Pilates: Timelines & Strategies That Work

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Core Pilates, NYC

EXPERT MICHELLE FAMA REVEALS: Pilates short and long-term benefits.

Dear Michelle, I started taking Pilates classes a couple of months ago, but, I want to make sure that I'm on a pace to achieve results. What should I expect from my instructors. Also, do you have any tips on how to make the most of my sessions? Thank you, Anna Marie, Santa Monica

Dear Anna Marie: Back in the 1920’s – when a NYC subway ride cost only 10 cents, Joseph Pilates offered his two cents about his exercise Method -- “In 10 sessions you’ll feel a difference, in 20 sessions you’ll see a difference, and give me 30 sessions and you’ll have a whole new body.�? Today, that adage is used in almost every Pilates studio’s marketing and advertising campaigns because it sums up the Method’s short and long term benefits.

One of my first clients walked in my NYC studio and as I always do I conducted a silent anatomical body scan, making note of obvious misalignments which determine for me how best to architect and customize the session. Her neck jutted forward, her shoulders rounded forward, and she walked with her hips and pelvis on lead – the rest of her body dragging behind like an owner being pulled by an excited dog on leash!

I learned that she is a high powered executive at an investment bank. The postural analysis made sense. Stress, stress, and more stress, and of course sitting at a desk all day – were the main factors contributing to her “leaning tower of spine.�?

She made the Pilates commitment and attended privates with me 2 to 3 times per week and after the first month, we stood in front of a mirror to see how things were “stacking up�? -- literally. Amazingly, her posture was already showing improvement! Her neck and shoulders were more properly stacked atop the rest of her spine – providing ease of unnecessary pressure on the delicate vertebrae in her neck, and the “flat butt�? that she always complained about seemed to be better thanks to her pelvis aligning more properly. After the second month, chronic aches and pains in her lower back disappeared. The obvious had happened. She was seeing a difference, then feeling the difference. She is much more aware now of how stress embodies itself in her skeleton and thanks to newfound strength and muscle tone, her “tower�? is strong and lean.

A more recent client came to our studio with plans on getting pregnant. She wanted to get in as much shape as possible before she gave her body up to the natural and beautiful process of growing a bun in the oven. Through a regular weekly practice she started to notice the cinching effect that Pilates is notorious for. Her waistline and hips were tighter and her lanky arms were getting more defined. She was surprised because she would often complain of how she didn’t break a sweat during our sessions. We worked together throughout a successful pregnancy and I received a heartwarming call one afternoon. She had gone into labor and her nurses were shocked that it was her first child! Evidently her pelvic floor and the surrounding muscles were so strong and her pushes so controlled and effective that labor was a cinch! She credits it to Pilates. She rebounded to her pre-pregnancy shape in no time.

What keeps me passionate about what I do and what keeps the Method strong today is indeed the physical benefits that result so quickly. Most clients will experience more muscle definition – especially through apparatus training. Leaner arms, more flexibility and ease of back pain are the most common short term results. The long term benefits are more profound. The Pilates body “sticks,�? as a client of mine says. And it’s true. The body seems to return to its natural, more healthy state during and even after a Pilates practice. Looking better leads to feeling better. And feeling better usually leads to a whole new outlook on body, mind and spirit!

Michelle Fama

Core Pilates NYC’s Top 5 Strategies for A Quick Pilates Body

  1. Pilates as Your Only Exercise Routine: Take 2 Private or Semi-Private sessions per week with a trainer using all Pilates apparatus and subsidize that with a Pilates group mat class once a week.
  2. Pilates on A Tight Budget: Take 2 -3 group mat classes each week and invest in some small props for at home use with an effective DVD. The Pilates Magic Circle, physio ball, foam roller and small hand weights would be great accessories to use. We suggest Mari Winsor’s DVD collection for a great, guided at-home practice. Invest in a private session once a month so your trainer can correct your form and technique for a more optimal at-home practice.
  3. Pilates to Lose Weight: The cardio benefits of Pilates aren’t truly experienced until the more Intermediate to Advanced Exercise Systems. If it is your main source of exercise than a progressive routine of 3 – 4 times per week is recommended. That could be any mixture of apparatus or group mat classes. Cardio such as a treadmill, or elliptical machine, or running is still strongly recommended as thee most effective fat burner.
  4. Pilates for the Athlete: For active tri-athletes, golfers, runners, swimmers, gymnasts, dancers etc… Pilates is vital to keeping muscles long, and flexible and receptive to the pressures of your other activities. We suggest 2 private or semi-private apparatus sessions each week. Alternatively, one private a week combined with one mat class a week.
  5. Pre-Wedding Pilates: The big day is only a few months away and you have to fit into that dress!! We get this all the time! 3 – 4 sessions per week either through Private apparatus sessions or group mat classes. Also consult a nutritionist to keep the diet and complexion under control through this stressful time!

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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