After 2 years of consistent CrossFit, running marathons and a bit of yoga, I’ve decided to shake up my fitness routine. The yoga remains but the weight bearing exercises from CrossFit and the long runs are being swamped (at least temporarily) by a Pilates practice.
Pilates is not a new fitness trend. As a matter of fact, it has had a steady following since the late 1920’s when Joseph Pilates opened his first fitness studio in New York City with his wife Clara. A German immigrant, Joseph Pilates created a form of core strengthening exercise that the dance community found highly appealing. Many prominent ballerinas including George Balanchine studied “at Joe’s.” It didn’t take long for Pilates to spread throughout the United States and then into mainstream fitness communities. Today many gyms offer Pilates or a very similar style of training the body by starting with the core.
So What’s Special About Pilates?
Pilates is based on six core principles: breath, centering, control, concentration, precision, and flow. First and foremost you learn how to bring awareness and focus to the center of your body. You will then be guided through proper breathing techniques, muscle control, and how to move in a precise fluid manner. All of these practices are thought to maximize the effectiveness of the workout. In other workouts, increasing muscle mass or burning calories is the primary focus. In Pilates, the emphasis is to become in tune with your body and guide it to a stronger place. Areas of concentration are the hips, abdominals, and pelvic floor. While it might sound an awful lot like yoga, Pilates seeks to strengthen while yoga seeks to balance.
Mat or Reformer?
When considering Pilates, you will need to determine which method to use. You can choose either to practice on a mat or use the reformer approach. Mat Pilates is done in a group setting and in general is considered more challenging because it relies solely on body weight as resistance. You will find yourself twisting and bending your torso into positions and holding for short periods of time to strengthen different body parts. The reformer approach is done privately or in small groups. The primary ‘reformer’ machine involves a series of pulleys and springs connected to a frame that looks similar to a twin bed. There are also other machines incorporated in class that support movements and stretches. This style is recommended for people who are rehabilitating from injury or who want to get to know learn the movements with some degree of support. By all accounts, both forms of Pilates are highly effective in transforming the body. There are also classes the combine the different styles and those that offer total body conditioning with bursts of cardiovascular exercises.
So what are the benefits of Pilates?
After my first class I felt a lengthening in my spine and found I was walking taller. It is one of the few ‘workouts’ I have done and felt immediate benefits. After a few sessions I felt the pain in my lower back improving which was important because rehabilitating my back was my primary motivation for doing Pilates. I also feel the typically compact muscles of my shoulders and arms look more naturally developed… like a dancer. While I am just beginning a dedicated practice, over the years I have noticed that my colleagues who are Pilates instructors definitely have the dancers ‘look’. I am not sure if those who are naturally built that way are drawn to Pilates or if Pilates made them that way! What I can tell you is this: I’m sticking around to find out!
As my instructor’s husband likes to say, “All the hotties take Pilates!”
Well, this one is going to give it the old college try!