Wave, March / April 2017
Many people never hear the word "pilates" until their doctor or physiotherapist recommends they take a class to deal with chronic pain or to increase flexibility and strength.
Other folks hear about the benefits from a friend who has taken a class, and find themselves intrigued about what pilates can do for them.
Either way, more and more people are learning how pilates can help enhance their health and well-being. In fact, some experts suggest that one precisely executed session of pilates is worth more than several hours in the gym.
The pilates method was first conceived by Joseph Pilates, who believed that physical health and mental well-being are interrelated. He developed a series of floor routines that demand balance, flexibility, strength, power, agility, and acute mental focus in order to execute the moves correctly, creating a lot of awareness on the connection of the mind and body.
The core concept of pilates involves strengthening "the powerhouse" or the central muscle groups like the abdomen, back, and pelvis. This is done through any number of the more than 500 different exercises that have been developed as part of the pilates method.
All of these exercises are performed on the mat or on special pieces of equipment that use springs for resistance. They are designed to develop your muscular flexibility and your strength simultaneously. This helps increase metabolism, enhance respiratory and circulatory function, and improve bone density and muscle tone.
Pilates can be particularly beneficial for people who tend to spend much of their day sitting in an office. It’s a little-known fact that the body needs to move around during the day in order to work muscles and pump oxygen into your brain and body. Sitting behind a desk all day can leave you in a constant state of oxygen deprivation and poor muscle development. Pilates addresses these issues with exercises that promote breathing and movement with a natural, controlled, fluid, and graceful action.
Pilates instructors have a lot of knowledge about the anatomy of the body. The classes are small so the instructor can modify and personalize the workout as needed. This is why pilates is suitable for everybody, even people with injuries or chronic issues like lower back and neck pain, shoulder problems, and hip and knee injuries. Pilates’ slow and controlled movements put minimal impact on your joints, which is why physiotherapists and doctors recommend starting with pilates before trying any other physical activity after being injured or having surgery.
With the pilates approach to a balanced body, it isn’t necessary to do scores of mindless, boring, repetitive, and exhausting exercises to achieve spectacular results. Also, with pilates you are not likely to suffer undue muscle strain, so there is little risk of injury.
Over time, people who practice pilates can expect a longer, leaner line to their musculature, similar to that of a ballet dancer. Other improvements include better posture, higher energy levels, and increased co-ordination, balance, flexibility, and strength.
Regular practitioners also gain better body awareness, which carries through into improved function in all daily activities, including playing other sports.
Janet Cranston is Director of Health and Fitness at the Reh-Fit Centre.
This article is reposted from the March / April 2017 edition of WAVE, Winnipeg's health and wellness magazine.