Book Review: The Pilates Powerhouse

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I truly believe that anything we do is a process; a process that we must consistently put in the work. Since, I’m so passionate about Pilates, it is well…Pilates that I consistently work on. Part of this process is that I am first and foremost a student of the method. My own practice is always a work in process. The Pilates nerd in me also loves to read anything I can find on Pilates, anatomy, and movement in general.

Mari Winsor’s “The Pilates Powerhouse” was the latest book I picked up on the Pilates Method. Winsor helped bring Pilates into higher recognition through her work with actresses, actors, musicians and professional athletes.

Mari gives a brief introduction to Pilates and it’s creator Joseph Pilates, as well as writes about how she came to meet Romana Krysanowska, who would later become her teacher and mentor. Mari found her way to the Pilates through the dance world. Pilates helped to her to become stronger and ease some injuries she had.

One of the things I really loved about this book was the testimonials from celebrities at the beginning of each chapter. Some of these are people I didn’t even know did Pilates. Melanie Griffith, Vanessa Williams, Patrick Swayze and even Danny Glover. DANNY GLOVER!? Danny Glover says Pilates kept him injury free while filming the Lethal Weapon movies and Patrick Swayze says Pilates helped him get ready to film Dirty Dancing. 

In the first chapter, “The Joy of Movement”, Winsor talks a little about the mind, body, and spirit connection in Pilates. How we must take some time each day for ourselves to move. And that this movement must be focused on quality over quantity.

The second chapter goes over what we now know as the “Pilates Principles” and Mari adds in a few more. These include: Breathing, Relaxation, Concentration, Control, Fluidity, Inside Out/Outside In (the idea of centering), Strength and Flexibility, and Freedom and Control.

The Powerhouse is discussed in Chapter Three. Mari writes about the actually location and anatomy of the Powerhouse. She also talks about the Powerhouse as a center of communication.  I loved this idea of the Powerhouse as a command center where we “operate best from. That center is the part that we love about ourselves, the person we wish to be all the time. The center or powerhouse is the place where you speak from, where you feel emotional pain, joy and elation”. It’s about so much more than six pack abs people!

Then we move into the exercise portion of the book. The mat order follows the usual order we are use to. Beginner level exercises are noted by one dot, Intermediate by two dots and advanced by three dots. I like this as it keeps the order of the exercises throughout the book in an easy format to follow that flows well.

Each individual exercise includes the goal of the exercise, the set up or “Prep”,  the execution of the exercise or “Ready” and then the “Action”. Each exercise is followed with several photos that show the exercise in action.  I found the exercises easy to follow, even for someone who may be new to Pilates and she included some great cues. I found the instructions to be clean and very concise.

Some interesting notes on the exercises is that some of the levels were different than what I had learned in my training so I was wondering why on those. Definitely had me thinking. For instance I learned One Leg or Single Leg Teaser as a prep for the other Teasers to follow. In the book Winsor has it listed as an Advanced exercise. Another is Mermaid, I learned that as a beginner exercise and Winsor has it listed as Advanced. I just thought that was interesting and had me really think about why these would be less accessible to a beginner.

The book continues with a discussion on injuries and Winsor creates some injury specific classes for cases such as neck injuries, lower back pain and weakness, and asthma. This included modifications for some of the Pilates exercises as well as some other non-Pilates exercises that Mari has used for herself and her clients.

The book finishes with a brief touch on the Pilates apparatus and what to expect when you walk into a Pilates studio. Overall, I really loved this book. I enjoyed learning more about Mari and her journey into Pilates. I think this is a great book for everyone, Pilates newbies, advanced students and teachers. I highly recommend picking this one up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benefits of the Pilates Reformer

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Because I’m so passionate about Pilates, I love sharing information about this wonderful form of exercise with my clients, family and friends. I’m always looking for interesting articles about Pilates to share on the studio Facebook Page, Twitter and Instagram. If you’re following me on any of these you may have seen some of my educational and fun posts. If you are not following me…why not?! Get off over there and hit those “like” and “follow” buttons.

So the other day when I came across an article titled “What are the Benefits of Reformer Pilates?” I was excited to read the article and hoped to have some great information to share with y’all. However, when I opened the article to read it I was more like wah-wah. I was underwhelmed by the article and actually decided to NOT share it. Which inspired me to write this blog post instead.

A lot of people who are new to Pilates get a little overwhelmed with this piece of apparatus that perhaps looks like some sort of medival torture device. I hope this blog post is a great primer to the wonderful piece of Pilates apparatus known as the Universal Reformer and that it takes some of the fear out of starting your Pilates practice because of the unknown.

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What is the Pilates Reformer?

