Build a better core with this century-old fitness philosophy
As a fitness instructor and enthusiast I find it exciting but difficult to keep up with the latest fitness trends and claims. Several years ago I attended a fitness conference and was overwhelmed by the “new” equipment that was touted, from rebounders (small trampolines), to Bosu balls to core boards to stability balls to jumping shoes! What was a constant theme in the midst of these “innovations” was the use of the term “core strengthening.”
In fact, nowadays you will probably find this phrase used to describe almost all exercise goals. Where does this interest stem from? One word: Pilates. Pilates is actually not new and was started after World War I by Joseph H. Pilates as a way to rehabilitate injured soldiers. He focused on strengthening the core muscle groups, which reside from your lower rib cage to your pelvis. The biggest muscle to benefit is the transverse abdominus, which is the inner muscle that wraps around your intestines. Making this muscle stronger is great for the back because it is responsible for spinal stability.
How Pilates Works
Core mat Pilates work is done on the mat and is a culmination of mind and body focus that involves proper breathing and body alignment techniques. Together, these techniques allow your body to work properly to target and strengthen the core muscle groups, which are attributed to improved posture, agility and an appreciation of how much our body does for us. Dancers have long been hip to Pilates’ technique because after years of training and practice, they intuitively understand the importance of core strength.
In addition to core mat work, there are private or semi-private classes on machines whose design is based on Pilates’ original apparatus. Classes on machinery like the Cadillac and Reformer are relatively expensive, averaging about $65 for a one-hour session, and can be difficult to find outside of the larger cities. But almost all clubs and gyms offer core mat or Pilates classes as part of their group fitness programming. I strongly urge everyone to try a class. It is not a process you master in the first class because it takes time to connect the mind’s understanding and the body’s response.
Pilates for Overall Fitness
Understanding these concepts will improve all areas of your workout regime. You will look at abdominal crunches and weight work differently. Over time you will be more cognizant of your core in your day-to-day routines. Using your core for life activities such as walking, lifting, reaching and almost all other body motions will reduce back injuries. And you will notice a change in your body; it will be longer and leaner because of the emphasis on posture.
Your lifestyle and energy levels will significantly improve because of your stronger back and abdominal muscles. Also Pilates’ internal emphasis means everyone can benefit no matter their physical condition or limitations. One or two 45-minute classes will supplement your cardio and resistance training routines, resulting in a well-rounded exercise schedule. There are many videos on the market—most helpful after you have attended a few classes to learn proper form.
I believe that engaging in and learning the basic premise of Pilates empowers us to understand our inner strength, strength we may not be aware we have. Here’s how Pilates summarized his philosophy:
“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