From Client to Instructor – How Pilates Inspired Me

Jackie asked me to write a blog for PFM….a blog that would inspire people to come to Pilates! Now for anybody who knows me, knows that I can be rather evangelical about Pilates and that my enthusiasm for it knows no bounds. Yet I could not help but feel a little daunted by the task. What on EARTH would I write about? Well, I’ve always heard you should write about what you know – so that’s exactly what I set out to do.

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I used to be a runner. This is how I started my fitness addiction. Running was always a passion, but it was also a hindrance as well. I had so many injuries from running and jogging it wasn’t funny. I developed severe issues such as a painful foot condition called plantar fasciitis. I had to spend 100’s of dollars on special inserts for plantar fasciitis and still continued to suffer. That’s when a friend of mine recommended something I had never heard of before: Pilates.

I thought it would be much of a muchness as in – go to a class , follow the instructor (as in a body pump or yoga session), hurt and creak and whinge and then go home happy that I made it through another class. Alas! This was a different kettle of fish altogether! For starters, I was told that I needed to complete 6 private sessions before I could join a group class. I was intrigued but went with it. After the first class – I was hooked.
This was no ordinary fitness system….it was like nothing I had ever done before. The focus and concentration needed to do seemingly simple movements was beyond anything I had ever experienced before. I consider myself quite cerebral, so when my Pilates instructor actually requested that I USE MY BRAIN when I exercise I was pretty excited. Imagine, not being able to think about anything else for an hour but what is happening in that moment. This was what all the yoga people were on about and yet I never got it.(Don’t be misled though Pilates is nothing like Yoga, but you have to try to see why! ) Here, I was able to empty my mind of all the stresses of the day and just get on with the task at hand, which was to move my body in a way it had never been moved before. It was one of the most liberating hours of my life and the sweatiest!
The breathing alone was enough to make me break a sweat. Proper breathing is primary in Pilates and sadly gets a little overlooked in some studios. I walked out feeling relaxed but energised and my body felt amazing. You see, other than the breath, another fundamental principle that gets bandied about a lot but not really focused on is that Pilates is all about the MIND BODY connection. You use your mind to move your body and the breath adds tempo and control to these movements. Now, other than yoga, I have not found another exercise regime that asks this of its students.

A lot of people ask me “Wasn’t the machinery intimidating, it looks like a torture chamber?” Agreed, it can be pretty alarming walking into a studio for the first time and seeing the equipment with chains and springs and all sorts. However, I felt pretty safe because I had the watchful eyes of the instructor on me the whole time. Pilates instructors are trained to be safe and to make sure that you are moving from a supported place throughout the session. This is why the classes are small.
The exercises you do in Pilates are very specific, like I said, you’re moving your body in a totally new way. Well, you ought to be. Some people will read this and think “I didn’t find anything different about Pilates” or “I don’t get a workout when I do Pilates” and herein lies the difference once again. It depends on where you go. I went to a Pilates studio rather than a gym, where the classes can have up to 30 people. Also, I was taken through the fundamentals of Pilates in my 6 private sessions and was taught how to listen for “cues” and become more aware of how my body moves when listening to these “cues” and thinking about how to use them. My “group” classes had no more than 3 people in them!
Ask any Pilates practitioner who has been taught by a certified instructor, whether or not Pilates is easy and you will get the same response. NO! It’s not easy. It’s challenging and crazy and fun and frustrating and wonderful and invigorating all at the same time. Yes, the classes are relatively expensive but isn’t one’s health priceless? Without it you would not be able to live a life of quality.
Today in our studio we are seeing more and more people coming in with bad backs due to the lifestyles they lead – sitting at a desk and working long hours and not paying attention to nutrition either. Life is fast and on the move especially in a city like London.
So perhaps it’s about time you found some sanctuary, a place where you spend an hour thinking all about YOU and your body and nothing but you and your body? A place where you feel the instructors care about you as much as you do or should. What does L’Oreal say all the time….? You’re worth it! Well, aren’t you? We at SALT think you are. So why not try a class and be inspired by how your body was made to move!

Stretch-eze Pilates Product Review

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Stretch-eze stretches best.

Stretch-eze is by far my favorite portable pilates prop when instructing diverse groups of mixed experience and abilities in a studio setting.  This is a fairly new product, a small prop that builds on the therapeutic tradition Joseph Pilates initiated because the stretch-eze offers a touch of assistance to the exerciser making kinesthetic sensation more pronounced, proper alignment more likely and correct muscle activation in any given exercise deeper.