The Reformer is the most recognized and most popular piece of apparatus in the Pilates studio. This is the central piece of equipment used in most Pilates classes and studios. The Universal Reformer, so called because it is used for “universally reforming the body”, creates a balanced workout that is great for everyone regardless of fitness level.

Invented by Joseph Pilates himself, the Reformer is a bed like piece of equipment with a moving carriage. The carriage is attached to springs that give resistance to the exercises performed on the Reformer. The Reformer has straps that both the hands and feet can be placed in for various exercises.

The work on the apparatus focuses on a full body workout with small and controlled movements using the springs for resistance. Just like a Pilates workout on the mat, focus is put on building core strength, but now we work against the springs to focus on control and centering.

Your session on the Reformer will be a full body workout. Classes typically start off with a warm up while lying down. As the class progresses you will focus on specific muscle groups through exercises that have you lying down, sitting, standing and even being in an inverted position. While Pilates on the Reformer is low impact and safe on the joints, you will still find it a challenging workout.

The Benefits of the Pilates Reformer

The benefits of working out on the Pilates Reformer are similar to those from a mat workout. This is a full body workout that will help to lengthen and strengthen the legs, glutes, hips, arms and back as well as strengthening the core.

Benefits of your Reformer workout will include:

  • a stronger core
  • improved flexibility
  • greater balance and posture
  • relief from physical pain such as back pain and stiffness
  • creates longer and leaner musculature
  • builds all over body strength
  • teaches stability

I hope this takes some of the fear out of starting your Pilates practice because you were unsure of that thing in the studio that looks like a torture device.

If you are ready to get started on your Pilates practice, please call or email the studio to set up your New Student Intro special. Worcester Pilates is a boutique studio that offers private, one on one instruction to help you reach your health and fitness goals.

Listen to Your Body

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Our bodies are pretty resilient, in fact they are often stronger than we think or give them credit for. It is often our minds that let in fear and doubt that prevent our bodies from showing just how strong they can be. However, there are those times that are bodies speak to us and say “Hey, something is not right here”. The body tells us this through pain.

Whenever we are feeling pain, it is our job to stop and listen to what the body is saying. It is time to pay attention to our bodies in this moment and to say “I see you!”, “I hear you!” This is not the time to push through, adopt a “no pain, no gain” attitude or to think “I’ll rest when I’m dead”. No…this is  the time to really to listen to your body, to not push forward but to back off and take some rest.

Recently, I did something to my back that was causing me a great deal of pain. I listened to my body and decided to take a few days of rest. When I felt that I was feeling better, I knew that then was the time to get back to my Pilates practice. But it had to look differently. This is one of the things that I love about Pilates. It is smart movement that truly links mind and body together.

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Our Pilates practice can look different from day to day, depending on what our bodies are telling us. Maybe instead of strength, we focus more on stretch or stability. We slow down and take our time through the movement. Slowly and smoothly = Contrology. Maybe we pick just one of the Pilates Principles such as Breath or Concentration and make those the focus of our workout for that day.

Our bodies are a precious gift and we need to take care of them. Sometimes we just want to move, but we need to listen to our bodies and meet them where they are in that moment. Check in with your body and see what comes up before, during and after your workout. Take care of your body and it will continue to take care of you.

 

Happy Pilates Day – Pilates Studio Tour

Yesterday was World Pilates Day, a day where the Pilates community takes time to celebrate the work that Joseph and Clara Pilates created. I did my first Facebook Live video to talk briefly about Pilates Day and to do a quick tour of my studio, Worcester Pilates.

I also shared some fun Pilates facts over social media throughout the day. Check out the video below. If you have any questions or comments on Pilates or the studio, please comment on the video with them and I will answer in an upcoming Facebook Live video. It is my goal to do more of these to help share information and my knowledge on the Pilates method.

Spring Has Sprung & Mat Classes Coming Soon!

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Greetings and Salutations! I do believe Spring has sprung, at least it is feeling and looking that way. Yesterday, as the sun was shining for the first time all week, we took our dogs on a walk around the neighborhood. The skies were clear and so blue. We found little crocuses blooming in some of the front yards as we passed.

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. This is a time to let go of the dreary and heavy energies that we may have experienced from the Winter. With the coming of Spring, we find ourselves in a new place, looking ahead to everything we wish to create in the upcoming months. This is often a great time to recommit to any goals towards your health and wellness that you made at the start of the year.

Spend some time this week in reflection on what you are holding onto from the Winter that is maybe no longer serving you. Take some time to listen to your body and become aware of what is existing within your body. This is a time for a health revolution, a time to make positive changes in yourself and your surroundings.

Take some steps this week to better align yourself with your health, fitness and wellness goals. Let yourself be inspired this week to bring your goals to fruition.

