Tap into your “Powerhouse” with Pilates

Pilates has gained tremendous popularity in the athletic world as a means to prevent or rehabilitate injuries, increase flexibility and keep athletes at peak condition without any additional stress on their bodies. Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James do it but why should YOU?

Let’s begin with a crash course in the Pilates Method. Pilates, named for its creator Joseph Pilates (Joe – a man), was created about 100 years ago. The method promotes efficient movement through muscular control, balance, endurance and strength. The exercises may be done on special equipment such as the reformer, the Cadillac (or trapeze table), the chair, or on a mat. Movements focus on the core or “powerhouse” as Joe called it (actually powerhaus – he was German), initiating from the deep musculature of the abdominals, the back, the hips and glutes and flowing outward to the rest of the body.

What’s the difference between Pilates and yoga?

Joseph Pilates actually took inspiration from several yoga poses but in general, Pilates tends to be more dynamic while yoga poses may be held anywhere from several breaths to several minutes. While both integrate a strong mindful practice, yoga has deep spiritual roots and a meditative element not found in Pilates. (You won’t hear Sanskrit language or chanting) And while Pilates can be practiced on the mat like yoga, the unique, spring based equipment can offer assistance with alignment and support or can increase the intensity of the exercises.

The Benefits:

  • Train like a pro (Sport Performance)

Think rotational movements for golf, tennis and baseball. Balance challenged unilateral movements mimic the demands of ice hockey, skiing or boxing. Squats and lunges both assisted and resisted with spring tension teach the body to initiate movement from the core which translates to more power, speed and agility. So whether you’re an NFL running back or taking part in a 1-mile fun run with your 9 year old, everyone has a competitive streak.

  • Air brushed abs (True core strength)

If you want to increase core stability, reduce your risk of injury, protect your back and improve your posture, skip the crunches and get on a Pilates Reformer. Dynamic planks done slow and controlled on a moving carriage supported with only light springs will have you in a full sweat. Don’t expect to “power through” a Pilates workout. Micro adjustments have a major impact and allow you to work beyond the superficial muscles and tap into the transverse abdominis, the deepest layer of the abdominal wall.

  •  No skipping “leg day” (Uniform muscle development)

Chances are that when you hit the gym, you favor certain exercises. And those exercises are probably the ones you do well. Hockey players love “Speed Skater” on the reformer. Lateral movement with abduction is natural for them. In a single Pilates workout, you’ll train opposing movements through all planes of motion. Each “series” of exercises does a great job of balancing movement. In the “Long Stretch Series” you’ll get both spinal extension from “Down Stretch” and spinal flexion from “Elephant”. Don’t worry, your instructor won’t expect you to remember the silly names. Just try to keep a straight face when you get to try “Colitis” aka “Ferris Wheel”. Pilates training will challenge those oft neglected muscles groups which will improve your posture and increase your overall strength.

  • Be invincible (Injury prevention)

The combination of flexibility and core strength, promotes long, strong and pliable muscles which decreases the risk of injuries. Many Pilates exercises challenge balance as well which not only helps reinforce core stability but strengthen the smaller muscles, tendons and ligaments that protect the joints. While a static lunge can improve knee stability, taking it to the reformer and adding dynamic movement, recruits more of the supporting muscles and increases the functional strength of the knee. Because let’s face it, how many knee injuries happen while standing completely still?

  • Touch your toes (Flexibility)

Pilates incorporates both passive and active stretching as well as static and dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching techniques have been shown to improve subsequent performance and can be beneficial prior to a workout or sport competition. Static stretching, in correct form, can improve sustained flexibility over time. The bars, springs and straps of Pilates equipment promote proper alignment to elongate muscles safely and effectively.

  • Do EVERYTHING better (Body awareness)

Pilates training can be frustrating at first because it requires a mind-body connection. Breathing techniques, alignment, core engagement, oppositional movement and awakening neglected muscles can seem overwhelming at first but the payoff is big. For example, most women know what a “kegel” is, however many men don’t know how or why they need to strengthen their pelvic floor. The muscles in the pelvic floor support your internal organs, allow for deeper core engagement, can improve bladder and bowel health and may even improve sex. If you’re not sure how to engage your pelvic floor, imagine stopping the flow of urine without contracting your glutes, legs or abdomen. When you feel a slight pulling sensation, you’ve found it. Stronger pelvic floor muscles will strengthen another important muscle that men wish they had more control over in that region. Now that’s functional strength.

Getting started

If you’ve decided that you need Pilates in your life, be sure to find a certified Pilates instructor that has completed a comprehensive Pilates training program. There are a variety of teaching styles so check out different studios and share your personal goals to get matched with the right instructor. Most importantly, don’t get frustrated! It may take some time to the hang of it so stick with Pilates for at least three sessions.

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