Why We Love Props For Pilates

yespilateshundredswithband-articleFrom exercise bands to BoSUs to stability balls, props can add challenges, assistance or variety to a regular Pilates workout.  The right prop can make a hard exercise easier and a simple exercise extremely challenging! Targeted use of props can also help spice things up for clients who have been practicing Pilates for years and need a little pizzazz thrown into their workout.

So why do we love props?  The first reason is simple and perhaps the most important: props help facilitate the proper execution of an exercise. They help clients achieve neutral, fire into the “right” muscle group and activate dormant muscles that have not been doing their job!  Pads and cushions help clients begin an exercise in as close to neutral alignment as possible, which is essential for a biomechanically correct, pain-free Pilates practice.  We would not survive at our New York studio without pads to place under clients’ heads to bring the cervical spine into proper alignment when supine or cushions for them to sit on to bring the pelvis into neutral.  Pilates Rings and Small Balls between the ankles or knees on certain exercises can help engage inactive inner thigh muscles and help clients deepen their abdominal contraction.  Arc Barrels or BoSUs can be effective teaching tools for prone spinal or hip extension exercises.  Placing the lumbar spine in flexion on the barrel helps deactivate the often over-active erector spinae of the lower back and can help clients isolate the erector spinae of the upper back or activate the hip extensors without going into lumbar extension.

Second, props help build the strength or awareness necessary to perform the “real” exercise properly.  The original Pilates exercises are fabulous and effective on their own, but some people just can’t do them right….yet!  Props can be the stepping stone a client needs to succeed in a Pilates mat environment.   The “Roll Over,” for instance, can be challenging for many individuals who lack either abdominal strength or spinal flexibility (or both)!  By performing the “Roll Over” on an Arc Barrel and beginning with the hips elevated, the client can build the strength necessary to execute the exercise properly without using momentum and jeopardizing the lower back.  Similarly, for those with tight lower backs (such as the authors here), the “Roll Up” can be absolutely lovely holding a 4 lb mini-body bar.  Of course one needs to be careful with the shoulder girdle given the extra weight, but this little bit of extra weight adds leverage where it is needed to assist with articulation of the spine through the tight spot.  As another example, those clients seeking to transition from “Hundreds” with bent knees to “Hundreds” with straight legs but still find maintaining a strong imprint challenging benefit from using an exercise band around the feet.  The band helps support the weight of the legs, and thus allows the abdominal muscles to build the strength necessary to maintain imprint, protect the lower back and support the lower body simultaneously.

Finally, we love props because they introduce muscle confusion training into a Pilates mat workout, which helps any body get more out of their Pilates routine.  Simply put, the muscle confusion training principle states that muscles adapt to a specific type of stress and need to be challenged in varied ways in order to continue experiencing results.  Muscles improve from being subjected to new and different stresses and challenges which is exactly what props can provide.  Athletes cross train for this very reason, as the body benefits overall from allowing certain muscles fibers to rest and others to engage.  Moreover, incorporating props into a Pilates workout can help prevent the well-known plateau effect and even boost clients over a “road block” that keeps them from progressing.  Use of props can kick up the intensity of the workout quite effectively without placing undue strain on the body.  In fact, research shows that something as simple as performing a bench press on a stability ball is 62% more effective than a bench press with the same weight conducted on a regular bench.  (Source)

Pilates props with Katherine and Kimberly CorpFurthermore, muscles performing the same action day after day “get bored” just as clients get bored with the same workout!  Varying a workout ensures that clients continue to see results and stay interested.  Pilates enthusiasts who regularly work out on the Pilates equipment already benefit from the muscle confusion training practice as integrating all equipment into sessions over the course of a week or month allows muscles to perform in different ways each workout.  Thus, just as “Side Bends” activates different muscles groups on the Ladder Barrel, Cadillac and Mat, so to does “the Hundreds” challenge the body in different ways using the Stretch Band, the BoSU and the Pilates Ring.  Focusing on different muscle groups and adding variety will not only enhance core stability, but also turn your Pilates routine into a fabulous cross-training program, which will improve your overall fitness and decrease your risk of injury.  (Source)

With all the props available today, one can quickly become overwhelmed when deciding which props to choose. Is your goal to challenge your client?  Help her do an exercise correctly?  Target his core?  Facilitate better alignment?  Knowing the merits of each prop and which ones best suit your clientele’s objectives is the first step to integrating props successfully into your Pilates workouts.  We have included a chart below to highlight the various benefits, but please keep in mind that the categories are exercise specific!  The exercise band, for example, can assist the “Roll Up” but challenge the “Double Leg Stretch.”  Also, one very dangerous trap to fall into is watching others use props and then copying them in your sessions.  Never EVER use clients as guinea pigs!  Incorporating a prop often changes the emphasis of the exercise, so be sure to try the exercise with the prop first before teaching it to an unsuspecting client.