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A great way to enhance your studio workout with the apparatus is to do, what I call, your homework. Your homework can involve any exercises that are given to help you become stronger in your Pilates practice. This can also include picking up a Mat Pilates practice.

I will be offering a “Mat Pilates for Beginners” series starting in May. This will be a 6 week small group mat class that will introduce you to the Pilates Principles, teach you the Mat Pilates exercises and we will work on proper alignment and technique.

Classes will be held on Sundays at 9:30 AM. Pre-registration is required to attend the classes and the cost of the six week series is $60. Space is limited so please call or email the studio to reserve your space.

Studio Phone – 617-462-9851
Studio Email – worcesterpilates@gmail.com

Pilates for Runners

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Here in New England we are coming up on the Olympics of running, the Boston Marathon. Despite colder temperatures, harsh winds and snow covered streets, many runners are out and about focusing on their training runs. Besides a bright, sunny, warm, Spring Day there is one another thing that can help you on your runs. A STRONGER CORE! 

As you may or may not know, running uses more than your legs. Your core is a huge part of how you move. In fact, everything we do radiates out from our core. A stronger core means a stronger run. A stronger core helps you to maintain form, increases your endurance and helps prevent injury. 

However, most people’s idea of a core strengthening routine is a few crunches on the floor while watching an episode of the latest binge-worthy show on Netflix. Sadly, no matter how many crunches you do during the season finale of “Stranger Things” it just isn’t enough. Exercises like crunches work the superficial core muscles such as the rectus abdominus. What you need is a strong Pilates practice.

So how can Pilates help? See, Pilates works ALL OF THE ABDOMINAL MUSCLES; even the deepest of them all, the transverse abdominus. But not only that, Pilates works to build core strength as well as the other supporting muscles of the torso, hips, shoulders and back. You won’t get that from a few crunches.

Pilates not only strengthens the core but also improves flexibility. Pilates is a two way stretch from a strong and stable center. Pilates improves muscle tone, balances musculature, supports correct posture, and teaches you to move with ease and grace, while building flexibility and long, lean muscles, strength and endurance in the legs, abs, arms, hips, and back.

Pilates can also help prevent a lot of running related injuries such as weak and painful hips, IT Band issues, pain in the knees and ankles and piriformis syndrome. Pilates will improve your posture which helps to improve your running form, there for preventing most of these injuries. A better running form will also help in your running performance, allowing you to run farther and faster.

Some of the performance benefits of a regular Pilates practice for runners includes:

  • Increases flexibility and strength
  • Develops coordination and balance
  • Increases range of motion in the hips and shoulders
  • Helps recovery and recovery time
  • Helps to prevent injuries
  • Increases core stability
  • Enhances breathing
  • Improves endurance
  • Helps with posture and gait

Worcester Pilates offers private instruction on all of the Pilates equipment. If you are interested in starting a Pilates practice to help improve your running call or email to take advantage of our New Student Intro special.

What Pilates Isn’t!

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In today’s fitness world, many fusion classes are being marketed toward those looking to improve their health and fitness. With names like “PiYo”, “Piloxing”, and “HIIT Pilates” it can be hard to determine what is Pilates and what isn’t.

In my previous post, “What is Pilates?”, I gave a short overview of the Pilates method and the many benefits it offers. But, how can you determine if the class you are interested in taking or are currently taking is Pilates or not?

Pilates is Not Yoga

  • Pilates does not include many standing exercises like Yoga does. So if your class contains standing poses similar to Yoga such as lunges, planks, warrior poses, or even downward dogs then it is not Pilates.
  • Mat Pilates classes most often feature the traditional order of exercises that Joseph Pilates created. When taking a Mat class with a traditional teacher, you can expect a structured class. This helps the student to learn the order and focus on working on proper alignment and progressing the exercises. The focus of the class is a great all over body workout, but mainly the work is on building a stronger core or Powerhouse.
  • In a Pilates class you will move the whole time. The Pilates exercises are not static, meaning you don’t hold poses like you would in Yoga. You are meant to keep the body moving both during the exercises as well as from one exercise to the next. If you are holding planks for long periods of time in your class, it is NOT Pilates.

Pilates is Not High Impact

  • Pilates is a low impact form of exercise that is kind on the joints of the body. The majority of the exercises are done in a supine position and focus on building core strength.
  • In a true Pilates class you will not be asked to do exercises that can be rough on the joints such as burpees, lunges, jumping jacks, box jumps, or other jumping movements. If you are doing exercises like burpees, you are NOT doing Pilates.

