One of the best reasons for getting started with Pilates is to improve how you move! Whether you are young or old, participate in sports and athletics, or just exercise for personal wellness, learning Pilates can be a very valuable asset to your wellness program for improving overall body mechanics and movement patterns.
Joseph Pilates was a genius with the creation of the equipment and exercise method he developed. Working on connecting mind and body, coordinating breathing and movement, focusing on core support, developing whole-body exercises that work against spring tension to activate muscles to work and release as they are designed to facilitate whole-body movements to improve whole-body health.
One of the biggest keys to success with Pilates is paying attention to how you are executing each Pilates exercise, and always striving to make the last repetition, the best one ever. This leaves your body with the muscle memory of how to move correctly. If you are too fatigued to find and use the right muscles, but you haven’t stopped to take a rest break… your risk of injury goes up, and the health benefits you’re working toward decline. What’s worse, by not stopping on a well-executed repetition - the brain remembers how to do the movement incorrectly (and that’s how the body will get started next time you do that exercise!)
I remember my very first Pilates lesson. I was in my mid-twenties and had always been active. I was a gymnast, dancer, lifted weights… heck I was a full-fledged fitness professional, and ACE-Certified Personal Trainer. I was teaching people how to exercise, teaching land and water aerobics classes, and writing personalize gym programs. I thought I was strong, fit, and flexible… I thought I knew my body and could make it do anything I asked… I observed quite a few Pilates lessons with a variety of clients. (Young dancers, middle-aged women, athletic men, seniors, healthy, and not-so-healthy bodies, people of all shapes and sizes) The Pilates exercises looked easy! And after watching all these different ages and abilities do Pilates all morning. I thought, “I can do this too, no problem.”
And then I got to take my first-ever Pilates private lesson…
I quickly discovered that I was weak, stiff, didn’t know how to breathe, couldn’t make my body bend in the right places, wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, and I had a whole bunch of muscles I’d never really used. I uncovered a lot of muscle imbalances and realized that I had a lot to learn about my own body that could make a huge difference for my personal health.
It was a “Eureka” moment of understanding why I’d had lower back problems my whole-life, why I’d had so many foot pain problems, why I hated doing cardio activities, why I had a tension headache every Friday afternoon, and why I was struggling with voice issues. (It all was related to my bad posture and poor breathing habits.)
For the first time, I had hope that with the new and better body mechanics that Pilates was going to teach me, I was going to be able to support my body better, and develop healthy movement patterns, that I obviously hadn’t been achieving with the other fitness activities I had done in the first 25 years of my life… It wasn’t going to be easy, but I accepted the challenge, because I knew how important the changes would be for my long-term health.
The one question that I always get asked by my new Pilates clients is, “Why didn’t anybody teach me this sooner.” And it’s a great question. I don’t know… The way Pilates helps the body to retrain better movement habits is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. The concepts seem simple and logical once you understand them… And what’s great is that regardless of the age you start Pilates, you can improve your strength, flexibility, and fitness.
The Pilates Method has been around since the mid 1900’s. Joseph Pilates Book, “Return to Life Through Contrology” was first published in 1945. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990’s that the Pilates Method gained much traction and popularity. It’s been out there – you just didn’t know what you were missing!
If you wait to get started with Pilates until you are in your forty’s, fifties, or sixties, you’ve got a few years of bad habits to break, before new and better Pilates habits will be able to support better body mechanics. Yes, it would be ideal if everyone were to learn more Pilates movement principles as kids to help set the body up for a lifetime of good health. But when we are younger, it doesn’t seem to be a priority (because nothing hurts yet!) However, the earlier we start finding and using the right muscles, the fewer injuries, less wear-and-tear on the body, and the stronger and more supported we are to keep ourselves healthy. All this can be achieved by learning and practicing good functional movement habits.
Regardless of how young or old you are when you start Pilates, improving how you move and developing better body mechanics will help you enjoy a healthier, more active life.
In my 30 years of studying Pilates, and working with different mentors, I believe there are two different angles that Pilates practitioners come from when discussing Pilates and Body Mechanics.
- Work the Pilates System, and by just doing the exercises you will learn what you need to know to strengthen your core and improve your whole-body health.
- Educate clients more about the intricacies of functional body mechanics to be able to find and feel what needs to work/release to improve their ability to execute exercises as well as possible to improve movement patterns.
As a Pilates teacher who wants to educate and empower my clients to find a deeper brain-body connection, I personally tend to lean in to the second category of providing more education (still with a strong emphasis on working the Pilates system.) I do believe that the Pilates exercises, and learning the Pilates Method in a systematic way, from beginner progressions to intermediate and advanced exercises, does help set the body up for success. But I also strongly believe that knowledge is power. It’s tough to really know what you’re finding and feeling on the inside, because it’s not visible – and most clients do not have a degree in anatomy to conceptualize all the parts of the body involved in using better body mechanics. Plus, everybody needs to know the “WHY.” Why is it important to make a change. Without a strong enough reason why learning better body mechanics will improve your health, or help you reach your wellness goals quicker, there is no motivation to change or stick with your Pilates exercise program.
Having discussions about how to fine-tune your Pilates exercise technique, looking at muscle pictures, or seeing a skeleton, along with effective cuing strategies during Pilates workouts, can all be very helpful teaching strategies to speed up the process of understanding what to do, why it’s important, and begin finding, feeling, and experiencing new and improved body mechanics.
Sometimes the tiniest change can have the biggest impact on improving how you move!
Let’s face it, the human body is a very complex system. We have lots of moving parts, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones from head to toe that need to be organized efficiently to propel the body through space. Whether we are walking, running, jumping, playing sports, lifting weights, doing Yoga, or Pilates… The more we understand how to find and use the right muscle patterns for movement, the less stress we put on the body, and the easier it is to move!
Training better body mechanics with Pilates can help you more quickly learn what muscle to work and release for better function, and with practice, the amount of concentration it takes to be working efficiently can shift from something that requires a lot of extra mental effort, to something that you do unconsciously. Unconscious competence, this is the ultimate goal to ensure safe and effective functional movement for everything you do. Not having to think about every movement, autopilot is working to keep you exercising with good form, and you can make tiny adjustments as needed to enhance performance.
Pilates is the best method I’ve experienced to facilitate improving overall body mechanics and functional movement patterns. Find a well-trained Pilates teacher and get started. If you haven’t experienced Pilates yet, what are you waiting for?