In conclusion, we offer three basic rules of thumb to follow with regard to incorporating props into Pilates workouts.  First, choose a prop with a specific goal in mind for the client or class you are teaching.  (In other words, do not choose a prop because you, personally, are bored and need some entertainment!)  Second, remember that most clients can focus on one thing at one time.  Thus, multiple props used simultaneously tend to destroy — rather than enhance — the integrity of the exercise.  Though the picture to the right is humorous, you clearly want to avoid this scenario with your clients.  Finally, because props do change the original exercise a bit, be mindful of what is gained — and what could be compromised — with the addition of a prop.  Shoulder Bridge on the BoSU, for example, helps activate the core because of the instability, but the hamstrings may cramp because of the increased effort required to stabilize.

Pilates Props Table

The Pilates repertoire has not only withstood the test of time, it continues to impress and amaze both the fitness and medical worlds with its benefits.  Make sure to honor this system with thoughtful use of props that enhance the client’s overall Pilates experience.

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June 26, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. 1 comment.

Pilates and posture, part one

posture“Stand up straight!”  “Pull your shoulders back!”  “Don’t slouch!”  How many of us heard this as kids?

Good posture conveys self confidence, poise, leadership and many other positive attributes.  But posture is important not only for aesthetics, but also — and most importantly — for proper biomechanics, alignment and weight distribution throughout the body.

This week we will dissect the various aspects of good posture and the most common obstacles to achieving it.  As the spine is the center of the body, we will begin with a description of the spine and a definition of “neutral spine,” which is important for achieving proper posture.

First of all, the spine is comprised of 24 vertebrae that articulate with one another and another nine vertebrae in the sacrum — the bony triangle at the base of the spine with five fused vertebrae — and the tailbone consisting of four fused vertebrae.  The 24 vertebrae which articulate with one another are flexible enough to give us the movement we require to complete our daily functions.

The neck — or cervical spine — contains seven vertebrae and has the most flexibility of any part of the spine.  The rib cage area — or thoracic spine — contains twelve vertebrae and has the least amount of flexibility because of the limitation (and thus the protection) imposed by the ribs.  Finally, the lower back — or lumbar spine — contains five vertebrae with a fairly large degree of flexibility naturally, though many find limitation as they age due to muscle tightness.

Contrary to the common command, “stand up straight!” the spine is not naturally straight!  The spine has three curves which should be maintained for proper biomechanics.  The cervical spine (neck) curves slightly forward, the thoracic spine (rib cage) curves slightly backwards and the lumbar spine (lower back) curves slightly forward again.  These curves give the spine resiliency and aid in the absorption of impact and stress to the body.

Pilates seeks to preserve the natural curves of the spine, which is why you may have heard the terms “neutral spine” and “neutral pelvis” in your Pilates class.  The spine in its neutral alignment facilitates proper breathing, proper functioning of the bodily organs (as nothing is compressed) and as mentioned, proper transfer of weight through the joints.

Want to learn more about good posture?  Check back the rest of the week for more on head placement, pelvic placement and more!

April 17, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Break it Down!

pai-2Ultimate Pilates Workouts offers the most comprehensive Pilates instructional videos and DVD downloads available online! The simple, effective and exciting approach draws from the technique repertoire of The Pilates Academy International. The Pilates Academy International is New York City’s leading Pilates instructor certification center. Headquartered in New York, and offering satellite certifcation centers worldwide, The Pilates Academy International has a reputation for certifying highly respected and knowledgeable Pilates instructors.

The Pilates Academy International advocates a system that fosters extensive understanding of anatomy and biomechanics. Providing our students with the necessary tools and information regarding the science of the body in turns produces instructors capable of working with clients with injuries and special conditions. Graduates of The Pilates Academy International are sensitive to pregnant, senior, athletic, injured and rehabilitating clients alike. They are also equipped with an extensive set of exercises perfect for strengthening both beginner and advanced students. The Pilates Academy International acknowledges the broad spectrum of Pilates followers and therefore, effective applications of the method.

pai_logoUltimate Pilates Workouts expands on the principals of The Pilates Academy International by making its resources available online. As creators of both The Pilates Academy International and Ultimate Pilates Workouts, we understand that convenience counts too! We realize that many of our clients have busy schedules and cannot always commit to working out at our studio on a regular basis. We empathize with this situation, but believe that personal fitness should be able to find its way into your life both consistently and conveniently! Ultimate Pilates Workouts translates the exercise repertoire of The Pilates Academy International and makes it free to view from the convenience of your own at home computer! Free pilates online! And, pilates at home! With New York City’s top certifying Pilates instructor trainers! Who could ask for more?

