Balance and movement
The Pilates Exercises are aimed to improve muscle balance in our bodies and improve coordination of movement, the abdominals and our breath. In Pilates we use the body as a whole unit to develop strong and lean muscles. Pilates concentrates on working our body’s stabilisers or postural muscles (such as the Pelvic Floor and Transverse Abdominis) before training the global or outer layer of muscles (such as the biceps). Pilates should invigorate & energize the body by stimulating the mental clarity. Pilates will improve posture and correct muscle imbalances. By practicing Pilates you will add more holistic strength, which enables you to cope better with day-to-day activities.
“I believe the best workouts include the mind and spirit as well as the body. Pilates is really just simply exercise, but it is done with precision, control and awareness and is practised in our body’s most natural state – motion.” – Karin Hagberg
Pilates Workout for Your Body, Mind, and Soul
As Pilates has evolved through the years, various instructors have added and continue to add their personal touches and interpretations to Joseph Pilates’ original method. The difference between Pilates compared to other exercise methods is that it is done with full awareness, including your mind and spirit. In Pilates the body is used as a whole unit to develop strong, lean muscles. It also focuses on our body’s stabilizers or postural muscles (such as the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis) before training the global or outer layer of muscles (such as the biceps).
There are many benefits you will gain from practising Pilates including:
• Improved posture or correction of physical imbalances that have occurred from ingrained poor postural habits
• Feeling taller and looking slimmer
• Increased flexibility
• Increased strength in a more holistic way that helps you cope better with day-to-day activities
• Improved core stability (strengthens and firms the abdominal and increases back strength which eases back pain)
• The development of long, lean, strong muscles
• Improved stamina, coordination, flexibility, and joint mobility • Enhanced relaxation with reduced stress levels that helps focus the mind
• Increased awareness of your body and a calmer, more positive mindset
Who Benefits From Pilates?
Pilates is a safe and effective body conditioning for people of all ages. Workouts can be designed for the individual’s specific needs and challenge level. Pilates can help to improve or correct physical imbalances that have occurred from ingrained poor postural habits or as the result of illness or injury. Many people take up Pilates because they suffer back pain and Pilates is well known to help alleviate this type of discomfort. This is because Pilates focuses on strengthening the core muscles, which in turn ease or correct back problems. People with joint problems also benefit from practising Pilates. Strains on the joints are often a result of failure to engage the appropriate muscles involved in a particular action. This can cause chronic inflammation of the joints (arthritis). Pilates teaches you to use your body in a way that is free from excessive strain. It also strengthens muscles that protect weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. People who perform a particular action repeatedly such as athletes and workers in certain industries or those who stay in one position for long periods (i.e., if you sit in front of a computer all day at work) frequently develop muscular imbalances. This can force the body out of alignment and lead to strain or injury. The practise of Pilates helps to prevent and correct imbalances and support recovery from injury.
There are a few principles that help define the Pilates exercise method:
- CONCENTRATION Exercise that is done with focus can transform your body. Pilates exercises require concentration and mental focus. Make sure your mind is present during the workout and concentrate on doing the exercises properly. It is important to focus on the body while you perform the exercises and don’t let your thoughts wander. Put all your focus on the exercise or move you are doing, concentrating on each detail. This will enable you to perform the move correctly and gain the most benefit. Most movement control occurs at an unconscious level but we can learn correct movement patterns and retrain insufficient patterns by using our conscious awareness to control the movements. The more often we practise a particular exercise the more ingrained the pattern becomes.
- CONTROL Pilates exercises are done with control. This means that you will learn to identify when the body is out of alignment or not in symmetry. Each move must be performed with total and complete control. In physical science, control has to be practised and developed. Practising every Pilates move with control will strengthen the body. The slower and more controlled the movements are performed, the greater strength you gain. Joseph Pilates placed a great deal of importance on the mental aspect of exercise, emphasizing the need to consciously control our physical actions; hence he named his first studio Contrology. When first practising Pilates it can be difficult to coordinate your breathing technique with the correct use of particular muscles. Be prepared to accept that enhancing your control over your body takes time, but with confidence and persistence you will succeed.
- FLOW Pilates exercises performed with optimal flow means that the movements are always done slowly with control. By controlling your movements, initiating them from your centre, concentrating on your form, breathing fully and deeply, and by moving precisely you will have flow.
- PRECISION Athletes are masters of precision. Their training emphasizes repetitive motions they practise until they can do them with precision. As you learn to do the Pilates exercise moves you will be able to graduate to new levels over time, but only start practising the next level when you can complete the previous one with precision and control. It is not the structure of the exercise but the work you put into it that determines your results.
- ROUTINE As with any principle, repetition and frequency lead to skill level improvement. Pilates should not replace other activities but instead should be used as an addition to strengthening your body and your mind. By developing a routine of practising these exercises on regular bases, Pilates will give you excellent results.
