I often describe Pilates to people as a “back to front type of exercise”. Usually in exercise working as hard as you can means as fast and hard as you can, as many times as you can. The opposite is almost true in Pilates. This is one of the reasons I love it.
Coming from a fitness instructor background I was used to teaching aerobics, spin and step classes. If you weren’t creating a sweat pool, you weren’t getting the most benefits. You know those classes, and DVDs where they say things like “your legs should be crying right now” and “push, push, go faster” or “you should be feeling like you want to collapse right now”, well that wasn’t quite my teaching style but I loved all of that. In fact I still do.
Pilates has taught me so much about my body and how it functions, how I can get the best out of all forms of exercise, how to breath correctly, the mental clarity of exercise and how to slow things down to get maximal gains. All of this I carry over into any other exercise I do. In short, Pilates has completely changed my view on exercise and improved my technique all round.
Let’s take a crunch. Often you see people aiming to do 50 crunches in one go. Pilates has taught me that if you do a sit up/curl up/crunch correctly you only need to do 8-12 repetitions to get the benefits. It is the technique and speed that changes things.
With simple arm movements if you focus on your posture and using your body in a functional way then you will actually strengthen the right muscles AND work the core.
A side lying leg lift is someone often put into a LBT style class. Performed whilst keeping your core engaged and your waist lengthened it turns into a completely different exercise.
How to change your exercise habits for the better:
1. Be mindful. Slow down and connect with what you are doing. What muscles are you meant to be working? Is your core switched on? You very much still need your brain in gear when you exercise.
2. Posture check. You can injure yourself or at best not get the most out of a movement by ignoring your posture. You can do a great squat but have your back arched, so pull your lower back. Think about your starting, ending, and your posture during the movement. Video yourself, watch in a mirror or get a PT/fitness instructor to check.
3. Slow it down. Now I don’t necessarily mean running here! However slowing down large compound movements can make you work harder. Try a fast and a slow press up for example.
4. Breath. The breathing really is key. By breathing out on the hardest part of the exercise you recruit those core muscles that little bit more.
5. Use your core in all your cardio and lifting movements too. Core work is not something you leave behind at the end of a Pilates class, but should be something that you take into other movements. Hopefully it will also become a natural reflex so that when you lift something you engage your core.