Pilates is an exercise that focuses on movements which improves flexibility, posture and strength.
These exercises work the muscles of the Powerhouse which consist of the abdominals, buttocks, thighs and lower back. The focus of Pilates is to strengthen these muscles and allow one to stretch and lengthen the body. This is a great form of exercise and is beneficial for most of the population especially those seeking flexibility, toning and a long lean appearance.
The benefits of Pilates include improved muscle tone, increased strength and flexibility, improved balance, improved overall mobility and precision in how you move, as well as injury prevention through better muscle control and balance. Pilates also focuses on breathing which is great for improving circulation and relieving stress.
Pilates can be done by people of all ages and fitness levels. It can be beneficial for those with weak or imbalanced muscles, poor posture and for certain injuries because it helps strengthen muscles in a relaxed and low-impact way. It is advised, however, with serious injuries that individuals see a physician before taking a class or doing any exercises at home.
Some Pilates exercises use machines called reformers. Others use weighted balls, resistance bands or Pilates straps or rings. Although there are many different ways to do Pilates, emphasis is always placed on a few core principles including: precision, concentration, control, centering, fluidity and breathing. Precision means exercises are performed in one precise and perfect movement rather than many half-hearted attempts. Emphasis is placed on quality over quantity. Concentration is used to perform each movement exactly as cued by the instructor. Instructors use precise cues to move participants through the exercises with precision. For example, while performing the roll-up exercise, the instructor will cue the class to inhale while lying flat on their backs, then exhale while rolling up one vertebra at a time to a seated position. Participants are then cued to slowly roll back down to lying position, articulating one vertebra at a time while inhaling. The ability to maintain control in the body during a movement is more important than intensity or repetition. Controlled movement is often neglected in fitness. Centering helps participants to focus on the Powerhouse which we refer to as the core. The core is the foundation of all Pilates movement.
Fluidity is used to control all movements without tension or jerking. Breathing, which is sometimes overlooked in exercise, is heavily emphasized in Pilates. Deep breathing not only oxygenates the muscles but also reduces tension in the upper neck and shoulders.
Pilates is an excellent form of exercise to promote a balanced and functional body Every exercise is rooted in spinal stability, with engaged abdominal muscles. Engaged abdominals does not mean sucking the abdominal muscles in, it means tightening them. To engage the abs a person can try standing up tall then leaning forward without bending at the waist. As the weight shifts forward, the abs will tighten to keep the individual upright. This is how it feels to engage the abdominal muscles. This is a core concept that can not only be used for Pilates, but for any individual performing abdominal exercises.
Pilates is an exercise that can be done at home or in a class. For first-timers, a Pilates class can be beneficial as it will provide the guidance and instruction needed to ensure the Pilates principles are practiced. Pilates and other group exercise classes are offered at most fitness centers, including the Baraga County Memorial Hospital Rehab and Fitness Center. Contact your local fitness center for a class schedule and more information.
Editor's note: Kim LaBerge is Baraga County Memorial Hospital Rehab & Fitness Center fitness coordinator.