Monday, January 12, 2009

What Is Pilates & Why Is It So Darn Popular?

I get asked all the time: "What exactly is Pilates?"

The easy answer is that Pilates is an extremely popular way of exercising. Consider this recent tidbit from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association: North American participation in Pilates has grown from 1.7 million in 2000 to 10.6 million in 2006. That's more than 600% growth in just a few short years. It's also a lot of job security.

What many people don't realize is that Pilates is a valuable therapeutic tool for many ailments. Since it is easy on the joints and can be modified to meet the needs of various populations, Pilates is now being used to help sufferers of a wide range of maladies including scoliosis, osteoporosis, autism, Parkinson's disease, and cancer.

Pilates is effective because it provides a "work around" when there is an injury or other condition (i.e. hip or knee replacement) in the body. It's the basic idea of homeostasis at work: The body is self healing and if you create a steady-state in the areas of the body that are not injured, you likely will support the healing within an injured area. Thus, an injured area can be re-integrated into a person's whole body.

But what if you're not injured? What can Pilates do for you?

Besides gaining improvement in muscular strength and endurance, most Pilates practitioners notice that their posture is enhanced (I hear people say, "I feel so much taller" after nearly every session), they also have increased range of motion and their body awareness is improved significantly.

But not all Pilates classes are created equally. Most classes are "mat based," meaning that no equipment, other than a yoga mat, is used. In a mat class, a participant's own gravity supplies the resistance. While this is great in theory, mat classes are generally held in a group setting and it's almost impossible for an instructor to correct form and offer individual guidance.

I teach exclusively on the Pilates Reformer because I believe that it is a much more effective way of working the body. The Reformer has a gliding carriage, attached to rails inside a rectangular frame. The carriage is connected to various springs, pulleys and ropes. Users can lie on the carriage, sit or kneel, and push and pull off the foot bar using the arms, legs, wrists and ankles. Participants truly get a full body work-out during a Reformer session.

Joseph Pilates, creator of the Reformer, said it best:

"After 10 Reformer sessions, you'll start to feel different. After 20 sessions, the people around you will notice a difference. After 30 sessions, you'll have a whole new body."

Need more convincing? Check out Faith Hill's new physique. At 40, she and her 6-pack abs graced the cover of Shape magazine in a revealing bikini. Her work-out of choice? You guessed it: the Reformer.

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