Pilates is an incredibly popular form of exercise that was developed in the early-1900’s, but didn’t make it over to England until the 1970’s. Since then it’s been knocking around on the fitness scene and been a constant presence in people’s workout routines.
Focusing on core strength and stability, it utilises controlled movements and breathing to build strength, coordination, balance and improve alignment.
Where did Pilates come from?
It was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German bodybuilding enthusiast who focused his life on becoming fit and healthy after a sickly childhood. He began a new approach to fitness which combined body conditioning using body weight and apparatus, such as the Reformer, which is still used in studios today! He extensively researched many different forms of exercise; from Ancient Roman exercise routines to modern day fitness, such as gymnastics, and from tai chi to meditation.
In the 1920’s Joseph Pilates opened his first studio in New York and his methods were a hit! Especially with dancers - they found it a perfect way to recover from injuries and strengthen their weak spots. It grew in popularity before being brought over to the UK where the first Pilates studio opened in London in 1970. And, as they say, the rest is history!
A beginners guide to Pilates
Hundreds of studios and venues across the UK now offer Pilates and they range in a broad spectrum of styles. Have you ever been curious to try it out? We’ve collaborated with Soul Pilates, a quality Pilates studio based in the centre of Bristol, to bring you an in-depth beginners guide to Pilates. See what it’s all about and if it’s something you would want to give a go!
By Nic Conroy, Studio Founder & Lead Instructor
This summer I was approach by Hadrian Stiff, Director & Founder at Elite Squash to teach Pilates to some his clients during their summer break in Bristol. Hadrian coaches a number of elite squash players, including the current World Number 1 and has an amazing, holistic approach to get the best out of the best.
One philosophy I live by is ‘efficiency’. If we can walk through life with the most ease for the greatest output then this has to be a good thing right? What if I said “you can do less, and achieve more”? This so often goes against everything we’ve been taught in life: “No pain, no gain". But actually working with Hadrian has cemented my view because this is exactly his approach and he’s working with top flight athletes who are hugely successful at what they do.
My first thought when asked to teach his players was “what on earth can I teach these guys, they are the creme-de-la-creme of their sport?”. But it turns out that even top flight professional athletes have movement patterns which aren’t as efficient as they could be. This can lead to injuries or just feeling more achy after a long tournament which means they don’t go into their next tournament feeling on top form.
I worked with a number of players over the summer, and am continuing with my work with them this Autumn and here are the benefits I’ve seen from their work in the Pilates studio.
Ease of Movement
We want movement to feel easy and smooth. Bringing the mind into the body, and the body into the mind, is a huge part of this experience. Often we are so driven by our head that we fail to notice what the body is feeling, what it is sensing. Being asked to describe a feeling, to notice a feeling, to be given time to check in with yourself pre-and-post session is a huge part of this journey to learn and sense how we 'feel'.
Often we stay in the head asking ourselves things like, “what muscle is this working”, “what should I be engaging” - this isn’t the point. When we move, whether it’s to play top level sport or walking down the street we don’t tell our bodies to “engage this glute to move this leg” we just have the aim of walking to get somewhere. This is even more prevalent in any sport or high intensity activity - you’re so focused on your game, or your run that you will fail to check in with your posture, your movement or the strategy to move more easily.
Posture is not something we can consciously control. We need it to just be there. Our bodies really do want to be efficient but sometimes they need a little re-calibrating to realise that movement can be easy. In order for the nervous system to recalibrate, it needs to have time to sense the patterns it’s learned so that it can start to pick up these new patterns and next time it’s asked to walk down the street, walk up the stairs or play the biggest game of its life it just finds the efficiency.
Improved Squat & Lunge Patterns
Squats are a bit of a buzz word in terms of functional movement and really something we should all be looking to improve. A deep squat is an incredibly efficient rest position for our bodies - just look at a toddler and you’ll see this is how they bend down and stay in one place - it’s the easiest way for their joints to rest. But a lifetime of sitting and staying away from these patterns means that for most people squats and lunges feel really tricky which results in the body compensating to achieve the aim.
And when it comes to Squash, where when you spend a good chunk of your game lunging to reach those low shots they matter even more. And here is where we spend time focusing on the pelvis. Where is it, how it moves, where do muscles connect and how do we use movement to create space and efficiency.
By Studio Founder & Lead Instructor Nic
We are passionate about moving, about HOW you move and about how you FEEL about moving.
So we decided to put on a full day of free classes, postural assessments and 1-to-1s to celebrate movement with you.
We had over 90 people attend the day and it was amazing to see so many old and new faces trying out some tried and tested class formats and some brand new such as PHIIT - combining Pilates with High Intensity moves.
Thank you to everyone who attended, I am looking forward to getting to know you more.
Some of our favourite feedback from the day....
Not many of us can continue to run every day and stay fit at the same time. Running has the tendency to put considerable stress on joints and lead to all manners of pain and aches if you’re not careful. The repetitive movement involved can be brutal, especially as you age and your bones become weaker. This is where Pilates can better condition your body to deal with this stress.
Pilates is a functional routine that is all about strengthening the core. It improves your stability, flexibility and allows you to be in total control of your body’s movements. Read on to learn how and why Pilates benefits runners.
What is the difference between Pilates Matwork and Pilates Machine Classes?
This is a question we get asked a lot at Soul Pilates!
The Pilates Machines, designed by Joseph Pilates, were created as a way to teach the strategies needed to perform the mat exercises with ease. We all have those exercises that we struggle with, and the springs used on the equipment provide us with valuable feedback, which helps our nervous system develop improved strategies for movement. It is these strategies that then get picked up by the nervous system and turned into better posture, better movement and therefore less pain and quicker recovery times following exercise.
You can’t impose posture no matter how much you try. Often our conscious acts of trying to correct what we see as poor posture ends up beings just as bad as the starting point! Instead the body needs to learn better patterns of movement and naturally start to incorporate these into the body. Pilates is really about creating these patterns. At Soul Pilates we combine Pilates with the latest studies in movement science so that the focus is on what each exercise is tying to teach. It’s not just about doing exercises for exercise sake!
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