Fighting gravity with Pilates
Our Pilates Instructor Chris Maddin discusses how Pilates might help to maintain fitness and mobility which is often lost as we age, as well as combating the lifelong drag of gravity on the skeletal system:
How long have you been teaching Pilates and what got you involved?
“I first got into teaching Pilates 6 or 7 years ago when I would get referrals from physiotherapists to help their clients regain fitness in the gym. I became interested in it as its core principals were things that I had always incorporated into my work, so I took a course and began teaching. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue as I found it very slow and precise compared to what I was used to.”
What advice could you offer to Pilates newbies who may only have seen a class advertised?
“For a complete beginner the first thing they should do is research the classes available in their area. Different gyms hold different classes with different types of pilates and different angles in how they are taught. A good gym should recognise that beginners do require an introduction into pilates and should provide that. Unfortunately that isnt happening very much which is why a lot of people are looking into 1-to-1s to start with. You need the basic grounding and knowledge in order to have the confidence to go into a class and be aware of your breathing, posture and positions.”
Do you feel such induction requirements might put off potential newcomers who just want to try out Pilates to start with?
“If you go into an open class without any prior knowledge, you may have an instructor trying to teach 10, 15 or even 30 people, which is very difficult for them to manage. If I were teaching a class of that size I would hope that everyone had prior knowledge. But it doesn’t happen like that. A lot of people aren’t screened properly and you get people walking in who are undergoing physio or have just had operations – you wouldn’t believe some of the things that I’d had come in! We are not doctors and Pilates is not there to provide diagnosis and treament. We are there to teach Pilates.
Also if you are completely new to it you are likely to new to lie down on the matt, do the class and wonder what the hell the instructor is talking about. As a result you might then become very despondent because you probably won’t engage correctly to get the full benefit if any at all. Chances are you will probably walk out and not come back.
I am lucky enough to work in a very good fitness centre where the classes we provide take a more personal approach instead of other fitness centres who’s focus is upon their membership volumes.”
In Pilates there are lots of positions, terminology and moves to get your head around, not to mention, as you said, the different types of Pilates that are taught. Do you think this makes it somewhat mystifying to newcomers?
“Yes there’s Fitness Pilates, Stots Piates, Fletcher Pilates and more. Everybody’s got their own different spin on it which will come at it from a slightly different angle. A lot of people will confuse Pilates with basic hardcore strength exercises. Quite often women are looking for matt work Pilates to start with whereas guys don’t mind going in doing full planks and sideplanks and everything else. But to go straight into those intense core exercises for anyone who hasn’t done it before is not a good idea and you might do yourself more harm then good.”
Does the precision nature of Pilates lend itself to any other forms of fitness?
“Yes it’s is very much about performing one movemement perfectly and the fundamentals of involve the strengthening and lengthening of muscle groups. This means Pilates is beneficial to absolutely everybody. From those who go to the gym and want to lift weights perfectly, those who take part in sports who want to avoid injury, golfers and even runners.”
How might Pilates help in addressing negative effects of gravity and lifestyle stress over our lifetimes?
“Everything people in their normal every day lives more often than not involves looking down, sitting down or moving forwards. We don’t even see what’s going on in front of us sometimes as we have become so buried in laptops and phones. A great number of people who come to me suffer from shoulder, back and wrist problems due to repetiitive strain. Even texting syndrome in the fingers. It’s great business for chiropractors and physiotherapists.
By pulling forward we are also closing our chest. For most people breathing slowly and deeply is absolutly alien because they have become so used to shallow breathing all day long. The more shallow we breath the less efficient it becomes.
For some people it is a real challenge to snap out of this lifetime of rounded shoulders and the same repetitive actions. Likewise breathing correctly by inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly takes a lot of practice. But if people were just to practice realigning their posture and focusing on their breathing every now and then, they could help themselves out big time.
In Pilates posture is the one thing we address right away. Everything is brought into neutral before we start an exercise. We can’t change the boney matter of our spines but what we can change is the ligaments and muscles around it which could all be tight and crunched up. So at the start of each class we neutralise the pelvic area, engage the core and draw the shoulders back and down. We also work to improve balance and range of motion.
By correcting our breathing we are able to open our chest, strengthen our chest muscles, our TVA (transverse abdominis) and control our diaphragm.”
Many people who partake in Pilates seem to maintain a more youthful looking physique, even older practitioners. Could the benefits of Pilates be in some way responsible for this seemingly age defying effect?
“By correcting your posture and breathing you get more energy, strength, vitality and a more positive perspective on life. You start to look up more both figuratively and physically.
It is my aim to keep everyone off zimmerframes. One of the saddest things is when old people are not taken care of and from as early as their mid 60s are put in homes and left in a chair to cave in with no activities to support the physical or mental fitness. As we are all now living longer and working longer we might have to start thinking about how we will spend our later years in future.
In my classes we have such a wide age range, from middle ages, upper 70s as young people. To have an opportunity for everyone to stay fit together is such a positive thing.”
Physioimpulse Chartered Physiotherapists