What could pilates do for you?
On this page we tell you about the principles behind pilates.
We explain how this great system can help you with back problems and improve your posture.
And we talk about how strong core muscles can help you perfect your taekwondo kicks.
How was Deb's first lesson?
My local physio center suggested I start with a private lesson.
This was a great idea!
My teacher was Louise.
And the first thing I noticed about her (apart from her calmness) was her fantastic, upright posture.
'There must be something in this' I decided.
Louise spent around half an hour doing a full and detailed assessment of me.
She looked at the way I stand and hold my body. And she asked me to do some complicated stretches to work out the range of movement in my muscles and joints.
Then using all this information she put together the right program for me.
What are the principles of pilates?
Many of the exercises concentrate on your transverse abdominus girdle.
This is a fantastic, deep muscle that wraps round you like a wide belt.
It attaches at the back to your spine and circles around your lower abdomen.
The transverse abdominus holds your organs in place. And supports your lower back.
Exercises that work this muscle are great news for you if you have lower back pain.
Knee lifts to strengthen your core
When you do sit-ups do you flatten your lower back into the floor?
If you do this you end up working the outermost muscles running down your belly.
These outer muscles are much less important for good core strength and spinal protection than the deeper muscles you work in pilates.
With knee lifts you make sure your spine is in a neutral position (there is a gap under your lower back).
And then you pull in your pelvic floor muscles.
This engages your transverse abdominus and you use this to stabilize your pelvis while you float your knees up.
It's important to relax your upper body and not allow your shoulders to do any of the work.
(This is difficult, but very good, for me. I'm a great one for having my shoulders up around my ears!)
What is a neutral spine and why is is good?
If you try pilates you will hear the phrase 'neutral spine'.
This means your pubic bone at the front is in line with 2 boney protruberances each side of your pelvis.
They are in line both left to right and front to back.
Your spine should then naturally have two curves.
One curve forwards in your lower back.
And a slightly rounded curve in your upper back.
When your spine is in the correct, neutral position it is strong like an egg. (An egg is very strong if you push down on one end).
And if you keep a neutral spine most of the time you are much less likely to have spinal problems like a disc prolapse.
How can pilates help you with your taekwondo?
These leg push exercises do two things.
They strengthen the muscles in your legs.
And they force you to work your legs independently of your body.
... as you push the bed out against the springs you have to keep your spine neutral and your pelvis in the correct position.
You learn to use your core to stabilize your pelvis.
And your legs have to work seperately from your core muscles.
This is ideal for taekwondo kicks where you want strong legs that work independantly from your body. So you can kick your leg out and while you keep your body still, upright and centered.
Or at least that's the theory!
Work that butt!
In pilates there is great emphasis on working your butt!
Your gluteal muscles are the largest in your body and yet many of us don't use them enough.
Instead of squatting to lift things we often bend our backs.
And instead of driving ourselves up the stairs with our bottom leg we often pull ourselves up using our quads putting unnecessary strain on our knees.
In these glute push exercises Louise made me work hard to use my glutes to drive my body up.
I had to concentrate really hard to be sure my hamstrings didn't take over.
Stretching and lengthening
This stretch felt fantastic!
Louise made sure I kept my bottom shoulder down and reached out with my finger tips.
She made it very clear even a millimeter of extra length on each stretch would make a difference.
Lengthening is a great pilates principle.
On every exercise you are encouraged to make the moves as long as possible.
And I must admit I feel taller and more upright after every session.
A good teacher is vital
If you are thinking of trying pilates I think at least 3 private lessons is ideal.
A good teacher can then assess you fully and work out the right exercises for your body.
And you can start out the correct way for you.
I found it very different from any previous exercise I had tried.
There were many new principles to learn and I needed a lot of guidance to get the exercises right.
A good teacher like Louise will watch you closely and notice the very subtle details where a tiny change can make huge difference.
And in case you are looking at the photos thinking that there's a lot of lying around relaxing...
...don't be fooled!
It's not an easy option. It's tough physically and mentally.
And you have to work hard to get the benefits from the exercises.
What has it done for me?
Even after just 3 sessions I find myself using pilates in my every day life.
I can instinctively feel now when my posture is wrong and I quickly correct it.
I sit more upright at the computer as I write this site.
My shoulders much less sore and less tense.
And my lower back is more comfortable.
And are my taekwondo kicks now totally independent of my body??
Well that might take some time...
... but I'm working on it!!