Pilates exercises promote the development of long, lean muscles by lengthening and strengthening muscles all at once. Correct alignment of the spine, breathing, concentration, and awareness are all aspects of this mind-body discipline. It’s a powerful, refreshing, and invigorating workout. And most definitely work your abs. You’ll find Pilates classes and private sessions in specialized studios, health clubs, and community centres across the country.
Here we offer tips on finding good instruction and provide a few back-benefiting moves to try on your own. Of course, these moves may not be suitable for everyone, so be sure to get exercise clearance from your doctor and/or consult with your physio therapist.
It’s About Control
Pilates is commonly defined as an intense abdominal workout. It is that and so much more. Possibly the best definition comes from the man who shaped this mind-body discipline. Joseph H. Pilates called his system “contrology,” and control is a very important component of this exercise modality.
In the 1920s, Joe and his wife, Clara, immigrated to the United States and opened a studio in New York City. His work unites Eastern disciplines such as yoga and tai chi along with martial arts, boxing, and acrobatics. Contrology, now known as Pilates, has mat exercises, exercises done on spring-based machines, and those that use props including rings and barrels.
In his book Return to Life Through Contrology, Pilates described the benefits of his approach as more than just physical: “ … the acquirement of and enjoyment of physical well-being, mental, calm, and spiritual peace is priceless … this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind, and spirit is the ideal to strive for ….”
Pilates benefits your back because it integrates correct skeletal alignment and strengthens core muscles (including the abdominals, shoulders, and hips).
Find a Good Teacher
You want someone who knows Pilates exercises and has a good understanding of human anatomy. This is particularly important for back pain prevention and rehab! Anybody can teach a cookie-cutter routine of exercises. The best teachers understand the intent behind the exercises and can teach them in a way which motivates and resonates with you. Good teachers will also practice what they preach, have a good understanding of body mechanics and anatomy, and tailor private sessions to meet a client’s particular needs. They will test but keep you safe at all times.
“In 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 you will see the difference, in 30 you will have a whole new body.ʺ—Joseph Pilates
Recommendations from friends and other health-care professionals are always useful. Similar to finding a good doctor, you want your Pilates instructor to have a good appreciation of your personality and needs. Many Pilates studios provide introductory rates which enable you to try a few sessions and perhaps a few instructors before you commit to more sessions.
Training and Certifications
Similar to yoga, Pilates has evolved through time. Nowadays, there are many different approaches, but core muscle development is essential to them all. Amongst the most well-known and revered trademarked brands are BASI, Balanced Body, Polestar Pilates, the Physical Mind Institute, Stott, and Romana’s Pilates.
Instructors can be certified through any of these trademarked brands or by smaller studios which have their own training centres. Both are legitimate ways of learning. The most important element is how many hours of training an instructor has received. The most complete and credible programs involve a minimum of 300 hours of training; this includes anatomy, personal practice, observing other instructors working with clients, and practice-teaching of clients. The best programs usually require students to have themselves practiced Pilates and have had many hours of private instruction before they enter a Pilates training program.
When looking for Pilates instructors, find out about their hours of training, years of professional experience, areas of specialization (some do specialize in rehab), and continuing education. It takes around two years to become a well-trained, comprehensive Pilates instructor. Continuing education is great because it keeps instructors fresh and motivated in their work.
The Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) is the international, non-profit, professional association devoted to the teachings of Joseph H. and Clara Pilates. As well as certification from local studios, an instructor may elect to also become PMA-certified. This national certification shows that the instructor has been thoroughly trained and has proven, in-depth knowledge of anatomy; Pilates equipment; and exercises. In order to sit the exam, an instructor must have at least 450 hours of training.
Studios that are training centres can also be PMA-certified, displaying their adherence to the high standards of the PMA. Lots of instructors begin their Pilates careers teaching mat classes. Certifications for teaching these mat classes require fewer hours than comprehensive training as no machines are used. The best mat certification programs have prerequisites such as personal Pilates experience and fitness teaching. The top programs often require about 100 hours of training, which involves anatomy, observation, practice teaching, and demonstrated physical review.
Mat vs. Machine
Pilates was initially a one-on-one training system. Nowadays, most people are introduced to Pilates via mat classes. There are advantages to both, but, to truly appreciate the work and gain the full benefits, you can’t beat private sessions on the machines. The springs both support and challenge you.
Most of all, with good teaching, you’re taught how to work correctly. It only takes a few sessions to totally change your mat workout and provide better body awareness. If you can, we advise that you get a few private machine sessions.
Here are just a few advantages to using Pilates machines:
- Spring-based machines assist and challenge deep core muscles. Instructor ensures proper alignment and technique.
- Machine assistance increases range of motion.
- The machine settings are modified to your needs, fitness, and goals.
If you’re trying to supplement your workouts or are curious to see what Pilates are all about, there are some great recorded programs out there. Look for DVDs from Stott Pilates and Balanced Body. Lots of libraries provide exercise DVDs, so you can try before you buy. YouTube also has some great Pilates clips from lots of different schools and instructors.
The principles of Pilates remain the same, regardless of whether you practice on a mat or machines. Even though there are some differences between the styles of Pilates, they all concentrate on developing strength and flexibility through stabilizing core muscles. A large emphasis of Pilates is quality of movement over quantity. Other unifying principles include:
- Articulation: Moving one vertebra at a time, mainly as you roll up or down in a movement.
- Breath: Full inhales and exhales allow you to connect with your core and energize and revitalize body, mind, and spirit.
- Concentration: The mind and body connect to improve focus and awareness. You have to think about what you’re doing and feel how your muscles are working.
- Control: Movements are not jerky or fast.
- Flow: Exercises are fluid, not static or isolated.
- Precision: Each exercise has particular benefits which are gained through focusing on the details.
- Coordination: In most exercises, one area of the body stabilizes while another part moves, requiring coordination and usually balance.
- Oppositions: Using opposing forces develops strength, awareness, balance, and control.
A general rule of thumb for breathing is to exhale on the exertion. Basically, inhale in preparation, exhale to move.