Tuesday, May 4th, 2010...10:17 AM
Pilates (Part 2 of 3): What is Pilates?
This is the second of three posts in my Pilates series. The first post let you know about the free Pilates classes available every year on Pilates Day (typically the first Saturday in May). This post outlines what Pilates is and how you can benefit from it as an exercise practice. The third post in the series will detail my own personal experience taking a Pilates class at JoyMoves Pilates Studio, one of Austin’s most well-respected boutique Pilates studios. Many thanks to Steve Goldstein of JoyMoves for allowing me to interview him for this series.
Pilates is a popular form of mind-body exercise based on the rehabilitation techniques of Joseph Pilates. Pilates utilizes various pieces of apparatus incorporating the use of springs, straps, and other tools, along with body weight, to allow the student to perform resistance exercises in a range of motion that most people would consider moderate stretching. Pilates is a safe, low-impact, mildly aerobic, whole-body exercise practice that is beneficial for almost anyone.
Over the course of his career, Joseph Pilates developed 600+ exercises for the various apparatus he invented that comprise what we know today as “Classical Pilates.” He heavily refined the initial techniques while interned as an “enemy alien” with other German nationals during World War I. During this time, he trained and rehabilitated other internees, rigging springs to hospital beds, allowing bedridden patients to exercise against resistance. Pilates died at the age of 87 in 1967. His original students, known as the “Elders,” are the senior teachers who have helped to proliferate the art of Pilates. There is no one centralized set of training standards or certification for Pilates instructors. Organizations such as Power Pilates and Peak Pilates offer what the Classical Pilates community considers to be reputable training and certification.
Classical Pilates relies most heavily on Mat and Reformer apparatus work, and both are equally as important. Mat work may take place on a floor mat or on mats placed on top of the Reformer. As the most popular apparatus, the Reformer allows the student to perform a variety of moves while recruiting the muscles in a balanced, non-weight-bearing way, along with specialized foot work and the popular short spine massage (great for the lower back). Other apparatus include the Tower (typically attached to a wall or Reformer to add additional challenging exercises to a Mat or Reformer session), the Cadillac (increases range of motion and strengthens hamstrings), the Wunda Chair with its unique upright position (particularly good for strengthening the shoulder girdle and a favorite of rock climbers and triathletes), the Ladder Barrel (great for strengthening the lower back), and the Ped-a-Pul (improves posture, balance, and overall upper body strength).
Pilates may be performed as part of a group class or in a private session. Boutique studios tend to limit group classes to Mat or Reformer classes. Ideally, all sessions of a particular class type and level follow a consistent “flow” (a specific series of exercises) that does not change between instructors or classes on different days, allowing the student to gauge their progression over time and move easily between classes and instructors. Group classes make Pilates more financially accessible, but offer less opportunity for customization or personalization. Group classes are ideal for those without special physical considerations where cost is a limiting factor. Traditional gyms and other venues offer many hybrid-type classes. They typically incorporate some elements of Classical Pilates, and students may benefit from attending this type of class. However, true, Classical Pilates is a much more in-depth, experiential practice. It requires repetition of the proper flow over time to enable the student to perfect the various moves and enjoy all of Pilates’ potential benefits.
About the Author:
Chris Heidel is the owner and primary personal trainer with Libra Fitness in Austin, TX, a private, in-home studio. Chris focuses her business on developing mentoring relationships with her clients built on trust and meaningful support to help them set, achieve, and maintain realistic fitness goals. Chris truly believes that while getting in shape isn’t easy, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Chris is certified through the American Council on Exercise.