“So much to accomplish in 24 hours.” “There is never enough time in the day.” “I do not have enough time to exercise.” “I wish I could fit a workout into my schedule.”
Yes, daily life is truly a balancing act. If you are like me, we start off the day with a long, ambitious list of things to do. It feels like there is plenty of time to get through the list but then one more thing is thrown into the mix, or there’s a change of plans. Traffic, sick kids, cancelled train… The extra stuff I always refer to as speed bumps. If you get side tracked or slowed down, time flies away but the list does not get shorter. On days like this a good friend of mine always say “Calgon, take me way” (knowing this phrase dates me, I’m sure). By the time we are at the end of the day, we look to de-stress. Exercise is a great way to do that but too many things get in the way. Often at the end of it all, you’re just plain exhausted.
Exercise may start high on the priority list but it often is pushed to bottom or just removed from the list. But TBH, (as my son would say), exercise needs to not only stay on the list; it should remain at the top. When I think of or discuss the importance of exercise, I refer to my high school biology class and “The Seven Signs of Life” – The seven signs of life are moving, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition. All of these activities are present in living organisms. Note the first sign on the list. To maintain our living bodies, it is essential that we keep moving. Staying strong (to the best of our abilities) helps in every aspect of our daily lives.
Exercise improves the quality of our lives in every way and is a necessity, not a luxury. When making your list of things to do, try putting exercise at the very top. If you can make it the first thing you do in the morning, even better. That way, it’s done and nothing else gets in the way. If it’s later in the day, that works too. Try to exercise at a time of day that feels best for your body. Wherever exercise falls on your list, make it a top priority. Most of all keep your workout on your list; not only do you need it, you deserve it and you will feel better for it!
– Lesa McLaughlin
Wishful Thinking Won’t Make You Fit
Pilates Profile: Bill Trapmann, Age 65, Retired Economist
I’ve been practicing Pilates for slightly more than four years. I practice with regular sessions in the Excel studio at least once a week, except when I’m travelling. Between the formal sessions I try to include some Pilates exercises into my own personal workouts. As well as improving my technique, I find Pilates exercises to be a good way to warm up the body core.
Initially, I was curious about Pilates because I thought it might be helpful to augment my usual routine with something different. Over the years, I’ve found multiple benefits to changing my exercise regimen. Varying my exercises provides different challenges for my body, improves my strength, helps counter any physical imbalance from underworking any one part of my body, and gives me renewed interest in my overall exercise program. I’ve had my share of injuries over the years, and I appreciate the expert guidance and oversight provided by the instructors at the Excel studio. Their expertise imbues in me a confidence to attempt challenging exercises that I probably shouldn’t even consider, much less attempt, on my own. Thanks to the instructors, I have surprised myself more than once with what I am able to do.
Since I began practicing Pilates, I’ve noticed improved core strength and greater flexibility overall. I consider core strength to be an important benefit because it provides me a more stable platform for other activities such as swimming, biking, and running. Also, I’ve gained a better awareness of the interrelation of the core and the rest of my body, which has enhanced my performance in each of these other activities. In addition to the direct physical benefits, I’ve found the practice of Pilates to positively influence my mental outlook. Feeling stronger and more capable provides a degree of personal confidence that is actually comforting to me. I know these results are the product of the time and effort I’ve invested in the work, which I find very gratifying.
As for which Pilates exercise is my favorite: one answer is the last exercise of the session, especially on a day when the workout didn’t come easy. But to be more specific, I suppose my favorite exercise is the Short Spine Massage. I found it difficult initially, but as my form and movement have improved, it’s come to represent a personal success. In doing it, I feel greater strength and flexibility. Perhaps my second favorite is the Teaser because it’s the one I love to hate. Most often I don’t do it very well at all. On the rare occasion, though, I almost look good. It makes me nuts. The challenge is good for me.
I greatly value having a good quality of life. Being well and active is at the foundation of my quality of life, and this motivates me to continue my Pilates practice. Good health and fitness are not things that simply occur—I must work for them. I believe that if you want to be active, you must stay active. I’m not familiar with many quotes from Joseph Pilates, but I’ve seen a few that resonate with me. I like, “Physical fitness can neither be achieved by wishful thinking nor outright purchase.” On a similar note, “Don’t expect to see a change if you don’t make one.”
That being said, my self-motivation only goes so far. Another motivating factor for me is to have good instructors. The instructors at the Excel studio are clearly knowledgeable, as well as helpful and encouraging. Their interest in my performance inspires me to try harder. (It also helps that they all seem to have the patience of Job. I still don’t remember the exercises well, much less do them properly. They continue to have faith in me.)
Over the course of a Pilates session, I enjoy the physical challenge as I warm up and then perform more challenging exercises. After a workout I feel invigorated. My energy levels are higher and I feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. I’ve told my friends about how Pilates makes me feel, and how the results enhance my performance in other activities in which I’m interested. Additionally, a stronger body and increased awareness of my body help me avoid injuries.
So what are you waiting for?
