‘I exercise already- so why Pilates?’
The simple answer is to give your body balance and longevity.
We’ll explain. Do you do lots of high intensity workouts? Good on you- you must be insanely cardiovascularly fit but you are at risk of muscle strain and hip complications. Are you playing lots of tennis or netball? No doubt you’re loving the teamwork and competitive aspect but are you having niggling injuries in your ankles, calves or knees? Devoted to cross-fit? You’ll be super strong in your arms and legs but how is your back?
Generalised exercise usually always has a downside. After all, very few sports work you evenly in every direction. Hardly any sports work muscle lengthening and strengthening in equal measure. And most sports don’t allow for much pure concentration on technique when speed or power are the primary goals.
View Pilates as an imperative for perfecting movement. The beauty of Pilates is that it covers every aspect of body analytics- flexibility, strength, coordination and control- in every joint in your body. It creates a balanced body. And it should be a weekly MOT to keep you running smoothly into old age.
‘Great! They do a class at my gym.’
Listen- you’ve got to start with someone who knows what they are doing. We’re talking about a certified vocational Pilates instructor who has invested years into their training, who has specific qualifications in rehabilitation and different pathologies and who continues with professional development through their career. You’ll find them working in specialist studios with fixed equipment and amongst colleagues who all gain referrals from the local medical community. There’s no point in investing in Pilates without starting with the best. So ask about qualifications– it’s important in an unregulated industry.
‘Hang on- what exactly is Pilates again?’
Sometimes Pilates is about such simple things as ‘how do you lift your head off the floor without straining your neck’ or ‘how do you bend down to pick something up without straining your back’- those mundane things that shouldn’t cause trouble but often do. Mainly Pilates is about optimal movement through all your joints, encouraging total body efficiency. We’re talking learning movement fundamentals- the stuff you do naturally as an infant which then gets bastardised after being sat at desks and in cars for hours, nay years.
‘Isn’t that just doing the same thing again and again?’
Hell no! Sack your teacher! You should be doing different things every week- different challenges, different tweaks, different sensations but always centered around the basic principles -a balanced body moving with ease. It helps here if you are attending a professional studio that’s equipped with all the Pilates tools. That includes barrels, rings. rollers, weighted balls and flex balls and bands of varying strengths and sizes.
‘So it’s not just lying on a mat?’
Actually Mat Pilates is only a small insight into the world of Pilates. Train with experts and you will work on Pilates Towers, Reformers, Exo-chairs, Ladder Barrels and Arcuses with thrilling trapeze movements, challenging hangs and lifts and some seriously muscle-burning technical exercises. This is what fires up all the professional sportspeople who use Pilates to counter their sport.
‘And it’s definitely all about the core, right?’
A scandalous suggestion! We should actually focus more on the feet and toes than our abdominals. After all, these are the platforms for our bi-pedal movement. Think about how small a surface area actually holds up our body and you’ll see how important feet are. But, OK, the core is important. As a dynamic cylindrical core though, not just a point in your tummy button. You’ll learn about how your shoulders and ribs engage to stabilize your spinal column in rotation, flexion and extension- all included in our natural gait pattern.
‘This is beginning to sound like a lecture…’
We Pilates professionals like to educate! After all as Joseph Pilates himself said ‘It is the mind itself that builds the body’. Our mission is to teach you how to maximise your body’s range of motion and strength capabilities and you should see this reflected in your exercise regime. Our runners, rowers and cyclists up their PBs, our squash and hockey players report fewer injuries and have a greater sense of agility and our gym goers feel more confident in lifting weights. Whoever you are, we work specifically for you and you should expect to be directly addressed and corrected and congratulated in every class!
‘OK where do I start?’
Look for professional studios with certified instructors or ask a physiotherapist who they would recommend in your area. Often you will be allowed to take your first Mat class for free. And expect studios to ask to see you on a 1-1 basis first if you want to use the Equipment. Mat classes start from c.£10 per class although lots of providers tie you in to a termly commitment. Basic Reformer classes start from c.£15 per class depending on class capacity.
Lucy Whitehead is Lead Instructor at One Grove, Cheltenham and has been teaching Pilates for 15 years (and practicing for over 25!). One Grove is located next to Waitrose and has four studios, running over 50 classes per week, plus private training. www.onegrove.co.uk
This is a transcript of an interview published with Muddy Stilettos in Nov 2019