January 2013

Get Fit 2013: Pilates: A Powerhouse Primer

Author: Lynne Riggs Anderson and Kaitlen Jane Groetzinger

Pilates bodies

In the past 10 years, the word Pilates has become synonymous with finely toned abs and beautiful Hollywood bodies. Sort of like soy lattes and seaweed smoothies, it sounds good, but what’s it all about?

Pilates is an innovative system of core-centered exercises that elongate and strengthen the muscles. It builds strength without excess bulk, teaches body awareness, deep breathing, good posture and graceful movement and improves flexibility. Pilates can be especially helpful in alleviating back pain.

To understand Pilates is to know the body’s core—that band of deep abdominal muscles that wrap around and sash the back, providing stability, strength and extra space to the spine. As much as we all love 6-pack abs, a strong core requires more than just ab exercises. Pilates moves work the entire torso, spine, back, hips and pelvis in order to develop and maintain that strong core.

Core control

Although it’s common knowledge that strengthening your core is a key component in the process of overcoming back pain, many people don’t have a clue where to start. Control of the “powerhouse,” as it’s known in Pilates, is achieved by developing, stabilizing and aligning all the muscles in the trunk, the shoulder girdle and the pelvis. Deeper, small muscles get just as much attention, if not more, than the larger ones. While quintessential Pilates exercises such as Hundreds, Hip Rolls and Criss-Cross specifically target the abdominal wall, Foot Work, Single Leg Circles and Hug A Tree will also improve core strength, if executed correctly. This mind-body integration of employing many muscles working together is called “staying core connected.”

If it sounds more complicated than pounding steel, that’s because it is. This exercise philosophy focuses on quality of movement over quantity of repetitions.

The skinny on back pain

The good news is the same exercises that will make your back stronger and happier will also make your jeans fit better. Simply by learning how to carry yourself in your best alignment can take years off your appearance.

In conventional workouts, the “weak muscles” tend to get weaker and the strong muscles tend to get stronger. The result is muscular imbalance, which contributes to chronic back pain. Creating a strong core is a 2x to 3x/per week process. As creator Joseph Pilates said. “In 10 sessions, you’ll feel the difference. In 20 sessions, you’ll see the difference. And in 30 sessions you will have an entirely different body.”

Know Joe

Many people don’t know that Joseph Pilates was a man ahead of his time, and he dedicated his entire life to the refinement of his method. The conditioning workout from 1912 that is today called “the Pilates method” is a widely used and effective way to improve your overall quality of life.

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