Tone, Balance and Strengthen with Pilates
By Ann-Marie Giglio
If you haven’t already begun adding activity to your schedule, consider adding a pilates class. Exactly what is Pilates? Pilates with a capital P is a core-based exercise developed 100 years ago by a man named Joseph Pilates. Anyone certified by a company associated with his original studio is a Pilates instructor with a capital P. Everyone else teaches a pilates derivative.
This can be a problem. Once the practice moved from its niche into the general fitness instructor pool, it changed. Which is good and bad. Some creative instructors have taken the elements of Pilates and adapted them, with precision, to a wider variety of body types. This is good. But others, have taken the ideas and tried to apply them to calisthenics, missing the subtly and especially the centering and alignment and 30% isometric principles of Pilates entirely.
The basic idea is that you align your spine with its natural curves within your ribs and you engage your inner core muscles to stabilize this alignment. That’s their job. Stabilizers are closest to the spine, are shorter, and need to work for longer periods. They need endurance, since they only work at 20-30% of their maximum capacity. So in Pilates, we work this stabilizing group gently, but for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Holding this 20-30% contraction, you then challenge your stability by moving your legs and/or arms. This makes the core work an isometric exercise–which means you are only using muscle, no joints. Generally, this is safe for everyone. You can do these exercises on a mat, which is very challenging, or you can use what is called an apparatus–a reformer, which looks like a twin bed, or a Pilates chair, or a barre, all of which provide some assistance and make the exercises easier to accomplish. But these are usually private or semi-private sessions, so they are more expensive.
The point is that with a good instructor, you can safely tone your core and provide the balance and strength you need on a daily basis. Think rapid recovery from whatever life–or the sidewalk–throws at you. This is not cardio work. But it’s not easy, either. If you only have 5 minutes to do crunches, I recommend 8 perfect Pilates crunches over 28 of the other kind.
The other benefit to this kind of work-out is mental. You must pay attention to your body in a good pilates or Pilates session. And you know what? Thinking about one thing for a period of time is meditation. So you leave a class feeling, as I say in my studio, toned up and calmed down. What’s not to like?