- CENTRING In Pilates-based exercises your centre is your “powerhouse.” Your powerhouse consists of the neck, shoulder blades, trunk, and pelvis. Coordination between these core areas enables us to establish good and safe movement patterns. Pilates has often been described as “movement flowing out from a strong centre.” The centre should be the foundation of all movements. In Pilates we refer to the abdomen, lower back, hips and buttocks as our centre or “girdle of strength.” It is important to engage our deep postural muscles such as the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis when exercising. This helps protect the spine. One of the most important centring muscles is the pelvic floor, which is the muscle that holds the internal organs within the pelvis, running from the pubic bone to the base of the spine. It is important for both men and women to be aware of this muscle and how to exercise it. The pelvic floor acts like a hammock supporting the internal organs; it surrounds and controls the neck of the bladder and the urethra (outlet from the bladder), the anus, and in women, the vagina. It provides a strong support for the pelvic organs during activity and also helps control your urination and defecation. All your centring muscles will need to be developed to the same degree to achieve harmonious results. It is important to understand how to engage the deep postural muscles to protect the spine as you exercise.
- BREATHING Correct breathing will assist in muscle control and revitalize the body with fresh oxygen to give us more energy. There are many different breathing techniques but in Pilates we practise “lateral thoracic breathing” while exercising. This means that you breathe into the lower ribcage and upper back to make maximum use of your lung capacity. This action will also create greater flexibility in the upper body and work the abdominals. To learn lateral thoracic breathing you can sit, stand, or kneel with your pelvis in neutral position and your spine lengthened. Place your hands on your ribcage. When you breathe in you will feel the ribcage expand and as you breathe out you will feel the ribcage narrow. Make sure you keep your shoulders down and relaxed while you practise this breathing technique. When you become more comfortable with it, focus on engaging the pelvic floor and your transverse abdominis as you exhale and then release only a little bit as you inhale. You might find the breathing hard to get used to as you start practising Pilates and perhaps the hardest to perfect. It is thought to be the most important principle in Pilates to master. To breathe correctly can be the difference between straining to complete an exercise and performing the move easily.This is a typical way of breathing through a Pilates move:
Breathe in to prepare (wide and full into your back). As you begin the movement, breathe out and contract your abdominals (the deeper abdominal muscles are contracted). Breathe in as you return to neutral position or before you start the next stage. The main rule is to breathe out on the greatest effort or the hardest part of the move.
A bit of Pilates History
Pilates (which is pronounced Pil-ah-tees) was developed by Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the 1920s. Joseph Pilates was born in a small town near Dusseldorf (Mönchengladbach), Germany. He suffered many health issues such as asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. This motivated him to find ways of overcoming his own disabilities. He decided the only way to accomplish this feat was to strengthen his body. Pilates tried many different forms of exercise and eventually became an accomplished sportsman. He practised yoga, martial arts, skiing, boxing, gymnastics, bodybuilding, and diving. His body became very well-developed; at one point he was asked to be a model for anatomical charts. He developed a great interest in the human body and frequently studied an old anatomy book given to him by his family doctor. Pilates completed his formal education by the time he was 14 but he continued studying the human anatomy and this moulded his future beliefs. He moved to England in 1912 at the age of 32 in an attempt to avoid the German military draft where he worked as a circus performer, selfdefence instructor, and boxer. Pilates developed the Pilates Matwork routine in 1914, just as World War I broke out. He assisted injured people at an interment camp on the Isle of Man, working on a way to create resistance and improve muscle tone. He developed some strength-based exercises using the beds with springs. This was the start of the Universal Pilates Reformer, which is still used today in Pilates studios. All of the internees that used the Reformer survived the deadly influenza that killed thousands of people in England. Joseph Pilates then returned to England in the early 1920s. Five years later, in 1925, he immigrated to the United States. He met his wife Clara, a nursery and kindergarten teacher, on the journey there. Clara also suffered health problems such as arthritic pain. Joseph shared his beliefs about the human body and ways to improve health, which created a personal and professional bond between the two of them. Joseph and Clara settled in New York and in 1926 they opened their first fitness centre, Contrology. Pilates’ unique exercise method grew a reputation amongst them in the 1940s and soon he built up a wide clientele amongst New York’s dancers and actors. Many world-famous people and celebrities still use Pilates’ methods, including world-class athletes who use them to improve or correct physical imbalances imposed by rigorous training. Pilates’ work was based around creating excellent health and physical strength although he also believed this should complement a broader approach to life and its goals. He thought it was important to work on the mind as well as the body. Joseph Pilates died in 1967. Many of his students became very knowledgeable about his methods and opened their own Pilates studios. Each Pilates teacher, even to this day, gives their own interpretation to the basic exercise programme that was originally created by Joseph Pilates.