Pilates is Not Mindless Exercise

  • Pilates is not a form of exercise where you can zone out and just mindlessly perform the exercises. In fact one of the “Pilates Principles” is Concentration.
  • The Pilates Principle of Concentration is about bringing your full attention to the exercises. Joseph Pilates intended for his method to connect the mind and body and we see that when we are mindful of executing the movements. When you bring your full awareness to the exercise and commit to executing it fully and at your level, you will gain the maximum benefits of each exercise.
  • Every movement in Pilates has a purpose, and you will learn to move with purpose. Pilates is not a mindless form of movement.

Pilates is Not Just a Core Workout

  • While Pilates does work on building core strength, it is not merely a core workout. In Pilates we work to strengthen the Powerhouse which includes the abdominals, the back muscles, hips and shoulders.
  • Throughout your Pilates workout you should learn to move from your center. In Pilates we bring focus to the Powerhouse to stabilize the body and initiate movement. Therefore building greater strength in our abdominals and helping our bodies to move more effectively. Pilates is a full body workout.
  • If you are doing lots of core focused movements like crunches and sit-ups and only movements like these, then you are NOT doing Pilates.

Pilates is Not About Performing Tons of Reps

  • Pilates workouts focus on quality of movement over quantity of movement.
  • Awareness must be used and sustained throughout the exercises on what muscle group you are working, and the other parts of the body that are working in conjunction. Precision must be used in alignment and movement throughout the exercises in order to achieve the maximum benefits of the exercise.
  • If you are performing tons of reps of an exercise then you are NOT doing Pilates. Classes that have you perform 60 crunches, 50 push-ups, etc. are NOT Pilates.

Teacher and Teaching Style

  • Be sure your teacher is actually certified to teach Pilates. Pilates teachers are certified upwards of 600+ hours which includes personal practice, observation, and testing by Pilates schools, training centers and organizations.
  • A certified Pilates teacher will be able to modify the exercises for you and help you to find the proper alignment in each exercise. They can teach you to incorporate the Pilates Principles into your practice and help you progress into a more intermediate or advanced practice.
  • It is pretty prevalent in gym settings to find personal trainers or other fitness trainers teaching Pilates. A personal training certification does not make you a Pilates teacher. Not only are these people giving Pilates a bad name but are causing confusion of what Pilates is and sadly even causing injuries.
  • Your teacher is there to teach, focus on your alignment, challenge you and keep you safe. They should not be practicing alongside you for the whole class. They are there to teach, not get in a workout of their own.
  • A knowledgeable teacher will focus on alignment, anatomy and offer modifications for special cases or injuries. They should also be able to teach all levels of students at once, teaching the exercises so a beginner can do them, while offering progressions of the exercises for intermediate and advanced students in the class

Will fusion classes such as “PiYo”, “Piloxing” or other Pilates inspired classes offer you a great workout? Absolutely! Will these fusion and Pilates inspired classes make you sweat, and build strength? Perhaps! However, they are not Pilates. If you  are interested in trying an authentic Pilates class that will help you to create lean muscles, improve posture, gain flexibility, and gain more strength then give Worcester Pilates a call to set up your “Introduction to Pilates” session now.

 

 

Worcester Pilates – Pilates Exercise of the Week – Shoulder Bridge

 

This weeks “Pilates Exercise of the Week” is The Shoulder Bridge. This is an amazing strengthening and stretching exercise for the whole body. It challenges the abdominals and the hamstrings to work together to keep the pelvis stable. The exercise works to strengthen the back of the body including the glutes, hamstrings and back while also giving a nice stretch and openness to the front of the body.

In this exercise really be mindful about keeping the knees in line with the shoulders and the pelvis still. Focus on the articulation of the spine as you roll up and down through the exercise. I like do the first Shoulder Bridge variation at the start of my practice to help warm up the spine and back and then later in the order I will do the Intermediate Shoulder Bridge version where you add the kicks of the legs (as seen as the end of the video).

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Shoulder Bridge

Goal of the Exercise:

The Shoulder Bridge works posterior muscles to maintain the lift of the hip, as well as focuses on spinal articulation.

Benefits:

  • works articulation of the spine
  • strengthens glutes and hamstrings
  • stretches front of body including hips

 

Execution:

  • Lie on back with feet flat on the floor and knees bent
  • Place hands by the side and firmly press palms and forearm into the floor
    Keep the knees, feet and legs parallel and in line with the hips and shoulders
  • Inhale as you lift up the hips, then the lower back, middle back lifting up into a straight line from the knees to the shoulders
  • Focus on lifting up through the spine bone by bone, focusing on the articulation of the spine. Keep the sides of the body long and work to create length in the spine.
  • Exhale as you roll down the spine, again focusing on the articulation of the spine
  • Watch that your knees don’t turn in or out as you roll. If you see this happening place a yoga block or small ball between the thighs/knees to maintain the leg alignment
  • 5 Reps