Friday, June 22, 2007

Getting hooked on Pilates

I have been doing Pilates exercises with a private instructor for over a month and now I know why so many people are raving about it! It’s the perfect exercise for somebody like me with bad posture and underdeveloped core muscles.

Pilates is a physical fitness program developed by Mr. Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. The fitness program is focused on strengthening the “powerhouse” region of the body, which includes muscles in the abdominals, lower back and glutes, to align the spine and keep the body balanced. In addition to building strength and flexibility, the exercises are also aimed at improving body posture and helping alleviate and prevent back pains.

For my first session, the instructor examined my spine, scapula (shoulder blades) and pelvis (hip bones) to check if my body was aligned properly. It turned out that my spine was tilted to the left, my left pelvis was higher than the right one and was slightly turned out, and my shoulder blades were rounded. No wonder I always complained about hip and back pains…

The next step after the assessment was to learn the proper breathing pattern which is very important for keeping your balance and preventing tension while you do the exercises. I was taught to expand my ribcage and back as I inhaled and contract my abdominal muscles as I exhaled, squeezing out all the oxygen from my lungs. It took me 4 sessions before I could breathe properly. Just learning the correct breathing pattern required a lot of mental concentration and control, which is what Pilates is all about.

The first few sessions of Pilates could be a bit discouraging if you’re looking for instant results. Until you get the breathing right, you won’t be able to feel the maximum impact of the exercises. Some exercises may seem simple if you don’t concentrate in isolating the correct muscles and controlling the movements. The key is to focus on your breathing and posture.

But contrary to what most people think, Pilates is not a weight-loss program. In fact, I hardly break a sweat when I do the exercises. Pilates is low impact and is focused on toning your small inner muscles rather than the big muscles. To help keep the fat away, my instructor suggested that I still do cardio or aerobic exercises 3 times a week for 30 minutes (since she knows I love to eat).

I still have a long way to go before I can move to an intermediate level but after a month of practicing Pilates, I feel like my core muscles are stronger and my posture is getting better. Best of all, I don’t feel as much tension in my back as I used to. If only for that I would continue to do Pilates.

If you are interested to try Pilates, I suggest that you start with a one-on-one session with a private instructor first to make sure that you have the proper posture and breathing pattern while doing the exercises. Starting with a group session might discourage you from continuing if you can’t perform certain exercises.

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