Pilates for Dummies
Introduction to Pilates
Holding on to straps and trying to squeeze a ring in between my knees, while lifting my back off the floor and working my abdominal muscles, I was hissing and sweating and wondering why on earth I agreed to be in this situation in the first place. It was 4:00 in the afternoon, on a weekday, and instead of finding me slumped on my chair in front of my computer, trying to beat a deadline, I was actually doing Pilates for the first time!
Like the rest of non-sporty ladies out there, the idea of working out using big machines doesn’t appeal to me. Having tried the gym and didn’t like it, I stick to occasional yoga and running. However, the promise of having lean muscles and stronger core was enough to make me set aside my aversion towards exercise machines for a moment and tried Pilates. And guess what, it wasn’t so bad!
Pilates for fitness
Candice Chin, STOTT Pilates instructor and director of Pilates Fitness, introduced me to the Pilates Reformer, an exercise machine that provides resistance, allowing you to work precisely in developing stronger core, flexibility and good alignment.
“The spring is the one that creates resistance,” Candice explained. “It helps make your workout easier because you have something to hold on to compared to a mat workout, but it also makes it harder because you are working against a resistance.”
As Candice and I started to do some warm-up exercises, she explained that Pilates is actually good for women because we need to have resistance training to avoid osteoporosis. “As we reach the age of 30, we start to lose a lot of calcium. So the bones become more and more brittle and start to think they don’t need to be strong. The less you work your bones, the more they think it’s okay since they don’t need to be strong anyway. As you go older, they get brittle.” Regular resistance training helps your bones remember that they need to lift something heavy, so they retain calcium.
Pilates for weight loss
A lot of people who are on the heavy side cannot run or do a cardio-based workout. “A cardio-based workout is very fast, because you do running or jumping or skipping,” said Candice. “And when you are big, doing all these can cause injury to your knees and ankles. So sometimes it can be impossible for some people to perform well without hurting themselves.”
As opposed to cardio, Pilates is gentle on the joints, so much so that even people who had total knee-cap replacement can do the exercises using a lot of weight without posing any harm on the knee-cap. Although the result is not the same as a cardio workout, Pilates allows people to exercise without hurting themselves.
More than anything, however, Candice iterated that the principle of Pilates teaches body awareness. Learning about your body, knowing when to push it and when to slow down, and when not to aggravate it if injured. “It’s very controlled and slow, so you don’t feel like you need to catch up. But on the other hand, you’re actually doing a lot,” enthused Candice.
What to expect
During the first session, the instructor will assess your body. It will be all about basic exercises, nothing too difficult or too rigid. But once you start coming in regularly and the instructor has seen your weakness and strengths, that’s the time they start customising the exercise for you.
“Pilates focuses a lot on customisation,” explained Candice. “Everyone in class is doing different things because we make sure we push them to their maximum level.”
The morning after my first Pilates session, every muscle in my body felt sore (feel-good sore), even the ones I didn’t know existed. And I took it as a good sign. I still don’t like exercise machines, but gentle Pilates Reformers have slowly won me over.