How about more personal instruction? Sure! It’s important to execute each Pilates exercises with a clear understanding of its anatomical structure and fitness goal. Therefore, it is essential that each exercise be broken down to get the ultimate Pilates workout! To help you break down Ultimate Pilates Workouts for a fuller understanding of each exercise’s choreography, breath, shape, goals and modifications we’ve made The Pilates Academy International student manuals available to our Ultimate Pilates members!

The Pilates Academy International offers instructional manuals in Pilates Mat, Reformer, Cadillac/Tower, Chair, Barrels and Special Conditions. These manuals coincide with the exercises offered on Ultimate Pilates Workouts!

aprThe Pilates Academy International student manual collection is perfect for Pilates instructors looking to brush up on their skills, Pilates certification students preparing for examination (perfect for PAI students!!), and Ultimate Pilates Workouts members looking for further exercise clarification at home. To view Pilates Academy International manual samples online, click here! Browse the list of Pilates Academy International courses offered and their corresponding manuals.

Interested in purchasing your Pilates Academy International manual today? Perfect! Visit the Ultimate Pilates Workouts Shop menu, or click here!

Let us help you break down your Pilates workout with The Pilates Academy International!

February 27, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Download workouts for your Pilates Power Gym™!

instructors-069A lot of fitness studios, gyms and clubs in New York that claim to offer Pilates training really only offer Pilates mat training. While we agree that Pilates mat classes are terrific, and we offer a wealth of them here at our own studio, we also understand that mat classes are only a part of the Pilates system. Pilates equipment sessions, such as Pilates Reformer classes, are an invaluable part of the Pilates experience.

At Pilates on Fifth, we have been offering Pilates Reformer classes in New York since we opened our doors in 2000. We currently have eleven Reformers in our spacious studio, including three Reformers with Tower attachments. During your Pilates private sessions (or your Pilates duets or trios) you’ll spend about 85 to 90 percent of your session working out on our Pilates equipment.

Your private, duet or trio might include use of the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Chair, or the Ladder Barrel. The Reformer is great for an all-over workout. It challenges your body as a whole, improving the strength and flexibility of your limbs and torso “in concert” –rather than working on individual, very specific parts of the anatomy (as is the case with the Cadillac), the Reformer works on the body as a collectively. The Reformer is one of the most important pieces of equipment in Pilates. The benefits of the Reformer have been recognized by commercial Pilates products, introducing at home Pilates equipment series such as the Pilates Power Gym™. The convenience of having a Reformer in your own home is unlimited! And, Ultimate Pilates Workouts can help!

doggiebesqueUltimate Pilates Workouts
was created to support all the men and women Pilateurs with busy schedules and not enough time to make it to their local Pilates studios. We understand that exercise classes outside of the home are not always the most time and money efficient answer to personal fitness. Pilates at home can be productive both healthfully and financially! Ultimate Pilates Workouts offers practioners of all levels an ever-growing Pilates Workout Library online! And, it’s free to join! Whether you be a fan of Pilates for your lower back pain, athletic cross-training, injury rehabilitation, pregnancy exercises, or general love for the method, we’ve got the perfect workout for you! Ultimate Pilates Workouts offers free and unlimited access to Pilates mat, small equipment, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair and Barrel workouts (click here for more information on membership grades)! Ultimate Pilates Workouts is perfect for the owner of a Pilates Power Gym™ and offers the benefits of Manhattan’s top Pilates studio in your own home! Select to purchase a workout to be formatted as a DVD, iPod download, or to simply play on your computer screen with an easy click of your mouse!

treeFor instance, start with My First Reformer workout to learn the basics…  Then, enjoy Fit & Fluid to stretch, strengthen, and tone your whole body.  Like a harder workout, or more of a “gym rat workout?  Then try Corps Physique: Gym Rat Reformer Workout or Strengthen and Define for a fast-pace, challenging workout that will invigorate the whole body and sculpt long, lean muscles.  Put a few more sentences at least here….  We know that the spring settings will be different for each manufacturer.  On UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com, we use Stott Pilates® Reformers, but we will help you with spring conversions if you need them for your Pilates Power Gym™.

The deep breathing, stretching, and strengthening associated with Pilates will help you release tension. During your workout, you’ll feel better and more alive. When your workout is done, you’ll feel energized and refreshed. This isn’t the kind of workout that leaves you limp. Instead, you should feel renewed after your workout, ready to tackle the rest of your day!

Visit Ultimate Pilates Workouts today at www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com to get the ultimate workout on your Pilates Power Gym™!

February 24, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. 1 comment.