By Sophie Mendelson
In recent years, Pilates has become very popular. This program of exercise, which once induced wrinkled brows and a whole slew of creative pronunciations, is now familiar fare to the fitness savvy across the country—and they’re hungry for more. It’s now possible to find Pilates classes listed in many gyms and fitness centers, as well as spin-offs from “piloxing” to “yogalates.” While it’s wonderful that programs are so much more widely available than they once were, the proliferation of the Pilates name has led to something of a decoupling of the word “Pilates” from the authentic system of exercise invented by the man, Joseph H. Pilates, for which it was named.
Here at Excel Pilates DC, we’re committed to the power and depth of the original Pilates Method of Body Conditioning, a highly evolved and in-depth program designed to empower all participants to be in control of their own health and wellbeing. This is the Pilates that’s had a meaningful impact on Lesa McLaughlin and the Excel Pilates staff, and it’s the Pilates that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our clients every day. We believe that if you want to do Pilates, then you should do Pilates.
But with all of the options out there, it can be challenging to discern Pilates-inspired workouts from the real deal. That’s why we’ve created this guide: to help you identify the spaces and teachers that will empower you to practice Pilates authentically. Read on to discover eight things to know when choosing a Pilates program that will offer you the highest quality experience!
Authentic Pilates is…
1) …the system of exercise invented by Joseph H. Pilates
Joseph Pilates began designing the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning in 1902, and continued to expand the method throughout his lifetime. As a child, Joe suffered from a variety of ailments including asthma and rickets. Determined to take control over his health, he became a student of exercise. By the time he was a young man, Joe had developed his skills as a gymnast, diver, skier, and boxer. Interned in England during WWI, Joe designed exercise techniques to accommodate wounded soldiers, emphasizing the abdominals and back muscles in order to help patients build strength and flexibility. To this end, he invented several pieces of equipment, still in use today, that use springs to generate muscle conditioning. Upon moving to New York in the mid-1920s, Joe and Anna Clara Zeuener—commonly known simply as Clara, and thought to be Joe’s wife—opened the first Pilates studio, and the method soon became popular within the city’s dance community. Joe began referring to his method as “Contrology,” and promoted his system as universally beneficial to all participants of any fitness background.
2) …a method that utilizes the full range of exercises and equipment attributed to the original work of Joseph Pilates.
Authentic Pilates can be instructed through the use of:
- Mat work
- Wunda Chair
- Arm Chair
- Electric Chair
- Magic Circles
- Hand weights or small dumb bells
- Toe Tensometer
- Neck Stretcher
- Foot Corrector
These apparatus comprise the range of equipment and exercises developed by Joseph Pilates during his lifetime. At absolute minimum, an authentic Pilates studio will offer instruction in mat work, Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, and Barrels.
3) …taught by well-trained instructors.
In order to provide students with the highest level of experience, knowledge, and safety, it’s essential that Pilates instructors have practiced extensively at a personal level as well as completed a comprehensive Pilates teacher training program. Teachers who are dedicated to the mission established by Joseph Pilates in his original work will be versed in all of the exercises included in the Pilates Method, as opposed to an isolated set of exercises, and will build their understanding through continuing education study throughout their careers.
4) …practiced with full concentration in a studio environment.
Pilates entails the integration of mind and body—a challenging task requiring the utmost concentration. To this end, the Pilates Method is maximized through one-on-one or small group sessions conducted in a focused studio environment (this means no music). A studio is traditionally a place where you study art, and a Pilates studio is a place where exercise is practiced as an art form. Additionally, as a place of study, the studio invites practitioners to actively engage with the Pilates Method as students, rather than passively receiving the teacher’s instructions.
5) …constructed through the systematic layering of exercises.
Pilates is about quality, not quantity. The method builds from the foundation of the powerhouse in order to work the whole body with the goal of achieving optimal function. Pilates emphasizes alignment and symmetry, as well as flow of movement: students learn to transition efficiently between exercises and to execute transitions and repetitions with a specific rhythm. When designing a session, the teacher gradually extends the sequence to include a greater number of exercises while maintaining the same number of repetitions as the student advances.
Pilates is a system of exercise designed to work the entire body through a method that is by nature high-intensity but low-impact. It offers many health benefits, from improved strength and flexibility to better balance and alignment. While many doctors recommend Pilates as a method of staying in shape or as a component in a process of rehabilitation, Pilates is NOT physical therapy. It is a form of exercise with therapeutic benefits and has the potential to make a lasting impact on students’ health and wellbeing.
7) …for EVERYONE.
The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning is designed for, and accessible to, ALL PEOPLE. That includes people of all genders, all ages, all levels of fitness, and all abilities. It’s for runners, dancers, skiers, baseball players, yogis, mall walkers, recreational table tennis players, gym rats, and couch potatoes. A well-trained instructor will be able to create a Pilates program for any person with the desire to improve their fitness through dedication and practice—because Pilates is for everyone.
In the words of Joe himself, the Pilates Method, “restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.” We couldn’t agree more. Unlike other kinds of exercise that ask you to “go to failure,” Pilates is designed so that you can practice every day without straining or injuring yourself. We suspect that the more you practice Pilates, the more energy you will have to work out, the more you will look forward to your next workout, and the more frequently you will practice!