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The greatest value of the Stretch-eze band is that it builds confidence in beginners new to pilates exercise.  Joseph Pilates originally created the pilates equipment to assist his clients.  Before immigrating to America and working with NYC dancers and professional athletes he worked with WWII vets confined to hospital beds rigging up the springs from mattresses to help them exercise in ways they were previously unable assisting them to gain back functionality they had lost during the atrocities of war.  His ultimate goal in designing the equipment was to help his clients so they could eventually perform all the essential mat exercises even the most difficult without the aid of equipment.

One of the purposes of pilates props and the Stretch-eze band is not to make exercises dependent on them but to give new or struggling students the opportunity to feel the proper way to execute an exercise they may be struggling with.  The Stretch-eze is a pilates tool that offers tactile feedback and just enough support to assist the learning process making it easier to experience the integrated coordination of movements during an exercise facilitating use of the right muscles without over emphasizing one group to the detriment of another.  Using the Stretch-eze band enables the exerciser to avoid overloading tension that may compromise the objective or inhibit the appropriate mechanics of an exercise movement.

The great benefit of the physical assistance provided by the Stretch-eze band is that it helps beginner students succeed at exercises where they may be having trouble making success attainable and further improvements possible.   Feeling successful students are able to conquer their fears and continue to strive on a progressive path toward better fitness instead of giving up before they even get going.

The Stretch-eze band is also an excellent instrument for better stretching that will enhanced articulation in spinal flexion and improve elongation in extension exercises. Like other resistance props, such as the pilates exercise band or the pilates magic circle, the Stretch-eze band offers resistance that can be used to further activate neuromuscular proprioception and challenge muscle strength.

The added width and suppleness of the soft lycra fabric also make it more pleasant to use than rubberized resistance bands although they do not have as much tension as rubberized bands. Ultimately, this is an excellent fitness tool and unique pilates product.  I use it regularly with my clients to facilitate optimal efficiency and proper mechanics of many pilates exercises.

Description of the Stretch-eze

  • The Stretch-eze is a wide band of stretch lycra sewn in a circle
  • 3 sizes to choose from best deals from $29.95 to $35.95

Advantages of the Stretch-eze

  • Helps exercisers activate and coordinate the right muscle groups efficiently with less difficulty
  • Adds versatility to workouts and additional support to enhance performance abilities
  • Soft and pliant stretch lycra material more comfortable than rubberized bands
  • Relatively inexpensive and convenient
  • Lightweight and easily portable: fits in tote for quick overnight business trips

Disadvantages of the Stretch-eze

  • May be complicated to use if unfamiliar with it
  • Knowledge of pilates needed to fully understand band potential
  • DVD is instructional but offers no clear level distinctions

Find your Best Deals at Amazon where you pay less than at the Manufacturer’s Site.

Stretch-eze Band, Small ~ 4ft 8 in. – 5ft 2 in.   $29.95

Stretch-eze Band, Medium ~ 5ft 3 in. – 5ft 6 in. $32.95

Stretch-eze Band, Large ~ 5ft 7 in. – 6ft 1 in. $35.95

Pain Free dvd using Stretch-eze $14.95

Pilates Bar & DVD

The Danskin Portable Pilates Studio features a unique pilates bar that is enjoyable to exercise with.

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If you do not have the means or opportunity to workout on a reformer the Pilates Bar featured in the Danskin Portable Pilates Studio is a very good, inexpensive option to add variety and resistance to your mat workouts.  This very affordable  pilates bar offers a unique pilates oriented workout that provides an amazing total body solution in the comfort and privacy of your home. Although it is not a traditional pilates prop, using the Danskin pilates bar will let you get a feel for some of the core, arm and leg work that is done on the pilates reformer.

The design of the pilates bar lets the exerciser perform reformer-style movements without buying the equipment or enrolling in studio sessions. For less than a quarter of the price of a single private pilates lesson you can use the pilates bar everyday to get the longer leaner body results you want at home.

