Developed in the first half of the twentieth century by Joseph Pilates, many of his initial students were dancers who believed wholeheartedly in the discipline of structured and specifically designed exercise routines. These students went on to open their own studios and teach Pilates, eventually molding and recreating aspects of the original training into the forms we recognize and practise today.
Pilates is defined as a precisely controlled movement therapy, a system of exercises, an activity that promotes flexibility, and one that uses breathing control which enhances mental awareness. Pilates also helps you develop your posture by improving and strengthening the muscles involved in keeping you upright.
Pilates exercises are designed to promote an overall balanced development of the body. Key features of Pilates include intense concentration on movement and breathing, absolute control, efficiency, and precision while performing movements, and centering. Centering is a concept which teaches that movement must flow from the center of the body, or “powerhouse”, outward toward the arms and legs.
On occasion, special equipment is used when practising Pilates, each piece having its own series of exercises to be performed while using it. Many of these exercises are based on resistance training. Other tools used in Pilates include weighted balls, exercise balls, foam rollers and rotating disks.
Top benefits reported from participating in Pilates classes include becoming stronger, longer, leaner, more graceful, and achieving better posture, much like a dancer.
It’s Not Just For Dancers
Pilates has attracted a wide cross section of participants, including men. That’s right, men. After all, it was started by a man, and quite a few of today’s instructors are men. And why not? Pilates emphasizes core strength (you know, the “six pack” look, but much deeper) and uniform development. Pilates is a complimentary addition to a man’s workout since so many are designed to develop only one part of the body at a time. Pilates brings this piecemeal approach together as an all-encompassing workout. Even the U.S. Army has used Pilates to train its new recruits.
Women contemplating pregnancy and postnatal participants are keen on Pilates as it helps prepare a woman’s body for childbirth because of its focus on the core and pelvic muscles and makes it easier to regain their shape after the child is born.
People who typically participate in cross training include a Pilates workout in their routine as a way to bring their diverse workouts together.
Back pain sufferers may find their physical therapists recommending a form of Pilates, designed specifically to accommodate their physical limitations, while developing their core muscles, posture, and awareness of their own body. Better posture and a stronger core helps support and stabilize the back, while increased body awareness helps the client recognize when their daily movements may be causing misalignment. It is common for Pilates instructors to go on to continue their education in physical rehab programs and many physical therapists go on to take Pilates teacher training.
Because Pilates addresses the human body as a whole, it’s great for all levels, shapes, and sizes of fitness participants. Pilates allows for interpretation of its movements to accommodate for each body involved in the process. This makes it a wonderful starting point for beginners. As the beginner develops their core strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance, they can progress to more difficult sequences when they’re ready. Pilates also makes a great launch point for other exercises, readying the participant’s body for more advanced types of exercise.
It is recommended that the beginner start with either a class situation or with an appropriately trained personal trainer. This way, there’s always someone there to spot and correct your movements, your alignment, and your focus. An instructor can walk you through how each movement is to be performed and explain the theory behind the movement. It’s important to learn correctly right from the beginning. That way, mistakes won’t be amplified as you advance and you’ll reap the greatest benefit from the time you invest.
However, just because it’s recommended that you start with a class or a personal trainer, it is not to be inferred that Pilates is difficult to learn. On the contrary, Pilates is a great system for beginners as each movement can be adapted to “meet you where you are”. An instructor worth their salt will know this and make these modifications to suit your personal fitness level. These modifications will allow for maximum success, inspiring you to carry on.
The Six Pilates Principles
To get the most out of the Pilates experience you will need to understand the Six Pilates Principles. Joseph Pilates originally called his work “contrology.” He considered this to be a body/mind/spirit approach to movement founded on the integrative effect of principles such as centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow.1
Principle : Centering – Physically and mentally bringing the focus to the center of the body.
Principle 2: Concentration – Bringing full attention and commitment to the exercise.
Principle 3: Control – Every movement is done with complete muscular control.
Principle 4: Precision – Sustaining awareness throughout each movement with a view to the appropriate placement and alignment of body parts relative to all other body parts.
Principle 5: Breath – Joseph Pilates emphasized using a very full breath in his exercises. He advocated thinking of the lungs as a bellows — using them strongly to pump the air fully in and out of the body. Most Pilates exercises coordinate with the breath, and using the breath properly is an integral part of Pilates exercise.2
Principle 6: Flow – Pilates exercises are not done in jerky or quick movements but in a flowing manner with grace, fluidity and ease. The energy of an exercise connects all body parts and flows through the body in an even way.3
Feeding Your Body With Exercise in Mind
Protein, after exercise, provides the amino acids necessary to rebuild muscle tissue. It can also increase the absorption of water from the intestines and improve muscle hydration.
One cup of grapes contains 33% of your daily recommended intake of manganese, a mineral needed to help your body produce energy, metabolize fat and protein, and keep your nerves healthy. Other sources of manganese include avocados, nuts, whole grains, blueberries, egg yolks, legumes, pineapples and green leafy vegetables.
Iron carries oxygen to all parts of your body and for necessary for energy production. When iron levels are low, red blood cells can’t carry enough oxygen to the body’s tissues, causing fatigue. Sources of iron include eggs, fish, liver, poultry, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, avocados, dates, kidney beans, and raisins.
The B vitamins help to maintain the health of nerves, as well as healthy muscle tone. B-complex vitamins act as co-enzymes and are involved in energy production. B12 and folic acid are necessary for the manufacture of red blood cells. They also help the body use iron and combat fatigue. Whole grains are a good source of most B vitamins as are eggs, brewer’s yeast, legumes, brown rice, mushrooms, and oatmeal.
MagnesiumMagnesium is a vital catalyst in enzyme activity, especially the activity of those enzymes involved in energy production. A deficiency interferes with the transmission of nerve and muscle impulses. It also helps prevent muscle weakness. Magnesium is also necessary for the production of adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the main energy-producing molecule in the body at the cellular level. Sources of magnesium include apricots, avocados, brewer’s yeast, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains.
ChromiumChromium should be dubbed the “miracle mineral”. Your body needs such a small amount every day but even that small amount is important. Energy levels depend on chromium as it is involved in the metabolism of glucose, promotes fat loss, and increases lean muscle tissue. Unfortunately, the average diet is deficient in chromium due to a high intake of processed foods and sugar. Sources of chromium include brown rice, cheese, whole grains, chicken, dairy, eggs, mushrooms and potatoes.
During physical activity the body loses water primarily through sweat, even if the environment is on the cool side. It is important to note that dehydration occurs before you begin to feel thirsty! Start hydrating early by drinking 1-2 cups of water in the morning. Keep a water bottle with you all day long and drink before you get thirsty. Drink 1-2 cups of fluid 30 minutes before exercise and then drink ½ to 1 cup of fluid for every 15 minutes of exercise. Replenish fluids lost during exercise; a body loses 2.5 cups for every pound lost during exercise. Keep drinking even after your thirst is quenched.
Nutter’s Can Suggest…
Chromium is involved in glucose metabolism and is the major mineral
needed for insulin production. Chromium is beneficial for both high
and low blood sugar problems. “Chromium works with insulin to drive
sugar from your blood into the tissues of your body for use or storage.
This mineral is so important in sugar tolerance that severe
deficiencies of it cause a diabetes-like illness to develop”
Eades, Mary Dan, The Doctor’s Complete Guide to Vitamins
and Minerals, 1994, The Philip Lief Group, Inc. Chromium GTF
is a very easily absorbed form of chromium, naturally derived
from yeast in the safe trivalent form.
1., 2., and 3. Six Pilates Principles
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.