late into life.
4. Pilates Is Not the Same as Yoga
There is a misconception out there that Pilates and yoga are interchangeable. That’s understandable because they do have a lot in common. Both disciplines create flexibility and long, lean muscles. Both disciplines tend to be lower key in terms of the atmosphere in the room and the music played during a formal class. However, while yoga is primarily stretching, Pilates is stretching and strengthening at the same time.
While there certainly are elements of yoga that also can boast this benefit, Pilates is specifically geared to both stretch and strengthen the muscles at once. Also, yoga often incorporates meditation and other spiritual practices and, in some ways, tends to be almost a lifestyle to some.
While living healthy and eating clean is certainly part of a “Pilates lifestyle”, Pilates generally does not go beyond the workout session. There is no spiritual component to Pilates. It is simply an amazing workout done in a similar setting as yoga but when you leave, you leave Pilates there.
If you choose to meditate or focus on a “higher being”, that is done aside from Pilates. This is often a confusing aspect of the yoga versus Pilates debate for religiously spiritual individuals who feel that prayer is preferable over meditation.
5. Pilates Supports the Movement of Lymph Fluid Throughout the Body
What on earth does that mean and why should you care?
What a lot of people don’t understand is that the body is constantly in a state of detoxification. Every day you are regenerating cells. In fact, within a year’s time, you have regenerated nearly all your cells so that you have, in effect, a whole new body. Pretty cool, right?
Well, a huge part of that process is detoxification. Your body has an amazing support and transport system called the lymph system. The lymph system is responsible for transporting lymph fluid throughout the body to deliver necessary nutrients.
It also is involved in collecting waste and getting it on the fast route out of the body. Many factors in our busy lives such as poor diet, dehydration (a state in which many people unknowingly live!) and stress cause congestion of the lymph system. This can lead to fatigue or disease.
One great way to keep the system running smoothly and performing it’s job as designed is Pilates! Any movement is good because the lymph system does not have a pump—it relies on your body movement to circulate fluid. Pilates has been shown to be particularly beneficial with this movement of fluid.
To sum it all up, Pilates has a lot of benefits that are not well-known to the general population. If you’re like me, the more you learn about it the more you will love it.
If you decide to give it a try you will experience that firsthand. I know I have! I was able to teach Pilates well into the six month of my last pregnancy and I had a very easy, fast childbirth and recovery. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight in record time and back to teaching within a matter of months.
Even during times of illness or periods of being too busy to dedicate as much time as I’d like to a regular workout regimen including cardio and weight training, I have consistently been very pleased with how even one Pilates session per week can maintain muscle strength and tone.
While Pilates is great as a stand-alone fitness program, it’s a fantastic complement to any other regimen. I highly recommend it and don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you give it a try!
Over to you…
What is your favorite thing about practicing Pilates?