The Danskin Portable Pilates Studio workout is not only effective, but it is an incredibly fun workout for all fitness levels! Get slim and sexy with easy-to-do, full range, smooth and fluid teasers, leg circles and full body stretches. Sculpt your arms, legs, hips, and thighs while improving core strength with every move.  Get ready to tone your whole body and lose inches too using the pilates bar and dvd!

bicep curls using the pilates bar

If you are a personal trainer the Danskin Pilates Portable Studio bar is very convenient and easy to use as well as simple to transport.  You can bring the pilates bar with you to the gym or wherever you meet your clients because it easily fits in a gym bag.  Use the pilates bar on the go or in your home studio.  The pilates bar consists of a foam padded bar with two 30” bands of resistance tubing attached at each end.  At the end of the tubing are two loops called foot straps in pilates.  The pilates bar screws together securely and then is easily disassembled for compact storage and transportation.  The pilates bar is well constructed and durable.

For newcomers to pilates, the biggest plus is the follow along DVD with three short but effective workouts and an illustrated workout poster created by Global Fitness Pro, Gin Miller.  If you are new to exercise or pilates type workouts the DVD is very helpful and easy to follow.  Gin Miller gives clear directions, is upbeat and motivating.

If you are just starting out or are pressed for time you can do just one of the workouts.  When you are in a more ambitious mood ready to spruce up your  intensity you can jump in and do two or all three.  Once you have the basic moves down it is easy to get them in at home while listening to music or watching you favorite TV show.  There are many more movement options that you can create as you gain more experience using the pilates bar.  If you have learned a few things at the gym I am sure you can come up with a few on your own.  Standing squats, biceps curls and triceps extensions are all easy to do using the pilates bar featured in the Danskin Portable Pilates Studio.

In essence, if you are a little intimidated starting something new and or curious about more than just pilates mat work yet do not want to pay the cost of a home reformer or private studio session, the pilates bar is a little piece of heaven for a very minimal but worth while investment.

Exercising with the  pilates bar will help you . . .

  • Improve strength and flexibility
  • Tone your whole body
  • Lose inches
  • Burn calories
  • Look & feel your best

The Danskin Portable Pilates Studio includes:

  • Foam padded pilates bar with two 30” resistance tubes and foot straps
  • Pilates bar disassembles for compact carriage and easy storage
  • Illustrated workout poster guide by fitness pro
  • Workout DVD with three workouts

The pilates bar is retailed at $30.00 by Danskin but you can find it for considerably less at Amazon.com.

If you enjoyed learning about the pilates bar you may also be interested in the pilates stretch-eze band.

Choosing the Right Pilates Fitness Circle

Pilates fitness circles are quickly becoming one of the most popular pilates props on the market today.  They can be used daily at home or in your hotel room,  on vacation or during a business trip.  Circles are very popular because they are relatively inexpensive and lightweight.  They offer versatility in your workouts and are easy to transport, providing budget friendly, fun and effective exercise options.

The growing popularity of pilates practice brings with it an increase in awareness and a broader selection of props and circles of varying types, styles and resistance levels. Originally called magic circles,  the first circles were made out of metal but today many are constructed using other materials as well.  Pilates circles are relatively inexpensive and can be bought for as little as $20 or as much as $75,  So if you are considering the use of a magic circle for your workout be sure to choose one that will not only be easy on your wallet but will best suit your fitness goals.

History and Description of a Magic Circle

jp_portrait1Joseph Pilates invented the magic circle when he was playing around with a metal ring that he got off a cognac keg.  His whimsical and creative, goal oriented mind guided his physical explorations to reveal the many conditioning options that such a tool provided.  Today the pilates magic circle  also referred to as a fitness or exercise circle and or resistance or exercise ring, is a circular ring  made out of a pliable yet firm material such as flexible metal, bendable plastic or resilient fiberglass with rubber coating.  It can be anywhere from twelve to fifteen and half inches in diameter with two small cushioned pads on the supple rim.  Today magic circles come in light to heavy resistance options.  The different resistance options provide varying levels of proprioceptive stimulation when used during explicit movement exercises.  Pilates circles are unique props used in myriad ways to tone the whole body: torso, chest, arms, buttocks, hips and thighs.

How do you use the magic circle?

