When I was active duty military I was, in many ways, in the best shape of my life. I could “max” the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) with 60 push-ups in 2 minutes, 81 sit-ups in two minutes, and could run in formation for five miles in my polished black boots. I could carry a rucksack and an M16 over miles of hiking mountains. I was in my twenties and was ready to take on the world! All that being said, at the end of every night my back hurt, my knees ached, and I literally couldn’t stand on my feet. Fast-forward eight years later to civilian life, when a friend recommended I take a Pilates class to help my back and body feel better .I thought that was for Hollywood.
But with a little convincing and wanting to feel better, I finally sneaked in the back of a class and fell in love. The whole class focused on core strengthening (foreign to me at the time), stretching and posture. Just what I needed. I felt refreshed and literally lengthened. A year later, I had the opportunity to get on a Reformer and knew I was hooked. After a year of regular Pilates mat and machine classes, I could finally run pain-free; I could sit in the car without my back aching; and my feet were so much happier. I felt the best ever.
Soon thereafter, I joined the excellent physical therapy program at Whatcom Community College, where I saw firsthand the importance of core strengthening for basic daily living. I would watch as the best and most caring therapists incorporated the basic Pilates exercises I was doing in my mat classes into their exercise protocols for their patients. For a stroke patient to be able to sit up, for someone to be able to walk unassisted from a walker, for all a patient to be able to roll out of bed; for someone to be able to put on his own shoes — they needed core strength, balance, and flexibility. The more I worked in the rehab field, the more I saw the importance of and benefits of Pilates and how it could help me be a better physical therapist. I researched and decided to get trained in Stott Pilates (as its training was the most rehab based). It took 6 years to get fully trained on all equipment but it is now my full time profession.
Now I use my training to help clients whose goals range from picking up their grandchildren and gardening to professional athletes who want to be the best in their field and runners who want to do marathons. Strengthening the core and maintaining flexibility, mobility and good posture is all critical for them. I love my job and I love seeing my clients feel better and reach their goals.
So what is the core? The core consists of the muscles of the abdomen, lower back, and hips. My favorite name for the core is the “powerhouse.” I tell them to imagine the core as a “box.” The lid is the diaphragm, the sides are the obliques, the front is the rectus abdominus, the back is the extensors and mulitifudi, the bottom is the pelvic floor and it’s all tied in the middle with a beautiful red bow, the transverse abdominus!
Too much anatomy for most to care, but what is important to realize is that you need all of these parts to function and work together or the box will weaken. If this box is strong you have the best foundation to build on.
After years of being a fitness coach, my number one recommendation is first be consistent. Exercise three-to-five days a week. My second recommendation is to best train your core and body cross train and cross train. Take different classes and different types of exercise will all help you be stronger. For example use the ball, bosu, bands, reformer and then start over. Third, I recommend that you find something you enjoy and surround yourself with community who support your fitness goals and lifestyle to cheer you on!
If you’re new to Pilates the most important thing is to find a qualified teacher. I highly recommend looking up Stott Pilates or certified instructors. See how many years they have taught, what equipment and specialties they are trained in, and do their training goals match yours? I recommend starting with a series of private sessions to learn how Pilates works. If you are focused on classes, I recommend doing both mat and Reformer as they are so different and both give you so much.
Reformer is of the best-known and most popular Pilates apparatus today. First-time clients often see it as intimidating, but this amazing piece of equipment is a mix of Disneyworld, gym equipment, New York Ballet, and surfing all at once. I can almost guarantee that if you can give it two-or-three weeks, you will feel the difference. It’s my absolute favorite piece of exercise equipment to be on and to train my clients on. It offers exercises that all help you focus on increasing your core strength while having fun. Take the very popular “plank” exercise for instance, which is in most mat and yoga classes. Many say it’s one of the best overall core building exercises. Now take this plank and move on to the Reformer and you’ve amplified the challenge (and quadrupled the fun factor) as now you are on a moving platform.
Classical Pilates puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core and improving coordination and balance The original six principles were concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing. Now Pilates is used mainstream for many different exercises. So make an appointment and learn about how Pilates can make you stronger and more balanced.
Ella Barney is a fully certified Stott Pilates® instructor. She has been actively involved in the fitness/health arena since teaching fitness classes at UCLA in 1994. She attended Whatcom Community College and became a licensed Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). Ella spent five years working both inpatient and outpatient care. She continued her training to become a Full Circle certified instructor. She has completed the Injuries and Special Populations course, as well as various rehab courses and workshops, including breast cancer survivor rehab and osteoporosis. She is also a ResistaBall trainer and YMCA Silver Sneakers instructor.