“The slow movements of Pilates can be transformative, because they offer precision and specificity during training”
Pilates is a Method of Restorative Movement
In general, people accept deterioration in their patterns of movement way too early in life. As an experienced Pilates teacher, I know this because I have seen scores of people regenerate their movement patterns and enhance their co-ordination skills simply by attending a regular once-a-week Pilates class. Not only this, I have witnessed these changes occur across all age groups, including those who are eighty-plus.
What can feel like degenerative movement patterns in our bodies, may often be nothing more than the build-up of habits of movement. These effects are often readily reversible when the right techniques are applied.
Habits of Contracted Movement
Some “habits”, such as the “habit of sitting at a desk”, are simply unavoidable for many people. When we sit down at a desk to work our usual intention is to focus on the body switches off and the brain takes over. As we become immersed in thought, we forget about our posture. This is entirely natural, however, when the body remains in a position of forward flexion through the spine for long periods of time. Changes to posture may occur: there may be a reduction in spinal mobility, persistent stiffness in the neck and shoulders, tension in the hip flexors, and weakened back muscles.
When we repeatedly override the body’s need to move through a variety of positions, the effects can become cumulative in our bodies. A few shoulder rolls, leg swings, and a chest stretch or two rarely bring the relief we crave. By contrast, Pilates usefully provides a structured remedy to realigning.
Upper Body Tension
Tension in the neck and shoulders can occur because the muscles of the upper back have weakened, whilst the muscles of the chest, neck and throat have tightened. This can pull the neck and upper back forward, closing the chest and sometimes contributing to tension headaches.
Pilates realigns the upper body by building up postural core strength around the upper spine. This releases and broadens out the shoulder girdle, enabling the spine to extend upwards again, so that it rises comfortably from between the shoulder blades towards the crown of the head. This facilitates upright movement from walking to jumping, landing, and turning moves.
Lower Back Tension and Weak Abdominals
When the body assumes a continuously seated position, muscle tone in the mid-section and lower abdominal regions slackens. Additionally, the lower back and gluteal muscles weaken, potentially affecting our comfort and efficiency in standing, walking and running.
Pilates works on strengthening the core muscles to support the lower back and pelvis. Often misunderstood as abdominal strength, the core muscles encompass both back muscles and the big wrap around sheath muscles of the abdomen, which conventional abs crunches do not tend to target.
The core muscles are the ones which lie closest to the bone structure of the spine and pelvis. By training the postural core strength, therefore, in the mid-section, lower abdomen and lower back, Pilates exercises directly stabilise the lower spine and pelvis. As a result, the body finds greater ease in the upright position and movement flows more freely. Running, high kicks, directional movements, and high co-ordination sequences are all benefitted.
Slow Movement is Key to the Effectiveness of Pilates
The slow approach to movement is key to the effectiveness of Pilates. Contrary to what many people think, slow exercise can be transformative and highly effective. Slow movement meets different needs from cardio-vascular fitness, which, of course, fulfils important elements of fitness. Co-ordination skills, balance, flexibility, and range of movement, however, are also significant components of fitness.
Core muscles lie deep within the body in areas that we do not tend to consciously co-ordinate. As a result, the mind needs more time to connect with and to accurately co-ordinate these muscles. The aim is to work with near maximum strength, deep within the body, and in so doing to work with precision and control. It makes sense to approach each movement at a speed which enables this process to occur. .Once focus has been established, training can be precise and specific. At this point, transformation of the body’s movement patterns begins.
Regularity is Key to Results
The good news is that the Pilates method really can counteract the degenerative and de-conditioning effects that a desk-based lifestyle can have on posture. Testimony to the fact that Pilates can regenerate movement and develop quality of movement is that at diverse levels of advancement, it is used in both Physiotherapy and in performance enhancement training for élite athletes.
As with all physical exercise and training programmes, Pilates requires repetition and regularity to build up benefits. That having been said, it is good to know that Pilates can restructure the body at a much faster rate than desk-based activities caused patterns of de-conditioning to set in, in the first place.