The magic circle is most often used positioned between the arms and or legs and can be used in a variety of diverse ways to target different muscle groups.  When squeezed the circle provides light to moderate resistance but that is not the main objective of the circle.  Circles are essentially light weight props that offer just enough added weight to provide optimal leverage.  Circles also offer tactile guidance to the exerciser stimulating proprioception, aiding spacial awareness and improving kinesthesia when engaging particular muscle groups during a specific exercise task.

b000w09nym1Use of the magic circle is intended more for improved neuromuscular facilitation than as a means of achieving muscular entropy.  The resistance is applied to stimulate enough muscular engagement to effectively tone the body without incurring additional bulk.  The resilient tension provided by circles as a means for achieving improved functionality is not the same as the weight bearing resistance that is applied to challenge ones strength and build muscle, as is the goal of weight training resistance.  Thus, one should not squeeze the magic circle with as much might, gusto, and or power as one is capable of mustering forcing the circle to pop.  The goal is not to completely annihilate the resiliency of the circular object crushing it into functional oblivion but to use it as a tool for improving awareness.

Many individuals who do this complain that the circle they have bought is no good because it does not provide enough resistance.  This lets me know that they really are not well informed about the principle essence or objective of pilates practice as a modality of optimal functional wellness.  If you are looking to build huge muscles there are other tools that are designed to more adequately assist you in accomplishing that goal.    In this case scenario the circle is probably not the prop or tool for you, however, circles do come in several resistance levels to choose from; light, moderate, and heavy.   If you are a strong and fit individual you may need a tighter circle designed with greater resistance toward the heavier mark that will require more strength to manipulate.

How Much Resistance Is Enough Resistance?

Today more circles are constructed of plastic and or rubber coated fiberglass than metal.  Metal, even flexible metal, as a rule is sturdier than fiberglass and will usually hold its shape longer.  While rubber coated fiberglass circles are generally more comfortable to manipulate, they will quickly break if consistently squeezed with more force than they were designed to withstand.  When I use circles it is more as props to assist the body’s movement and facilitate proprioception so my concern for huge amounts of resistance is not my top priority.

However, a certain degree of sturdy firmness and durability is necessary for efficacy.  If the user is fit and strong extremely supple lightweight circles may be less effective as practical tools whether they are used for their strength producing properties or as instruments of proprioceptive facilitation.  Many circles constructed with low levels of resistance may not be sufficient for either purpose depending on the size and strength of the individual using the prop.  If your desire is mild resistance geared toward assisting flexibility and correct body orientation then a lighter ring may be fine but if your goal is more than that be sure to go with a circle that has sufficient resistance for your objectives.

Advantages of Versatility and Portability

A big advantage of the magic circle is that it is lightweight and readily portable.  The circle easily fits in a suitcase, lays flat and does not take up much space.  It is ideal if you travel regularly and want to adhere to your fitness program.    Even a heavy duty durable circle takes up little volume and does not weigh much more than a pound or two.   If you are looking for a circle that will endure through steady usage on a daily basis be sure to pay a few extra bucks getting a professional quality circle.  You will be glad you did when it serves you well holding its shape and resistance through many months of varied workout sessions.

New Features Include Double Sided Pads

The original magic circles had two pads placed across from one another on the outside of the rim.  Newer designs have back to back pads placed on both the inside and outside of the rim across from one another so that the circle can be squeezed inward from the outside pads and pressed outward from the inside pads.

Having pads placed on both sides of the rim add greater versatility and comfort.  For example, when the double pads are clasped with the hands, the circle can be pressed together with the palms on the outside pads working the arms and chest and then pulled outward with the fingers on the inside pads working the arms and back.  When working the lower body the circle can be placed between the knees pressing inward on the outside pads to work the inner thigh.  Then to work the outer thigh, the legs can be put through the circle placing the inside pads on the outside of the legs or thighs.  Pressing outward on the inside pads then works the outer thigh.

How to Choose a Magic Circle

Today there are numerous magic circles on the market.  There are so many brands available that it can be difficult to choose.  How do you know which circle is the right one for you?  There are quite a few flimsy and extremely bendable circles that will not hold up to the test of time.  If you have used a particular brand in class or at the gym before and you liked the feel that might be the one to go with.  The logical suggestion would be to go with a reputable seller and a recognized brand.  Once you determine how much resistance you want and need you can not go wrong with a Balanced Body, Stott or Stamina brand circle.  These are a little more money but you can be sure they are made well and will last.

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10 Moves Done On A Ball To Energize Body and Mind

Energize and optimize your fitness practicing pilates on stability balls.

