"I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier." -- Joseph Hubertus Pilates, in 1965, age 86.
Can you imagine using precious gym time to perform small, precise movements that strengthen muscles deep in the body that can't even be seen?
To many women that sounds like a waste of precious gym time. Exercise without extreme sweating and heavy weight lifting doesn't feel like 'real' exercise, especially to women indoctrinated in the 'no pain, no gain' philosophy of the 70's and 80's. That mindset is hard to shake.
The fact is, brute muscle force isn't usually necessary in everyday life, or in most recreational sports activities. In bodybuilding for example, strength is limited to the position where the muscle contraction takes place. The focus is on the large 'mover muscles' that are visible under the skin. The stronger the muscle being contracted gets, the more work it takes on. Eventually it takes over the roles of the smaller, surrounding, supporting muscles. If the body constantly recruits the wrong muscle for a job, it results in a muscular imbalance. This leads to chronic tension, pain, and eventually, injury.
Pilates develops and conditions the deepest supporting muscles in the body to work in concert with the mover muscles, as intended. The resulting ability to stabilize the spine, shoulders, and pelvis creates a strong core, or "Powerhouse", as it is known in Pilates. Powerhouse is a very descriptive term. When control in this area of the body is developed, you have the ability to create power over and over again. The ability to create power repeatedly is known as endurance that is needed in sports and everyday life.
Just as the development of supporting muscles is important, so too is proper muscle length. Long, over-stretched muscles don't move smoothly and short, tight muscles can't move through a full range of motion. If a muscle is shorter or longer than its counterpart, unequal forces surround the joint, and that can create pain and tension. In Pilates, the focus on continuous, flowing movements teaches the body to release tension and regulate flexibility while building strength.
We all agree it's beneficial to find balance in our lives. It's just as important to balance our bodies. Pilates exercises will help you do that. The benefits of Pilates - core strength, endurance, flexibility and stability - are the elements that most often come into play in everyday life and in recreational activities. This makes Pilates a fantastic foundation for, and complement to, cycling, gardening, golf, tennis, running, swimming you name it, Pilates will help.
Women often turn to Pilates as a last resort when imbalances in the body, from years of 'no pain, no gain' exercise has left them injured. Pilates is a wonderful rehabilitation tool, but using these techniques to prevent injury is better than any cure.
So, reprogram your exercise brain. An exercise worthy of 'gym time' should not be measured in pain and strain, but in the way it improves your ability to move through your everyday life with endurance, flexibility, strength, ease and efficiency. Try Pilates classes and enhance your performance. It's not only worthy of gym time, it may be your most valuable time at the gym.
Jennifer Rogers, Pilates Instructor and Personal Trainer at The Women's Club