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Introduction to Pilates



As the leaves are falling and the weather is turning colder, this month’s RVA Strong challenge takes us indoors to experience a Pilates lesson at Balance Pilates Training Center.

When I hear the word Pilates, I used to think about mat work focusing on core strengthening and breathing techniques. While this is somewhat correct, it is far from the complete picture. Pilates entails a total body workout and involves much more strength training than I had imagined.

My instructor, Kimber McQueen, informed me that the Pilates program along with its equipment was initially developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s and focuses on core strength, flexibility, body awareness and coordination. This form of exercise has evolved over the years and now includes over a thousand exercises in the full repertoire benefiting people of all fitness levels from beginners to advanced. The resistance delivering the strength training is mainly derived from each person’s body weight, resistance springs, or a combination of the two.

Kimber started the lesson focusing on breathing and activating/recruiting the Transverse Abdominus (TA) muscle. This is performed by drawing your umbilicus (fancy word for belly button) towards your spine while exhaling and while gently contracting or lifting your pelvic floor musculature. The TA is a key muscle because when contracted it acts likes a corset or weight belt which allows you to stabilize your spine, creating coordinated and smooth movement patterns throughout the rest of the body. For the academic geeks out there, the other main core muscles (depending on your source) include the multifidus (found in your deep lower back), internal and external obliques, erector spinae group and your diaphragm. Sorry about the digression but I love anatomy!

We moved to exercises on some of the equipment, starting with one- and two-leg squats on the Reformer, a sliding table with springs used for resistance. When Kimber had me perform one-leg squats while balancing on the ball of my foot on this piece of equipment, I realized this was more than just core and breathing exercises! My quadriceps decided to have a little conversation with me and they were not overly happy about all the work they had to do when they thought this was a “core workout."

Next we moved to the Cadillac – a machine named because it has all the “bells and whistles." Here we performed hamstring strengthening and then full body extensions pulling my body toward the ceiling while my feet were on a trapeze bar. Rest assured, I am not ready for the circus!!!

Lastly, we went to the Stability Chair where we performed step-ups (stepping up onto a platform that lowers as you apply your body weight) focusing on control and proper body mechanics. Interestingly, the less spring resistance applied the harder this exercise was due to increased body control needed. This was a great lower extremity exercise and one that we use in Physical Therapy quite frequently.

Throughout all of these exercises and techniques we focused on breathing, recruiting the TA and maintaining appropriate pelvic, spinal and scapulae position. These are key principles to performing Pilates safely and effectively.

Some simple exercises to prepare for a Pilates class include: learning how to perform deep breathing so that there is expansion of the entire rib cage and elevation of the abdomen and how to contract your Transverse Abdominus (see above). Core strengthening including planks, squats and trunk extensions (lifting trunk upwards while lying on your stomach over a therapeutic ball) and general strengthening exercises will also be of benefit.

Classes are offered individually to help teach the basic principles as well as via semi-private and small groups. At Balance Pilates, individual lessons start at $245 for 5 private one- on- one sessions and I have no doubt that Kimber will give you your money’s worth!

Take home message: Pilates is a total body work out that incorporates breathing, coordination, balance, flexibility and strengthening for the core and extremities alike.

Try it - you will be strenuously surprised!!!

Pilates is RVA strong!


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