Most people have heard of Pilates but most are unsure of exactly what it is. We see it as a girly form of exercise that doesn’t really do very much – this couldn’t be further from the truth. While it may not compare with a brutal workout or run for intensity there are many lessons we can learn from Pilates which can be integrated into our standard exercise routines to make them more effective. So what is Pilates?
Pilates is a body conditioning routine that helps to not only build flexibility, but also strength, endurance, and coordination in the legs, abdominals, arms and back. So basically it is a deep full body workout, hitting all the important and neglected body parts – great for rebuilding the body after injury and for injury prevention.
Pilates as a form of exercise has a few key principles. Many of which you will be familiar with, the trick is learning how to use them when doing your standard workout at the gym, with your bodyweight or even when playing sports and in everyday life.
Our bodies always work best when in a neutral alignment. This principle is especially true for the spine especially as the pelvis is the most shock absorbing part of the body and the part through which we carry the most weight. An issue occurs when people take their spine out of neutral on a regular basis when doing everyday things:
Bad posture when sitting
Picking stuff up with poor form
Carrying bags on one shoulder
Doing repetitive motions on one side (tennis, or golf)
The list is endless and there are so many things that push our bodies out of alignment everyday. The trick to correcting this comes through always aiming for a neutral spine during exercise – this means lengthening through the spine, making sure you are standing upright, working the deep core muscles when your workout (to protect and lift the core) and working the upper back muscles to keep the shoulders back and down. This is also true for when you are sitting and lounging around. Ultimately leading to a pain-free, strong body that is functional and works efficiently.
At one time or another I think we have all forgotten to breathe during exercise, maybe not stop breathing all together but it has certainly become shallow and irregular. Pilates is huge on breathing in time with movement. When we breathe efficiently oxygen flows through our muscles – stopping them from tensing up and most importantly oxygenating the target area.
This deep and regular breathing also allows for deep concentration and most importantly activates the deep core muscles. The best way to breathe is deeply in through the nose on the negative or downward movement and deeply out through the mouth, full exhaling the air as you do the eccentric or pushing part of the movement. Always making sure the breaths are coming deep into your belly, also you can try breathing into the muscle you are working.
Slow and controlled movements. It is as simple as that – when we work in good form in time to our breathing everything automatically becomes much harder. In a good way. We have all been guilty of speeding stuff up and losing control when exercising just to get through to the goal we have set.
Keeping muscles under full control is the key to working deep and activating the muscles, whether you are doing a push up or crunches it is important to focus on the muscles you are working and making sure you feel the contractions and blood flow into the area. All while keeping a neutral spine and breathing in time with the movement. Putting it all together can be tricky at first but with time and practice all of these ideas fall together and become second nature when moving – just focus on each principle one at a time and take it from there. Most people find that once breathing starts being in sync with the movement that control comes naturally.
Pilates is something everyone can learn from. Probably more so the people who tend to dismiss it. And while taking a class in Pilates may not be for everyone, it contains some very useful and common sense principles that we can and should all be integrating into whatever we do.
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