Your introduction to Pilates
“The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning develops the body uniformly, corrects posture, restores vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.” Joseph Pilates
What you will understand by the end of the next six weeks. What your core is, the basic principles of Pilates and what good posture is all about.
Why should you do Pilates?
Pilates is very different strengthening program. It is a mind body system of training that will benefit you in so many different and unique ways. Along with injury prevention, because Pilates places great emphasis on body control and posture you will find that Pilates helps you move more freely because it is trying to get you to think not only, for example, about how you throw the ball, but how you catch it too. We are trying to get your body to react to movement so that all the muscles work evenly so you no longer feel stiff. Emphasis on body control through core strength increases the stability of the spine, which also leads to more efficient and agile movements.
Another area that generally gets stiff is the lower back and mid to upper back. In order to strengthen the spine it is important to have strong stomach muscles. Engaging what we call the external oblique (you will learn about the abdominal muscles in your first session) with Pilates encourages a more balanced participation of the abdominal muscles for spinal stabilization. This starts with the most basic component of Pilates—breathing.
To breathe Pilates style, you inhale by “expanding your ribcage laterally,” and on exhalation you draw your navel gently towards your spine and slide the ribs down towards the front of your pelvis. The Pilates method mimics a diaphragmatic breath, encouraging expansion of the rib cage on inhalation and contraction of the deep abdominal muscles on exhalation. Since exhalation is the only way to voluntarily contract the transverses abdominus, this is an efficient way to train the muscle to engage during certain activities.
Pilates has the unique ability to create muscle balance about the pelvic-hip-lumbar (lower back) complex. Traditional conditioning and rehabilitation programs often place the emphasis on one component of muscle balance at a time, such as hamstring flexibility or adductor strength. Pilates exercises are whole-body and functional in nature. They not only create flexibility, but increase strength and endurance in the opposing muscles at the same time. This allows you to use your new range of motion immediately. This functional movement encourages active stretching which we will discuss in class. A Pilates programme can greatly improve general mobility and enhance core strength while easing the stress placed on the neck and spine during intense physical activity.
The flexibility of your spine will ultimately determine how old you feel whether you are 30 or 60, if you are virtually immobile at 30 then you will feel old, but if you are flexible at 60, you will feel young.
Pilates was designed to exercise every muscle in the body in order to improve the circulation and strengthen your body. Technique is vital in Pilates and progress must be taken slowly to set the right foundations. Just like building a house, you must have secure foundations before you start building higher.
Start to think of your trunk as your powerhouse of muscles which get referred to as your ‘core’ and if there is weakness within this powerhouse, back ache will creep up on you and other muscular aches and pains.
The core is cylindrical in shape with the diaphragm at the top, the walls are made of a muscular corset consisting of the transversus abdominus which attaches front and back, internal obliques and multifidus, and your pelvic floor at the bottom.
When we breathe out the diaphragm, transversus and pelvic floor (corset) compress the cylinder pulling up and in from top and bottom and squeeze inwards around the middle. As we breathe out we increase the pressure within our abdomen which means we are bracing our centre which helps keep the spine stable.
Without a stable spine, the nervous system fails to recruit the muscles in the extremities efficiently, and functional movements cannot be properly performed.
The transversus also has the effect of pulling in what would otherwise be a rounded abdomen (hence its nickname, the “corset muscle”). Training the rectus abdominis (six pack) muscles alone will not and cannot give you a “flat” belly; this effect is achieved only through training the TVA. (taken from Wikkipedia)
We mentioned the multifidus which helps to flatten the lower back without moving the whole spine. The multifidus stiffens the spine, like cement between bricks. If the multifidus has got weaker, it needs reminding how to work.
The pelvic floor needs to work in tangent with the transversus. It is a muscular sling that attaches to the front and back of the pelvis and as you breathe in, you want to feel a gentle drawing upwards sensation to activate so that you feel a slight tension in your lower pelvic area.
We must not forget in all of this, our friend (or foe) the hip flexor because this attaches to the lower back and pelvis and to each vertebrae of the lower back so when it shortens, contracts, this pulls on the back, increasing the pressure between your discs in your spine. If your hip flexors are tight, this will cause back ache over time. Most of us have shortened hip flexors through sitting down too much so think how much extra pressure we are putting on our spine!!
What is particular important is that we regain control of the local muscles of the body that stabilise the spine. These local muscles make tiny adjustments all the time to the spine and pelvis to maintain good posture. When experiencing back pain, these muscles get switched off and waste so that we lose our movement and flexibility. We then have to rely on the global muscles to take over their role which makes us clumsy and less coordinated. Global muscles can get stronger and stronger, whilst local get weaker which will leave you continually in pain.
So all these muscles need to work at the right time, with the right level of intensity and need to be able to endure. Pilates works on making these muscles stronger.
So we have begun to cover some very important muscles of the body that we really need to get to grips with over the next six weeks.
In Pilates we focus on initiating every movement by engaging the stabilizing muscles before we begin to put weight on the mobilizing muscles of the arms and legs. Consequently, as we become proficient at Pilates we will start making the movements more difficult.
- Strengthens the deeper stabilising muscles of the body
- Challenges stability through the lower body, pelvis, shoulders, and neck
- Strengthens the whole body and helps it to work evenly
- Focuses the mind completely on the body
- Will reduce the likelihood of injury
- Will improve athletic performance
Pilates will open your eyes to how your body works and seeing that you are not as strong and
flexible as you think. Pilates is an ongoing education, and once you understand what you are
trying to achieve, it becomes part of your life.