I might be biased (I am a Stott Certified Pilates instructor, after all) but in my opinion Pilates is an essentail part of any fitness regime. Including yours. Yes, I mean you – whether you are a beer league hockey player, distance runner, Crossfitter, dancer, arm chair athlete or yoga enthusiast. I know this because of the profound difference it has made in my life, which is what led me to become an instructor. Now, it’s not the only thing that I do as a workout - I do HIIT, lift weights, run, and more, because variety is one of the keys to overall fitness. But - regularly incorporating some kind of Pilates into your life will contribute to greater strength, stability, and mobility for both women and men, young and old. Sure, I've heard that people say it's not a "real workout", but to that I respond maybe you haven't been doing "real Pilates." While it initially seem so subtle, Pilates is a form of training that has the potential to make make profound changes in how you look and feel.
Pilates is So Misunderstood
Before I go any further, let me clear up a little confusion. Pilates is not yoga. At all. While there are many exercises that involve work on mat and can help improve one’s flexibility, the similarities almost end there. So what is it? Originally called Contrology, then eventually renamed for its creator Joseph Pilates, it’s a system of exercises designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, posture, and enhance mental awareness. In the past 50 years or so there have been a number of schools that have expanded on these principles. Besides mat Pilates there is also equipment, known as the cadillac, chair, barrels, and my personal favourite, the reformer. What I love so much about it is the ability to work on strengthening the body and mobility at the same time, all while focusing on the body being in proper alignment – which is absolutely key for preventing or rehabilitating injuries.
A Strong Core…and More (wink, wink)
Working on a strong core really is (pardon the pun, but it’s just too easy) at the core of Pilates. While many spend a lot of time working on their so-called “six pack” muscles (rectus abdominis), we literally go deeper. The core is so much more than that. Perhaps of greater importance to your overall functional fitness and good posture are muscles known as the transversus abdominis, the obliques, multifidus (small but mighty muscles that run up your spine), the psoas and more. So while the six pack gets all the glamour, it doesn’t really do anywhere near as much for your strength, posture, and even the overall look of your body as much as these other muscles do. Then there are the muscles of the pelvic floor, which we work to engage in many exercises. Let’s just say there are many benefits to knowing how to recruit the muscles of your pelvic floor. As a new-ish mama, I know first-hand that Pilates is an incredible way to address some the physical challenges that can occur both pre and postnatal. And, just in case I didn’t already have your attention, strengthening your pelvic floor can definitely be a win for your sex life. So there’s that.
The Freedom to Move
Our bodies are capable of moving in so many different ways, but most of us get stuck in the same patterns of movement every day. Whether it’s sitting at a desk at work or even running or cycling almost every day, repetitive patterns of movement can take their toll and create imbalances in our body. Over time, these imbalances can add up to a lack of mobility and even injuries. Think runners with tight IT bands and weak glutes or desk-sitters with tight hip flexors, or even a dental hygienist that spends all day turned towards patients and finds that his or her obliques and neck are tighter on one side. Pilates emphasizes stability, strength, and mobility while working in proper alignment to avoid injury. A properly certified instructor can suggest exercises or modification to help you work out without contributing further to any imbalance you might have while working on correcting it.
While it isn’t spiritual in the way that yoga is, there is a definite mind-body connection required to perform the exercises properly. You really can’t zone out and be effective in this type of workout, because you need to concentrate on activating certain muscle groups while stabilizing others. That’s actually a really good thing. Most of us spend a whole lot of time disconnected from our bodies. Taking time to tune in to what is happening while working out is a great way to de-stress, because you can focus on the details of the exercise and leave that stressful day at the office/school/home at the door, for at least a little while.
Take it from the Pros
There are countless people that rely on their physical bodies to make a very considerable living that do Pilates, sometimes every day as part of their conditioning regimes. Athletes in the NBA, NHL, MLB, professional dancers, and more because they know it can up their game and increase their career longevity. Oh, and just in case any of the guys out there think Pilates is neither difficult or masculine enough for them, LeBron James is a fan and uses it as part of his training program. If it’s good enough for LeBron, you can bet it will do you a world of good.
As Joseph Pilates himself said, his method “is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace, and skill that will unmistakably reflect in the way you walk, in the way you play, and in the way you work.” If that sounds like something that pretty much everyone can use, you’re right.