Like fashion, fitness trends change over time. In the ’80s, aerobics dominated the market and made trainers such as Kathy Smith and Jane Fonda household names. By the ’90s, people were searching for the next big thing. Billy Banks’ Tae Bo, a kick-boxing workout that combines cardiovascular training, as well as strength training for the abdominals and lower body, started popping up at gyms and health clubs everywhere. In the years following, variations on kick-boxing were designed and spinning classes were booked solid.Today, the nation is experiencing an explosion in the demand for Pilates. Any time you turn on the television, you will find countless infomercials for this new workout claiming to help you shape and sculpt long, lean muscles. Knowing that you canÃ¸t believe everything you see on TV, you become interested and ask, “What is Pilates?”
Joey McLaughlin, founder and owner of Symmetry, a yoga and Pilates studio in West Chester, explained that Pilates is not just an exercise, but rather a series of controlled movements that engage your body and mind. “Because you are using your mind to engage your body so that you perform the movements correctly, you become aware of muscles that you never knew existed,” said McLaughlin.
Pilates focuses on building a healthy, injury-free body by encouraging controlled and concentrated movement. “Special attention is given to the ‘powerhouse’-your abs, lower back, and buttocks,” said McLaughlin. “When you strengthen this it allows the rest of your body to move freely, and you will have better posture and alignment.”
One of the key fundamentals that the Pilates workout incorporates is breathing awareness. Correct breathing, often times the “whooshing,” or “bellowing action,” helps the ribs to expand sideways, which means the lungs are able to fully contract.
Proper alignment and movement also play an important role in Pilates. Rhythmic movements, good posture and stabilization of the muscles promote strength, flexibility, balance, control and muscular symmetry. “In Pilates, you become fully aware of your body and how it moves,” said McLaughlin. “It is called ‘purity of form in motion’ and it becomes integrated into your everyday movements of life.”
Pilates consists of a series of approximately 500 movements that can be performed on machines, or more commonly, a mat.
There are four specifically designed machines found in Pilates studios including the Cadillac, Reformer, Barrel and the Chair. Each of the machines uses spring resistance light, medium, or heavy, to engage your muscles.
The most recognized piece of equipment is the Reformer. It is a padded, bed-like platform with a base that slides up and down a track. An assortment of bars, pulleys and straps are attached to allow exercises to be performed lying down, sitting, kneeling, or standing.
Mat exercises are a variation of the Pilates method. These exercises, performed on a padded mat, are found to be more difficult because they require a person to stabilize their body without the help of a machine. Mat classes are available at most health clubs, schools, or on video. “Winsor Pilates, an at-home series of Pilates exercises available on DVD or VHS, put Pilates in the mainstream,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin also noted that Winsor Pilates, along with other videos, are a great introduction to the exercises, but favors classes taught by a certified instructor. “People learn the basics like the “swan,” “teaser,” and the “hundred.” But, so many people will come in and say that they don’t think it was challenging for them and they don’t want to do it anymore.”
McLaughlin explained that when you take a class at a private studio or health club, you are there with a certified trainer who will make sure that you are performing the exercises correctly and your body is in alignment. “When you do them at home, you aren’t concentrating on the movements, you are thinking about a million other things.”
“I do the Winsor Pilates at home because I don’t have time to take a class. It helps me with my dancing. My posture and flexibility have improved,” said WCU student Shannin Laury.
People of all ages and fitness levels can use Pilates for their general workout, or incorporate it with other sports to help improve an athlete’s performance. It has been used by the U.S. Military, professional sports teams, and is highly popular among dancers.
Pilates has played an active role in the treatment and rehabilitation of a variety of injuries such as knee, hip, back and shoulder. Exercises, using Pilates machines, can be adapted to the client’s needs and are non-impact and non-weight bearing.
Pregnant women can safely use Pilates to learn proper breathing and body alignment, improve concentration and recover body shape and tone after pregnancy.
The Pilates method of exercise was developed by the late Joseph Pilates. As a young child in Germany, he suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Overcoming his physical limitations with exercise and bodybuilding, he became accomplished in many sports such as skiing, diving, gymnastics and boxing.
At the outbreak of World War I, he was placed under forced internment along with other German nationals. There, he taught other camp members his concepts and exercises and refined his ideas. This system of original exercises is known today as “matwork,” or exercises done on the floor. Pilates called this regimen “Contrology.” A few years later, he was transferred to another camp where he became a caretaker for interns who suffered from injuries or diseases. To help bedridden patients, he attached springs from the beds and rigged them so patients could exercise against the resistance and gain strength. In 1926, he brought his ideas to New York City where he opened up the first Pilates Studio. Here, the method became popular with professional dancers to help them improve their flexibility and strength without bulking up. Unnoticed until recently, it took celebrities on the West Coast such as Madonna and Courtney Cox, for society to take part in the trend.
Today, with society looking for a more peaceful and mindful way of practicing health, the popularity of Pilates is soaring. Classes have popped up everywhere, from the University’s Fitness Center, to area health clubs and on video for home use. Whatever your preferences may be, you will be able to participate in the new trend and enjoy the endless benefits.