Pilates for a Strong Core and a Healthy Back

On the Reformer and feeling strong
On the Reformer and feeling strong

Here’s my latest article for the Stanly News and Press:

I love to talk about the health benefits of Yoga, but Pilates has been a life-changing discovery for me, as well.  I injured my back when I was only nineteen years old, and even though I was active and strong, this injury would plague me for many years to come.  It wasn’t until I began regularly practicing the exercises of Joseph Pilates on the mat, Reformer, Cadillac and other apparatus, that my back pain completely went away.  Thanks to Pilates, I went from periodic debilitating back pain to a happy, healthy back with no episodes for the past fourteen years.

Pilates exercises strengthen the entire core, which is often referred to as the Powerhouse. The Powerhouse includes the abdominal, inner thigh and gluteal muscles.  Pilates exercises and breaths create strength in all four layers of the abdominal wall: the rectus abdominals, external obliques, internal obliques and the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, the transversus abdominals.

Joseph Pilates was a sickly child and spent much of his life working to discover breath work that would improve his asthma as well as strengthen his body. I tell my students that proper Pilates lateral breathing alone throughout the day will strengthen the abdominals and create more room for the lungs to breathe. The breath is always done in through the nose and out through the mouth, inhaling about fifty to seventy-five percent of the air and exhaling 100% of the air. To strengthen the muscles between each rib, the intercostals, let the ribs expand widely on the inhales and on the exhales, make the ribs skinny by pulling them in towards the lungs.  The belly stays in towards the spine throughout the breath and exercises, finding a deeper scoop in the belly on each exhalation.

Joseph Pilates’ exercises, which he called Contrology, accentuate awareness and efficiency in all parts of the body. This is also a good idea to take into life.  Each exercise is only performed between three and eight times, with the idea that if you do each one well, there is no need for many repetitions.  The Powerhouse is always engaged, no matter what other part of the body is also being strengthened or stretched.  Places in the body, such as the face, chest and shoulders, that are not needed in a specific exercise should be soft and relaxed so there is no wasted energy there.

What Pilates does have in common with Yoga is the use of modifications and variations.  In the following weeks, I will be explaining exercises for you to try, so be sure to be mindful and listen to your body and modify wherever needed. It is my hope that these exercises will help you create a healthier body to take with you throughout your life.



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