A New Year, A New You

Published On December 17, 2013 | November/December 2013

Strengthening your body with Pilates

You are perfecting your body to be strong, beautiful and athletic. I never get bored with it.

By Bianca Moragne

With a new year comes the desire to start over anew, and many people resolve to get in better shape and lose weight, in hopes for a healthier lifestyle.

The trouble with this resolutions fad is maintaining the motivation to make personal changes, especially when it comes to staying active. A few months into the year, you’re already bored with your mundane workout regiment and ready to throw in the towel. So, why not try something new?

For nearly half a century German-born Joseph Pilates developed a system of strengthening, stretching exercises called Contrology, meant to strengthen the human mind and body through muscle control and resistance. He emigrated to the US in 1926, teaching his method to boxers, gymnasts and dancers into his senior years, until the rest of the world caught on. Today, this exercise is known as Pilates.

“Pilates is a method of exercise ranging in levels of difficulty. From athletes to seniors and people with severe injuries, Pilates works to cure chronic pain, increase your flexibility, improve posture, strengthen your core and build lean and strong muscles,” says Austin Pilates instructor and expert Erin Leary.

“I have had clients in their 80s who come into my studio three times a week, others who are as young as 15 years old and everywhere in between. People come to me with arthritis, muscular dystrophy, osteoporosis and from all kinds of backgrounds,” Leary says. “It is a great, safe and effective way to become strong. You are very unlikely to become injured doing Pilates, versus other, more intense exercise programs. It really is for everyone.”

Leary began practicing Pilates in high school in an eff ort to correct her psoriatic spine and became a certified Pilates’ instructor in 2007. Now she works at several different studios throughout the city, including Pilates on Core Therapy and Pilates and more.

“Modification is the key to Pilates success,” says Leary. All of the exercises are developed with modifications that allow safe, gentle and challenging workouts at any level. Many of the exercises are performed in sitting or reclining positions and are partially weight-bearing and low impact.

Unlike other conventional forms of exercise, like swimming, weight training or running, Pilates works the entire body by focusing on core strength and torso stability. Conventional workouts tend to work the same muscles. Th is can lead to weaker muscles in some areas of the body and stronger muscles in others. Th e result is a muscular imbalance, which is the primary cause of injury and pain, according to Leary.

In our modern world, where sitting long hours hunched over in front of a computer screen is universal, the development of poor posture and lower back, wrist and neck pain is frequent. However, Pilates prevents injury by strengthening the core and correcting the body’s alignment. No muscle is under or over trained, and the entire body is conditioned.

“Pilates is a method of exercise that strengthens the intrinsic smaller muscle groups as well as the larger muscle groups. For example: If you are weight training you are mainly working the large muscle groups. By working both, you strengthen the body as a whole,” Leary says. “It’s all about working your core; a strong core aids in reducing back pain. It’s a tool to get out of that pain and become
very strong.”

Kevin Bowen, co-founder of the Pilates Method Alliance and director of special projects, agrees that a strong core is essential. He says it is important that abdominal muscles are flexible.

“A hard muscle may feel good and give an interesting look, but if you don’t have the flexibility, the balance and the functionality that you need to allow your body to function properly, sooner or later, it’s going to show up someplace else,” Bowen says.

With millions of different cues and movements, Pilates will keep you enthusiastic about exercising. Leary believes everyone has the right to physical perfection, and Pilates is the best way to achieve this. “It’s hard to explain, but there is a euphoric feeling of ‘Wow, I just worked every muscle in my body,’ leaving you feeling great afterwards. You not only feel good about your body but also see it changing,” Leary says. “You are perfecting your body to be strong, beautiful and athletic. I never get bored with it.”

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