Pilates balls (aka Swiss, fitness or exercise balls) are quickly becoming one of the most popular pilates props incorporated into pilates practice today.  Their myriad benefits and techniques were first discovered and developed by physical therapists working in Switzerland.   Today exercise balls have widespread appeal in the American fitness community having moved from the confines of a therapeutic clinical setting into an extensive mainstream spectrum of health clubs and pilates studios all across the country.  If you are wondering why, it is because they are fun and easy to use, inexpensive, effective and offer versatility in your workouts.

Here are a few simple practices anyone can do on a ball to improve their fitness.

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1. Sit on a ball while at work or in front of the TV.  Just sitting on a ball elongating the spine in a vertical position striving to stabilize the core will help to improve posture, spinal mobility and abdominal strength.  To rev it up a notch try bouncing gently on the ball.  This will work the legs and torso even more as you attempt to control and stabilize the reverberating spine engaging hip and core muscles with every repercussive bounce.

2. There are many movements that can be done sitting on a ball.  Here is one that is very beneficial because it is a move we rarely do.  Begin sitting tall with your fingertips placed gently on top of your head and your elbows to the side in line with your ears.  Keeping your pelvis and shoulder girdle stable bend laterally to the side.  Bringing your elbow toward the ball stretch from your waist bending right and left several times moving through the vertical. Try lifting the ribcage up before you bend at the waist to tighten one side while lengthening the other.  This will stretch your spine and work your torso improving core strength and flexibility, control and mobility.

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3. Another basic exercise performed while sitting on a pilates ball is done with the hands in front of the ribs and elbows out to the sides at chest level.  This exercise will also work the core and target the waist.  Keeping the pelvis in a stable upright position twist back and forth rotating the ribcage right and left.  As you twist toward the right pull the left hip back to keep the pelvis still and likewise as you twist toward the left do the opposite pulling the right hip back to keep the pelvis still.

4. A simple exercise done standing is to lift and lower the ball overhead.  Another is to sweep it in an arc overhead from side to side several times rhythmically taking deep breaths.  These moves are great to do if you have a sedentary job and spend many hours sitting at a desk or in front of a computer.  In between project assignments stretch your body and mind with these simple exercises.  They will help facilitate deeper breathing, improve oxygen intake, circulation, mental clarity and alertness, thus improving productivity.  They are also great to do when watching tv on a commercial break.

5. Another basic exercise done standing that will strengthen chest and core muscles is with the ball placed between the hands holding it out in front of your chest.  Squeeze the ball pressing your arms together several times keeping the shoulders down and lifting the ribcage up out of the waist elongating the spine.  Then try squeezing the ball and adding a twist side to side stabilizing the legs and pelvis targeting the chest and waist.

6. To target abdominal muscles lay on your back with the middle of your torso on the ball and your spine in an elongated neutral position cradling your head with your fingertips to support your neck.  While stabilizing your legs and pelvis press the middle of your back into the ball curling your upper back a few inches forward pulling the front of your bottom rib toward the top of your pelvis making sure to keep the pelvis still.  Release the spine back to neutral and repeat several times.

7. To strengthen the legs and improve mobility of the spine start lying on the floor on your back with your arms by your sides and feet on top of the ball.  Begin taking a deep breath in bending your knees.  On the exhalation press your lower back into the floor tucking your tailbone under in a posterior tilt.  Keeping the knees bent press your feet into the ball and lift your hips rolling up from your tailbone and the base of your spine articulating one vertebrae at a time.  At the top take another breath in and exhale as you roll back down.  Elongate through each vertebrae stretching the space between each vertebral joint until you return with the hips down and spine back to neutral.

8. In our enthusiasm to be fit we often forget that stretching and releasing tension is just as important as toning the muscles.  A great way to let go of tension, to rejuvenate and re-energize the body is to simply lay on your back with the middle of your torso on the ball.  Open your arms and extend your back arching it over the curve of the ball.  This will not only stretch your chest and abdominal it will lengthen and nourish your spine.

9. To stretch the sides of your torso lay on your side with the ball pressed into your waist.  Reach your arm over your head.  Bend the elbow and breathe.  Then do the same on the other side.

10. Many people suffer from lower back pain.   A great way to release tension in the lower back is to lay with your belly on the ball hanging your torso over it.  Drape your torso and arms around the ball. Feel the weight of your legs as your breath deeply opening the small of the back allowing tension to release.  To stretch and release tension higher toward the middle and upper back try hugging the ball with your arms actively opening the space between the shoulder blades.