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August 27, 2012

Think You’re Strong And Flexible? Try Pilates

Think You're Strong And Flexible? Try Pilates

Do you know what is embarrassing if you’re a guy? Getting man-handled by a 4’10” Pilates instructor. But, that’s exactly what has been happening to me.  Little Jamie has been taken me to the woodshed so to speak. Worst of all, it seems like she enjoys seeing me drenched in perspiration (like Major Charles Winchester from M*A*S*H I don’t sweat – I prespire), hearing me grunt, and watching my muscles quiver from exhaustion. Plus, I’m paying here to enjoy making me suffer.

Pilates: What is it Good For?

Just about everything. Pilates is a system of exercises that works the entire body improving strength (especially core strength), flexibility, balance, agility, and requires the communication and cooperation of the mind and body. Breathing is a key component of Pilates and controlling each movement is emphasized.

Recently I moved and joined a new fitness center that offers Pilates and decided to take the plunge and give this form of total body conditioning a try.  I have had several patients over the years swear by Pilates and I’ve witness it help patients with back problems, of which I am one.  And, thus far it’s been challenging me like no other exercise I’ve ever done. After an hour session I’m pretty well physically tanked and somewhat mentally too as performing Pilates takes much mental concentration, at least for the beginner like me. But, each session gets a little easier (sometimes).

History of Pilates

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s in Germany. He initially called his method of exercise the Art of Contrology as his method required the control of muscles throughout the entire motion. The goal of Pilates is to control muscles from a strong core (spine, abdominal, and pelvic muscles) while keeping the spine in a neutral position, and while fully inhaling and exhaling during the movements. Learning to control muscles with precision takes mental focus/concentration.

Pilates was initially developed as a series of mat exercise, but over time several apparatuses were introduced on which exercise could be performed. The most commonly used apparatus is the Reformer which is the piece I’ve been training on (similar to the one in the photograph). The Reformer provides progressive resistance training through the use of springs. The apparatus also contains gears, straps, and pulleys – it kind of looks like a torture table. And, at times you will feel like you’re being tortured. When I looked at the Reformer during my last training session I marveled at its design because the entire body can be thoroughly exercised on just one piece of equipment – a rather ingenious piece of equipment.

With Pilates care is taken not to overwork or underwork a particular muscle group and exercises are performed in a logical sequence from easier to more difficult movements. Transitions from one exercise to another are done rather rapidly and efficiently. So you don’t get much time to slough off. And, because many muscle groups are being worked simultaneously, and given the rapid transition from one movement to another Pilates improves stamina and muscle endurance.

My Pilates Experience

Someone experienced will make Pilates look rather easy, but it is not. Maintaining proper breathing I have found to be a bit challenging at times as I concentrate on how to perform the movement as instructed and sometimes forget to breathe. The need for concentration is so great that I typically forget everything else on my mind, and I do think Pilates can be a great stress reliever for many.

Though I’m rather strong in the arms and legs Pilates has unmasked the weakness of my core muscles. I definitely feel like I had a good workout, and I notice immediately following a session that my posture is much improved. In the short time that I’ve been doing Pilates there has been definite improvement in my core strength and balance. After I recover from a Pilates session I have noticed that my body is more relaxed than following my other exercise routines.

Pilates has been a great change of pace from my typical workout routine of weight-lifting and cardiovascular training, and I recommend highly that you give it a try. The one downside is that Pilates is going to cost you some money. I recommend a few private sessions with an instructor and once comfortable with the concept take group classes which are less expensive.

Below are some quotes of Joseph Pilates

Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.   

If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

We retire too early and we die too young, our prime of life should be in the 70’s and old age should not come until we are almost 100.

Hitting your prime in your 70’s – now that’s a goal worth shooting for.

See related articles.

“Get Fit With Body Bar Exercises”

“Staying Young With Tai Chi”

“Calisthenics For Fitness”

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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