If you”ve ever taken ballet lessons, the words “swan”, “elephant”, “breathe”, and the term “pull navel to spine” won”t seem all that unfamiliar. These are the principles that guide the teaching of Pilates: a form of exercise invented by Joseph Pilates, a boxer in England during World War I who helped wounded German soldiers rehabilitate themselves.
Pilates aims to achieve balance and perfect control of the body, and works through the core muscles. It has become one of the fitness fads in the last ten to fifteen years; in fact, the demand for qualified Pilates instructions is growing every month.
Pilates appeals not only to dancers, but also to top athletes. By working the body properly, you enhance your concentration skills and strengthen your back, abdominal muscles, and legs. The ultimate goal of Pilates is to control the core, and as such, most movements orbit around the trunk, pelvis and shoulder girdle.
Through Pilates, the body”s entire musculoskeletal system is conditioned; and hence, the body becomes less prone to injury. However, because Pilates stresses quality of movement instead of jolting repetitions, a beginner often needs to be supervised. As such, “at-home” Pilates ideas aren”t always a great idea. While there are some exercises that can be performed on a mat, other, more advanced exercises can involve equipment that is best done with supervision; at least, at first.
Web sites — mostly commercial in nature — will try to sell you their videos and books on Pilates or Stott Pilates (a variation of Pilates), but if you”re in doubt about just how flexible you are, you may want to wait until you”re ready before trying these alone at home. You may, of course still purchase the videos if you want to know what the entire Pilates philosophy is all about, and to get a flavor of the kinds of movements involved.
How Does One Start?
If you can”t afford a personalized session with a Pilates trainer, joining a mat group class is a good first step. Some gyms have certified instructors who will warmly welcome you into their group classes.
Pilates has an inventory of more than 500 exercises that blend strength and flexibility training. It reduces stress, promotes healing from joint injuries, and calls upon the abdominal muscles to support the body”s core. Experts believe that after a few weeks of consistent Pilates mat training, participants will already notice the benefits as they learn the art of breathing and slow movements. Most individuals like working on the mat, and graduate from beginner, to intermediate and then to advanced.
And After the Mat Exercises?
Adventurous types will probably want to combine mat exercises with workouts on specialized equipment: Pilates Reformer, Pilates Cadillac and Ladder Barrel. These items provide more maneuvering skills for the eccentric and concentric motions, and add tone and length to muscles. Bear in mind, however, that not all gyms are fully equipped with Pilates equipment, since they are rather bulky and heavy and need a special and exclusive area. If in doubt, ask before you sign on the dotted line for that new gym membership.
Pilates instructors are not cheap. A personal session can cost as much as $50-$80.00 per hour. Of course, considering the health benefits to be gained, this fee is, for many, more than reasonable. Remember: it”s not recommended that you save money by “going it alone”. Jogging yes, cycling, by all means — but for Pilates, you will need someone to guide you in the preliminary phase. Many moves engage deep muscles difficult to isolate and subtle body adjustments can make the difference between effective and ineffective exercise.