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Pilates Basics

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?

11 replies on “Pilates Basics”

I did Pilates for quite awhile but I think you have to start with a more athletic trunk-of-body than I did to get the “amazing effects.” Or my body is just more susceptible to the effects of microbrews than it is to planks.

More recently, I tried Bikram (hot) yoga but I can’t decide whether I think it’s a bit akin to Scientology (made up? cultlike?) or whether it’s good for me. Zumba is next on the list…

Pilates is basically the only form of exercise I do. I use the Windsor Pilates tapes, yes tapes (25cents each @ goodwill). The 20min workout is my fav b/c I can usually convince myself to do it even on days I don’t really feel like working out. If tapes aren’t your thing I’ve taken several mixed yoga/Pilates classes that were really quite good for a lil sample of both. I agree with you about the posture I am much more aware of how I carry myself throughout the day and notice I sit much straighter when at my desk and I don’t get many tension headaches anymore.

I’ve never done Zumba, but I love Pilates. When I was at my last job looking for a new one (which I presently work at), it was very frustrating because the economy was so bad and it felt like no one was hiring. Doing the Pilates helped me set and attain goals, and it helped me to remain positive. I notice that I do stand straighter and do have more physical poise and seem confident, like you talked about. Maybe it’s also the breathing involved.

I do Pilates DVDs, and I have two of the Ellen Barrett ones through Crunch Gym. She has mixed some with cardio so it’s a good workout. I want to try Winsor Pilates. Guess I need to add it to the Netflix queue!

I just registered for Persephone tonight. I love your articles. All of the Jezebelles who raved about this place have me converted now!

That’s interesting you say that — my Vinyasa yoga teacher always uses that as an explanation for yoga weight loss — don’t expect yoga to melt away pounds, but expect it to help you inject your life with a calmness that allows you to make decisions with more care, and if weight loss or being healthier can benefit from those decisions, so be it.

I am not really into Pilates much, but the version I’ve liked best were a series of workout videos Jennifer Kries would do, where she mixed yoga and ballet with Pilates, and it felt more like an overall improvement than just being the ground and doing the hundred or leg kicks. I more prefer doing yoga and balancing moves with that, it does work my abdominals a lot and I get a lot of it.

I tried about five minutes of Zumba at the gym and knew it wasn’t my thing. I thought the music was too loud, and the dance moves felt like aerobics, which I can’t stand. I really enjoy dancing, but Zumba wasn’t right for me.

I love Pilates. I started with the Mari Windsor that was all over the infomercials- its actually really nice though. It helps me tone up pretty quickly. I have had bad knees since I was 13 and a lot of work outs are too much impact or too deep of knee bend. I really appreciate the no to low impact on my knees and highly recommend it for anybody with any sort of joint pain

Besides Zumba, Pilates is my favorite way to work out. :)

I’ve been doing it on a regular basis for a little over a year, and I love it. Like you, Sally, I’ve seen my strength improve as I’m able to hold myself up in a plank longer, for example. I’ve definitely gotten more flexible too. What I really like about Pilates is that it’s kind of deceiving – you don’t think that putting your legs up on a big ball and doing bridges is going to be all that difficult, but it takes every ounce of strength in your core to maintain your balance, and you’re working your ass and thigh muscles at the same time.

When I was 13 I was prescribed an exercise routine for my back (I have Scoliosis). It wasn’t until Pilates became really popular that I realized that’s what it was.

Pilates is essentially focusing on your core and isometrics. It’s amazing for strengthening your back (by way of strengthening the muscles in your core/stomach). It’s the only form of exercise I’ve really enjoyed, aside from some basic yoga.

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