Pilates (pronounced pi-lah-teez) is a type of exercise that focuses on correct skeletal alignment and movement patterns—kind of a movement re-education. Specifically, the bones that form a joint have shapes, much like mechanical parts. Like mechanical parts, there is an optimal way the bones fit together at the joint—i.e. alignment. This alignment is largely determined by how your muscles function; muscle imbalances cause misalignments. In other words, the bones at the joints (including the vertebrae in your back) can be pulled out of optimal alignment by muscles that are too weak or muscles that chronically over-contract (or some combination). Muscle imbalances can be the result of injuries, deconditioning, emotional stress, repetitive motions, or faulty movement and postural habits. When the bones that form a joint don’t fit together the way they were “designed” to, the result may be:
- Wear and tear on the bones
- Increased risk of injury
- Soft tissue irritation
- Nerve impingement
- Compression of blood vessels impairing circulation
All of the above conditions can cause pain or restricted movement. To add insult to injury, the effects usually cascade to other joints—remember the song lyrics: “the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone”, etc. Since most bones in the body participate in more than one joint, misalignment in one joint often causes misalignment in the neighboring joints, and so on.
In your Pilates training you will develop both a conceptual and an experiential understanding of how your body moves—you will gain knowledge of appropriate biomechanics as well as awareness of your individual patterns. This is achieved through a series of whole body exercises which are performed mindfully; i.e. with intention and focus. A regular mindful movement practice will eventually retrain your unconscious movement patterns.
Is it a workout?
Initially, you will learn to move your joints with efficiency and proper alignment though their full range of motion. Finding efficient and well aligned movement patterns requires a focus on subtleties, and you may not “feel the burn.” Once you have learned optimal movement patterns you may challenge yourself by practicing Pilates with increased resistance (or load) or decreased support — Pilates can challenge even the strongest athletes.
“If you increase strength in a misaligned body,
you will strengthen the misalignment.”
Used by Professional Athletes
Many professional athletes and teams are incorporating Pilates into their training and injury rehabilitation programs, including the U.S. Ski teams, the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders and Tiger Woods.
Fully Equipped Studio
Pilates can be performed on specialized equipment which both supports and challenges the body. Springs are used to create resistance and assistance. There is also a full set of “mat” exercises which can be incorporated into a home program.
For more nformation on Pilates see: pilatesmethodalliance.org