Hi folks. Happy Sunday.
I hope it is happy for you. When winter days are short it’s easy to feel cooped up and too close to food and far from exercise. It’s a really hard time to keep going on weight loss and fitness goals. A great time to shake things up. Inject some change into your routine.
Fight the urge to let the cold take over. Be warm-blooded. Warm yourself by generating some heat using your own muscles and a little effort. Learning some new form of movement may be the best way to break through winter fitness doldrums. Signing up for a new class, exploring a new piece of equipment at the gym, or learning a new dance form.
The most perfect exercise I have encountered for grey slushy winters has to be Pilates. This is a tradition of exercises performed slowly and with precision that leave your body strengthened, stretched, and feeling warm and light all over. And it’s usually performed entirely indoors.
My experience since starting Pilates is that, performed three or more times per week, it has tightened up my entire body, making muscles long and lean, correcting my posture, helping me drop a couple of sizes even when my weight wasn’t dropping. I don’t think it made me taller, but I feel taller. My life-long thunder thighs are no longer massive. My glitchy hips are pain-free. It’s helping me work on strengthening my feet, too, which were so pained from carrying around too much weight. And if it weren’t for all that loose skin around my tummy from losing 100 lbs, I’d swear you’d find that abs “six-pack” that body builders crave. I just know it’s in there. I can feel it.
The tradition is named for its founder, Joseph Pilates, who first became interested in developing efficient exercises while rehabilitating wounded soldiers. I’ve heard many versions of his early history, all of which are fascinating, but eventually he ended up coming to this country and setting up shop close to the New York City Ballet. And so, he worked with a lot of dancers. Pilates became associated with dance early on, and those links are still there.
All his life Joseph Pilates was interested in developing exercises that could be done without resistance equipment. But he also built many pieces of exercise equipment using springs and pulleys that could build strength and balance quickly and are particularly useful in rehabilitation work and in working with athletes and dancers who need help with alignment, balance and very refined body work. These pieces of equipment have names like the reformer, the cadillac, the electric chair, the magic circle.
During the past two decades Pilates-style movement has become mainstream, and with it many people interpreting Pilates’ original exercises and reproducing more and cheaper versions of his equipment. There are many Pilates-inspired exercise programs taught to exercise instructors through weekend-certification programs that are interesting, and I’m sure make for a decent workout. I’ve taken a few of these classes myself. My conclusion is there is a world of difference between these Pilates-inspired classes and the real deal.
My own preference is to stay as close to the original exercises and method as possible by working with a guild-certified or Stott-certified instructor. These instructors have been through the several-hundred-hour program of learning and teaching at the side of a Pilates master teacher and can make sure you learn correct form and advance according to your body’s need and ability.
Without good instruction, it is possible to hurt yourself doing these exercises. I want to be very clear about that. So, if you choose to study on your own or in a class with a less experienced instructor, please, please listen to your own body, and don’t push an exercise if it’s painful. Well, that’s a good rule of thumb for any fitness endeavor, of course.
So, okay, how to learn? I highly recommend beginning with a good instructor by searching for one near you on the Guild or Stott sites. I study with a Guild-trained instructor myself, because, again, their method is closest to the original.
Start with beginning matwork and a session or two a week of personal work on the equipment, depending on what your budget allows. Get one of the books below to help you study and learn the matwork at home, while your instructor helps you with corrections of form or adjustments to suit your own body.
If you can’t find an instructor near you or don’t want to spring for the classes, then try the videos. I recommend the Winsor video series, because Mari Winsor came from the Pilates lineage of instructors. She does modify the exercises and matwork, and so it can be very confusing to follow her video instruction and then work in a traditional class.
But I think Pilates, like a martial art or a dance form, is best learned from a seasoned instructor in a class setting. It’s also a pursuit, like dance, yoga, or martial arts, that you can work on for a lifetime, making little corrections to form and working always to a more advanced posture and experience.
It won’t take long to learn a complete mat sequence, performed using your own body as resistance, and giving you that wonderful February workout that can be done indoors anywhere.