Joseph Pilates, the late creator and inventor of the Pilates method, says that the “Pilates method of body conditioning is complete coordination of body, mind and spirit. It develops the body uniformly, corrects posture, restores vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.”
The principles of Pilates are consistent with an exercise program that promotes back health. In particular, learning awareness of the neutral alignment of the spine and strengthening the deep postural muscles that support this alignment are important skills for the back pain patient. Practicing Pilates can improve flexibility and be part of an effective pain management program.
Pilates has a reputation of being so expensive that only celebrities and affluent people can afford lessons. Fortunately, there are more and more budget-oriented options for Pilates instruction from the YMCA, neighborhood exercise studios and gyms that offer special discounts and other incentives. Whether you have a beer or champagne budget, it is important to work with a certified Pilates teacher. Pilates certification includes Pilates mat certification and comprehensive Pilates certification, which covers all of the Pilates apparatus.
Beyond these two basics, there is professional certification as well as advanced training in the sport-specific or rehabilitative aspects of Pilates. Visit the Pilates Method Alliance website to find properly trained instructors with specialties in specific areas (i.e. prenatal/postnatal expertise, shoulder or hip replacement expertise, osteoporosis expertise, etc.).
The lure of developing longer and leaner muscles and improving posture and core strength attracts celebrities and everyday Americans to Pilates. “I’m a Pilates person,” says Jennifer Anniston. “I had chronic back and hip pain and Pilates completely solved all of it. It makes me feel taller.” Hugh Grant says that after doing Pilates, he has “muscles of steel.” Jamie Lee Curtis says that “Pilates is the only exercise program that has changed my body and made me feel great.”
Kristin Mann, a certified Pilate’s instructor and owner of Mankind Pilates, who also works with patients at the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey, says that, “Pilates works to balance the body as a whole, so it can help to alleviate pain by strengthening the smaller intrinsic muscle groups, creating more uniformity with movement within the body. With a properly trained instructor and a committed client, Pilates can help to alleviate back pain. Pilates can help manage pain in other areas of the body as well. While I work with several clients complaining of back pain, I also teach clients who experience shoulder, neck, knee and hip challenges as well as issues with elbows, feet and hands. People need to recognize that the body works as whole entity. Pilates works to make the body function more efficiently – it strengthens, stretches and balances – if taught safely and properly.”
“Pilates can help with the pain that is caused from sedentary lifestyles or from damaging overuse of joints from repetitive motions,” said former Joffrey ballet dancer, Leslie Mcnabb who is the Director of Pilates for the CLAY Health Club + Spa in New York City.
Getting a clean bill of health from the doctor before beginning any exercise regime is the first step. “I recommend that an individual obtain doctor approval before beginning a Pilates program,” says Mann. “I advise that a person does their research to locate studios within a close proximity to home or work. I advise that they read the bios of the instructors to see their certifications, whom they trained with and how long they have been teaching.”
Is a Pilates “newbie” who suffers from pain issues better served by taking a mat class or Reformer? The Pilates Reformer uses a series of springs, pulleys, straps and bars in order to add additional resistance to an exercise. “For pain management, there are several exercises that can be more supported and controlled utilizing the apparatus,” says Mann who says that mat work and apparatus work complement each other.
Kelly Cresta, a Pilates instructor for the Spericality studio in Flemington, New Jersey believes that both mat and equipment classes are beneficial for pain management issues. “Mat Pilates is a wonderful way to start by solely using your own body weight to strengthen your internal core muscles outwards,” says Cresta. “You learn how to be in control of your movements in a safe environment, to relieve current pains and to prevent future injuries.” McNabb adds that “the decision on what is best should be decided by Pilates professional after an initial assessment.”
How often should a “newbie” do Pilates? “A ‘newbie to a Pilates class should listen to their body and start slowly,” advises Cresta. “After just one class, you may feel a release of stress or tension and an overall strengthening within the body, but in order to see results, work up to 2-3 times per week.”
“It depends on the body, but on average, I would recommend starting at least two times a week (i.e. taking a few private lessons to start and then a mat class or even a duet session if cost is a factor),” advises Mann. “If a client can only do one session or class a week, homework can also supplement the one session or class. The key to maximizing Pilates benefits is consistency.”
Pilates is appropriate for people of all ages. “Pilates instruction can be modified for any age or ability or health level,” says Mann. “Modification is one of the great benefits of Pilates and also why I recommend a person does their research in order to work with a properly trained instructor.” “Pilates is low-impact so people of all ages can reap the benefits of Pilate’s exercises without putting stress on the joints,” adds Cresta.
Will a regular Pilates regime dramatically change one’s physique? Joseph Pilates is quoted as saying that, “in 10 sessions, you will feel the difference, in 20 sessions you will see the difference, and in 30 sessions you will have a new body.”
“The Pilates Method works best with consistency,” says Mann. “You will feel, see and have the Pilates results as long as you are consistent with your practice. If you do Pilates once a week, you will have a great overall new ‘body awareness.’ But, if you make Pilates a way of life, you will not only have the Pilates physique (long lean strong muscles and a balanced, flexible body), but you will definitely have better overall health.”
“The biggest health change for those doing Pilates is improved circulation,” says Mcnabb as “Pilates helps to deliver oxygen to all your cells and move cellular waste out. Pilates students learn to align their bodies for better joint mechanics, less spinal compression and ease of movement. Students feel stronger, more flexible and more in control of their bodies and aesthetically this translates to standing taller with confidence.”
Are all Pilates certification programs created equal? “There are many great Pilates programs, but there are also many poor certifications that do Pilates and clients a disservice,” warns Mann. “A thorough Pilates certification is 600-800 hours. I studied for two years under two of Romana Kryzanowska’s students, as I wanted to learn as closely as possible how Joseph Pilates taught himself. (Romana Kryzanowski was an American Pilates instructor who was a student of Joseph Pilates). I believe that all good instructors participate in continuing education and support a healthy practice themselves. I do not recommend taking Pilates from an instructor that obtained a weekend long certification.”
Students taking Pilates classes are advised to share with their instructor any aches and pains they are having. “It is crucial to let your instructor know,” advises Cresta. “Certain exercises can be modified to decrease and strengthen muscles.” “I will not work with someone until we discuss their specific challenges and history,” says Mann. “I have every client also fill out a Health Form that I review with them. A good instructor needs to know their student’s past movement history, health issues, past surgeries, any broken bones, occupation, and if a woman has had a C-section or a vaginal birth. All of this information is crucial for an instructor to create a safe, yet challenging session.”