Pilates: Physical activity for a lifetime
Often noted as a form of exercise for the highly skilled, rich or famous, Pilates is now being embraced by the general population due to the wide-reaching benefits of this highly targeted approach.
What are the benefits of Pilates?
Pilates is a mind-body workout that delivers profound body results while restoring the mind regardless of age, gender or fitness level. Pilates is a kinder, gentler exercise for your body with all of the benefits of strength training, created for everyone from the elite athlete to rehab patients to older adults.
As a low-impact exercise with strengthening and flexibility benefits, Pilates is an ideal exercise program. Most Pilates movements focus on strengthening the deep stabilizing muscles of the torso, helping to prevent back strain and maintain good posture. As the joints often become less stable with age, Pilates helps maintain stability by strengthening the deep support muscles of the joints, allowing people to do more dynamic activities such as walking, stair climbing or tennis.
A contemporary approach
With its head office based in Toronto, Canada, Merrithew Health & Fitness™ and its premiere brand, STOTT PILATES®, offers a contemporary approach to the original exercise method pioneered by the late Joseph Pilates.
The method includes preparatory exercises and modifications that allow the technique to be appropriate for many different body types and abilities, making it applicable to sport-specific and post-rehabilitative training, and everyday life.
This approach to exercise is based on the following five basic principles:
PRINCIPLE 1: BREATHING
Many people are unaware of their breathing patterns and tend to breathe in a shallow manner. Breathing more deeply, particularly during Pilates, fully oxygenates the blood, helps prevent unnecessary tension, activates the deep stabilizing muscles of the torso, and helps focus the mind on what the body is doing. Breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs increases power as the exercise below demonstrates.
PRINCIPLE 2: PELVIC PLACEMENT
Back pain and strain and postural problems become more common with age. Pilates can help minimize back pain and achieve optimal posture, while maintaining the natural curves of the spine. The position of the pelvis dictates the position of the lower back. Being able to support the pelvis in a neutral position keeps strain off the lower back.
PRINCIPLE 3: RIB CAGE PLACEMENT
Losing strength in the upper middle back (thoracic spine) can worsen lower back or neck tension, as the rib cage position directly affects the spine. Quite often the rib cage will lift up as an individual tries to sit tall or raise an arm. This flattens out the thoracic spine. Alternatively, the rib cage may drop down and give the appearance of an excessive curve in the upper middle back.
PRINCIPLE 4: SCAPULAR MOVEMENT & STABILIZATION
As the shoulder blades move with the arms, stability is important. Weakened muscles in the shoulder blade area can easily lead to neck and shoulder tension. Also, if the shoulder blades become rigid and lack mobility, pressure can build up into the shoulder joints, leading to pain and inflammation.
PRINCIPLE 5: HEAD & CERVICAL PLACEMENT
Ideally, the neck (cervical spine) should hold its natural curve, with the head balanced directly above the shoulders when sitting in a neutral position. Excessive bending and rotation of the neck in any direction can put stress on the joints and lead to neck problems.
Many people are introduced to Pilates with traditional matwork, although the intensity can be increased with the use of small props and larger pieces of Pilates equipment, the most popular piece being the Reformer. Merrithew Health & Fitness manufactures and engineers the SPX Reformer, which is a commercial-quality home unit for people wanting an equipment-based workout in the comfort of their home.
Kerrie Lee Brown is VP Communications, Merrithew Health & Fitness™