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The What, Who, How, and Why of Pilates from a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist: Part 4.2

We talked about using Pilates for the purposes of rehabilitation, but what other reasons are there to practice Pilates? How about…

2. Fitness

Pilates can be applied in a fitness context for individuals looking for a form of exercise to increase endurance, strength, and mobility. Pilates may become the primary form of physical activity for some people and that is wonderful! There are plenty of exercises and flows in Pilates for advanced movers to strive toward and polish for a lifetime of practice. A really neat feature of Pilates is its scaleable nature, meaning there is always a way to make an exercise more or less challenging. For individuals constantly seeking to push themselves to the next level, we can always add a stability challenge, increase or decrease springs, incorporate new choreography, alter the time under tension, or pick up the pace. Creativity knows no bounds when it comes to adapting Pilates, especially for fitness classes. There are advanced exercises that parallel some gymnastics or dance movements requiring high levels of strength, endurance, and coordination to keep clients progressing in their practice for years.

With Pilates we can apply principles of training— overload, individuality, specificity, progression, reversibility, adaptation, recovery— to facilitate change in fitness. These principles basically inform us that we have to participate in a program that challenges us progressively enough to facilitate change, incorporates enough rest for physical recovery, and is consistent enough to protect against loss of gains made. If we want to use Pilates as a fitness program, then it should incorporate components of resistance, mobility, balance, and aerobic training. These aspects also have to be advanced with increasing challenge as the participant progresses.

Pilates is extremely well-designed for training the principles of axial elongation, postural organization and joint alignment, core control, breath sequencing, and hip disassociation. It is fantastic for improving dynamic stabilization of the spine and controlled mobility. And it is a great way to incorporate upper extremity weight bearing, balance work and resistance training into a fitness program.

Where Pilates may be weakest for a fitness program is in the areas of axial loading, anaerobic training, and cardiovascular function; however, that does not mean it is impossible to train these aspects of fitness using Pilates, it just requires some ingenuity. For example, once a client has demonstrated competence with the Reformer exercise semi-circle, we could add more springs to increase the load through the spine, simulating a similar experience to an overhead squat. We could also add weight to side split hip hinge to simulate the axial loading associated with a good morning exercise.

Similar modifications can be made to traditional Pilates exercises in order to target anaerobic power. We might train fast twitch muscle fibers by altering the timing of various exercises. For example, we could instruct powerful and rapid hip extension with the Reformer exercise, scooter, to facilitate rapid activation of the hip extensors. We also might try explosive Reformer jumping with heavier springs to target Type II muscle fiber activation.

For aerobic exercise, we can program Pilates exercises in a variety of combinations. We can design classes that require cycling through circuit stations similar to a HIIT-type workout. Full-hour jumping classes with hand weights are an extremely popular alternative to running and cycling because they provide a cardiovascular challenge, elicit a sweat, and produce a sense of accomplishment without the impact associated with other endurance activities.

The opportunities to design Pilates programs for fitness are only limited by an instructor’s creativity. And there is so much potential for crossover to other exercise modalities. At PiLadies and Gents, LLC we offer Pilates Pump (TM) classes that begin and end with Pilates exercises to prime the nervous system for weight training compound, complex lifting movements in the middle of the class, then mobilize and cooldown the body afterward. We also offer Piloga (TM) a vinyasa yoga-style flow using the Pilates equipment. While these fitness Pilates classes are lots of fun, we always emphasize quality of motion over number of repetitions, load, or choreography. After all, Pilates is a movement retraining system and it serves us best when we honor that reality. Still it is fun to play... And movement should be fun!

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