Pilates is one of the fastest growing exercise methods in the country and is practiced worldwide. How did Pilates get started, who can benefit from it and are there concerns for injury?
Joseph Pilates developed the Pilates method more than 70 years ago. He put together the system of movement initially for himself, and he was a sickly child suffering from asthma and rickets. He grew stronger, became an athlete and continued developing these healthy exercises during World War II as he worked with both healthy and injured internees.
He immigrated to this country from Germany in 1925. He began teaching and using his techniques to strengthen the bodies of dancers and acrobats. The technique had been used in those circles for many years but has spread over the past decade to mainstream exercise classes at health clubs and gyms as well as to rehabilitation centers and clinics. The system originally focused on healthy uninjured people.
According to an early associate of Pilates, his design was for people to work on their strengths, not their injuries. Pilates consists both of mat or floor work and some specialized exercise equipment. Pilates focuses on strengthening your “powerhouse” or core muscles that support your center. These include your abdominal, lower back, hip and buttock muscles—all which form an interconnecting band circling your body just below the waist.
The basic idea of Pilates is that by strengthening these core muscles first, all other muscles can be more properly strengthened. Another principle involves both strengthening and lengthening a muscle at the same time.
This approach contrasts with the usual strengthening by contracting or shortening of muscles—as is most common in weight lifting, such as the biceps curl. Pilates also very much involves conscious awareness of body position, breathing and very subtle changes in muscle contraction.
If Pilates is so effective, why do we tell people to avoid Pilates classes? The answer is that many individuals may not have enough body awareness or understanding of neutral pelvic positions to start in a class. If you have never tried Pilates before, it is best to learn the basic principles about alignment, posture, breathing and correct use of muscles from a qualified instructor one-on-one for 4 to 6 sessions.
If you have had any type of back, neck or shoulder issues, such careful preparation is a must since prior injury can cause your body to “make up” for that injury, which, in turn, can increase your chances of further injury while you’re in a Pilates class. Why? Because there is always the temptation to try to keep up with others in the class when your focus should be on your own body. Remember: Nothing in Pilates should be painful.
One of the biggest problems in trying Pilates is finding a good instructor. Like anything else, once something becomes popular, the quality of it typically is impacted or lessened. Some certification programs allow someone to become certified in just a weekend. Other certification programs require 600 hours of intensive observation, training and teaching.
How can you find a thoroughly trained instructor? One way is through the National Pilates Studio, which has a list of more than 500 extensively trained instructors. For more information, call them at 1-800-4 Pilate (no s, here).
Remember, finding qualified people in any field sometimes requires a little research, but your wellness is always important, and getting the best possible instruction is certainly worth it.