Pilates: 26 Reasons Why

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Core Pilates Studio, Union Square NYC

Dear Michelle,
I’ve noticed that I am reading and hearing about so many athletes who count on Pilates to condition and train. I’m no athlete, but, I did read about one major golfer who credits Pilates for healing his back pain. And, my best friend just told me it has helped her. Please tell me more about this. I have tried everything to improve my posture.” Thanks! Candace Williams, Lexington, Kentucky


Ah, yes. The Pilates Body. That long, lean, toned body with cathedral-esque posture. The Pilates Method has rightfully earned a place in our psyche as one of the most effective exercises for changing the shape of the body. Which celebrity hasn’t burned the baby bulge through Pilates? The Method, however, goes beyond just muscle, shape, and fat burning. Dancers were clued in years ago to the Method’s rehabilitative properties and now, doctors and athletes are catching on. So should you.

There are 26 reasons to do Pilates. We have 26 vertebrae in our spine, and with our “work-at-a-computer-all-day” lifestyle, that vital framework screams for renovation! For years, doctors and patients weren’t sure where they stood on the issue of exercise to help ease back pain. According to a recent New York Times article titled, “Exercising That Back Pain Away,” more and more doctors are prescribing spoonfuls of exercise to help heal backs. Among the most widely prescribed is Pilates.

I tell my clients suffering from back pain to consider Pilates “Prozac for the spine,” lifting it out of the doldrums of our day-to-day back beating habits. Sitting all day hunched over our desks, strolling baby carriages or breast feeding, and carrying heavy bags on one shoulder all contribute to muscular and skeletal imbalances and unnecessary compression on the inter-vertebral discs, those jelly-like shock absorbers between each bone in our spine. Nerves that feed blood to our muscles throughout our body exit from the lower back and without that compression, the system is more efficient and effective at building strength through muscle.


The classical Pilates system of exercises was masterfully designed to lift and lengthen the spine through a sequence of movements on the mat and on the apparatus. At the same time the back is getting more mobile, the core abdominal muscles are getting stronger which is essential to making the work stick! If we hold ourselves up with a strong core, then the back is allowed to maintain the lift and back pain diminishes altogether.

The Method’s focus on the core muscles and proper alignment (to govern a strong back) is what attracts athletes to the method. Pilates can realign the postural imbalances of swimmers whose shoulders tend to be elevated and rotated inward as a result of thousands of swimming strokes. Equestrians gain greater balance, flexibility, core strength and posture for standing and riding. Runners can counter the tight-hamstring effect of pounding the pavement and keep knee and hip joints properly aligned through Pilates. Surfers, rock climbers, skiers and snowboarders alike all benefit from the balance, pelvic stability and core strength that come with the Pilates workout.

The wave of professional golfers that have turned to Pilates to increase their swing is another testament to the Method’s boost to athletic performance. By building stability in the pelvis and shoulder girdles and balancing both sides of the body through Pilates, golfers can swing and hit farther, straighter and with more precision. A strong core and flexible spine are vital to supporting the rotation required in that robust pro-swing.

So whether you spend your days running, golfing or you prefer a park bench and a book, the Method doesn’t just promote better physical performance. We perform better as humans through two of Pilates’ founding principles–concentration and breath. Our core connection not only gets stronger but our mental stamina too–allowing all of us to gain a deeper connection to the world around us–free from pain (and hopefully, Prozac too!)— Michelle Fama

Pilates buzz words worth knowing:

APPARATUS: Designed specifically for the Pilates Method, the apparatus are designed with spring resistance offering a unique and effective weight bearing resistance. Includes the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Towers, Barrels and handful of other smaller devices.

CORE/POWERHOUSE: Your powerhouse is your “girdle of strength” comprised primarily of abdominal muscles, low back, pelvic floor, and buttocks.

GROUP MAT CLASS: Mat work is done on a mat while on the floor and doesn’t utilize any Pilates apparatus. Mat work is considered to be the foundation of Joseph Pilates’ work and the most cost-effective way toward a Pilates body.

THE HUNDRED: One of the most recognized Pilates exercises used in both mat class as well as on the reformer, the Hundred starts the session by warming up the body with controlled breath and vigorous movement to awaken the core and circulatory system. Inhale 2, 3, 4, 5; Exhale 2, 3, 4, 5 all the way to 100!

SCOOP/NAVAL TO SPINE: The deepening of the abdominal wall in toward the spine and up toward the diaphragm ensures that the effort is concentrated in the transverses abdominals – the deepest abdominal layer.

PILATES STANCE: Maintaining a slight ‘v’ shape in the feet; heels together and toes apart.

C-CURVE: A rounded shape to the spine enabling the all-important articulation of individual vertebrae to create length and strength through the entire spinal column.

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