Joseph H Pilates was born in Germany in 1883 and is the founder and developer of Pilates. As a child Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever; even with his mother being a naturopath and his father, a prize-wining gymnast. Pilates devoted his entire life to improving his physical strength and conditioning. He came to believe that our lifestyle, poor posture and inefficient breathing were key contributors to poor health.
Pilates exercises focused on teaching deep torso breathing, spinal alignment, strengthening of the core and abdominal muscles. His philosophy, training-techniques and use of his equipment and are taught and practiced everywhere.
The core pillars of Pilates are:
In recent years we have seen Pilates become more popular and commonly used as a therapeutic exercise and in physical rehabilitation.
Q&A with Pilates Instructor, Stephanie McCann
Former Canadian Olympic pole vaulter, Stephanie McCann, shares her experience and expertise in teaching Pilates. Stephanie is a certified Stott Pilates Instructor and personal trainer.
Healthynomics: As a former world-class athlete, how did Pilates help you?
Stephanie McCann: As an athlete I was diagnosed with 4 bulging discs two of which were slightly herniated/displacing the nerve. It was brought to my attention that my larger muscles groups or global stabilizers (i.e. obliques, abdominals and spinalis) were very strong but my smaller muscle groups or local stabilizers (i.e. transversus abdominis and multifidus) were either weak or simply inhibited (not function or firing properly). Pilates taught me more efficient ways to retrain these muscle groups and strengthen areas of my body that were not adequately stabilizing my spine. It also re-educated me on more efficient postural alignment to prevent further injuries.
HN: For someone who has no experience with Pilates and is thinking of taking their first class, what are they likely to expect?
SM: This is a very broad question and the experience will vary dramatically from one class/session to another. If one is choosing to take a mat Pilates class they should expect to do a lot of work on the floor taking the body through several ranges of motion (flexion-bending the spine forward, extension-arching the spine backward and rotation). The specific series of exercises are designed to mobilize, stabilize, and strengthen different sections of the spine and different joints in the body. (i.e. From mobilizing the spine in a cat stretch to stabilizing the spine in a shoulder bridge). A number of the exercises taught in Pilates are similar to Yoga although more emphasis is put on alignment and controlled movements.
Whereas if one where to take an equipment based Pilates class they should expect to work on various pieces of equipment that utilize spring tension to either aid in teaching a specific exercise or add more resistance and challenge to the basic exercises originally taught on the mat. The equipment also teaches the client how to stabilize their core as they strengthen their extremities. The main pieces of equipment know as the Reformer, Chair and Cadillac are being used more often in therapeutic environments to aid in rehabilitation of injuries.
HN: What types of clients come to you for treatments?
SM: The clients I treat are individuals suffering from some form of pain whether it is chronic pain or more acute pain due to a specific injury. They come in for a session wanting to improve their core strength and reduce aches and pains.
HN: Can Pilates help an injured athlete?
SM: Pilates can definitely help an injured athlete. As a former athlete I tend to warn other athletes that when done properly Pilates can seem slow and tedious compared to their regular training regime. They are used to training their global stabilizing muscles (larger muscle groups) and it takes patience and persistence when retraining your local stabilizers (smaller muscle groups).
HN: How does Pilates tie into prevention and rehabilitation of orthopedic problems?
SM: Pilates is a technique that focuses on core strengthening, postural alignment, balance, and flexibility. These principles are some of the same principles used in the rehabilitation of many common orthopedic problems. Pilates is more commonly being used in the prevention and rehabilitation of these orthopedic problems. Many people have started performing Pilates regularly to help develop their core strength and flexibility. It is thought that these skills may help keep an individual injury-free and allow one to live a more active or pain free lifestyle.
HN: How do the core principles of Pilates; strengthening, flexibility, stability, balance and others fit into your idea of an overall health and wellness program?
SM: My idea of an overall health and wellness program involves balancing physical, spiritual, emotional, social, environmental and mental health. We each need to fully develop our minds, bodies and souls. The core principles of Pilates help to balance the physical, emotional, social and mental components of our health and therefore plays a very important role in overall optimal health and wellness. This form of focused movement helps to build confidence, self esteem, aids in relaxation of the body, provides an opportunity to build friendships, and it also helps establish a coping mechanism to deal with the stresses of our daily life.