In the 1920s Joseph Pilates developed a method of resistance training that has stood the test of time. What he called “Contrology” has become known simply as “Pilates,” and it’s become synonyous with toned muscles and celebrity workouts. Joseph Pilates was a physical trainer who developed his method to build strength in his own core muscles after a sickly childhood. He then began using what he had developed to help rehabilitate soldiers coming home after World War I. He discovered that even bedridden soldiers could do some form of the exercises, if bands and resistance could be devised using their hospital bed. It was this application which developed the now standard Pilates reformer and other devices used in Pilates studios.
In some ways, Pilates looks a lot like yoga. “Child’s pose,” a standard yoga move used to stretch the lower back, is utilized in Pilates. The focus of the exercise is different in Pilates than it is in yoga. In yoga, the focus is to lengthen and reach with each stretch. In Pilates, the focus is more about the origin of the move. For poses with leg lifts in yoga, the foucs is on how far or how deep the stretch can go. In Pilates, the focus is on using your core muscles to complete the action.
Pilates classes are typically in one of two formats – they are either “on the mat” or known as “Reformer classes.” Reformer classes focus most of the exercises on the machine known as the reformer and other contraptions Joseph Pilates devised. Reformer classes tend to be pricey because a studio can only house so many reformers, which limits the number of participants in each class. My gym has recently started offering free group fitness mat classes with a certified instructor, which have become very popular. The mat work provides a full body resistance workout and it can be done on the same mats every other class uses.
As someone who has had chronic back pain for three years, I love the no-impact of a Pilates mat class. After just a few classes, the moves were easier, and I could hold the exercises for a longer period of time. By strengthening my core muscles (from the lower abdominals up through the shoulders), my posture is better and I feel as is if I stand taller (I’m 5’10”. I don’t need to stand taller, and I technically haven’t grown, but I feel straighter).
Have you tried Pilates? Have you noticed a positive change? Also, have you tried Zumba? What’s that all about?