Sophie Mendelson has been doing classical Pilates since she was 9 years old. She has her bachelors in American Studies from Yale University and earned her 200-hour yoga teacher certification from Flow Yoga Center in Washington, DC. In her spare time, she writes about agricultural practice and policy issues. In October 2016 she will begin the organic farmer training program at The Farm School in Massachusetts.
The Power of Progression
Patience and Persistence are the pathways to steady progress in your Pilates workout.
The Pilates Method of body conditioning is an in-depth system consisting of over 600 exercises. When the Pilates exercises are taught and learned with the proper progression and layering you can truly unlock the power of the work. To maximize your Pilates workout look to advance but don’t skip steps. Building blocks are essential to achieving strength, feeling good, moving efficiently and getting the most benefit.
The two main apparatus that you typically work out on in Pilates are the Reformer and Mat. Both are ultimately working towards a specific progression, range of motion, order and rhythm. However, you will not typically learn them in the ultimate advanced sequence and pace. In this systematic approach to layering you will advance by working your way up the levels.
There are many prerequisite exercises you will learn to better prepare you for the intermediate work, and those exercises prepare you for the advanced work. For example, you are simultaneously working on strength and flexibility; you will learn to roll up before you roll over; you will learn to balance on four limbs before you learn to balance on two. Rolling Like A Ball helps to prepare you for Short Spinal Massage.
As you advance, the beginning level exercises do not go away… they become a part of your longer more challenging workout. The more you know the more you will do in the same amount of time. If you are fit and have a healthy range of motion the higher level sequence will come faster. If you have any physical condition that requires modification you will learn the modifications first and build on them. Your overall main goal is to make progress to the best of your abilities. With practice your body, mind and spirit will work together work to take your Pilates to its fullest potential.
6 techniques to help you get there.
- Learn your strengths and weaknesses. Keep in mind that flexibility plays role in challenge and accomplishment. For example, a tight lower back can make spinal articulation more challenging and make it more difficult to access your abdominals. Long hamstrings can make lifting your leg easier; hyper mobile shoulders can create an unstable joint. As you learn those strengths and weaknesses own them and apply what you need to work on specifically in each exercise. Once you have learned your strengths and weaknesses, with the help of your teacher you will be better be able to chart out a plan for success.
- Your workout should be manageable but challenging. Pilates is such an empowering experience when you feel the success from moving through the levels at the appropriate pace. If it’s too easy there’s no progression; if it’s too hard there’s no progress. Pilates should be invigorating, not debilitating or desperate.
- Be body aware, and both mentally and physically present. You do not have to have “mastered” an exercise before moving up. A level of body awareness and understanding of the exercise along with the key issues may be all that’s required.
- Own your exercises. In class as well as one on one sessions you should learn the names and order of the exercises so you do not need to follow along. You will get more out of your time with your teacher if she/he can give feedback rather than reteach.
- Set goals for yourself and check them off your list. Once you have reached your goal it’s a good indication that you are closer to moving up. Recognize that reaching a goal is advancing.
- Most of all make sure to not rush or slow down advancing your Pilates. Allow yourself to progress. Enjoy the challenge of trying new exercises, but give yourself time and gain the strength, flexibility and understanding. Don’t cheat…. You will get there. Be patient, be focused and enjoy your success.
“Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.”- Joseph H. Pilates.
2015 will mark my 20th year of teaching Pilates. This 20-year anniversary causes me to reflect on the beginning of my Pilates journey. 20 years later I am still teaching because I am INSPIRED by this body of work. Joseph Pilates spent a lifetime developing a system of exercise that is about being fit – physically, mentally and spiritually. I wanted to learn it and I wanted to teach it. My first teachers, Carol Baker Dodge and Romana Kysanowska, showed me that I could do things that I did not realize I could do. That was and is what I consider to be the beauty of Pilates. You can do it. I feel honored to have the opportunity to teach Pilates and I feel fortunate to still be a student of Pilates.
Pilates requires strength, but you build the strength by systematically exploring what to do to attain that strength. It has always been my perspective that it is never about what you can’t do, it should always be about you can do. It is about feeling empowered by experiencing your fullest potential in each exercise. As a teacher I have witnessed progress in so many ways, in so many different individuals. As a student of Pilates, I am excited by the many challenges ahead. As a student, I continue to experienced change and growth. There are exercises I can do now that I could not do when I was 10 years younger and see the potential for so much more. For those reasons, I also see the potential in my students.
Your Pilates journey is a dialogue between you and your teacher. The teacher will safely guide you to achieve your fullest potential. They will provide information about the Pilates work that applies to you, your needs, and your strengths. You are in charge of owning it. The Pilates method of exercise provides us with a plethora of ways to achieve our health and fitness goal. There is always more to do in Pilates, and that’s a wonderful thing
As you set your goals for 2015, I challenge you to ask yourself… What can I do? Ask yourself and your teacher… Can I do more? I believe there is always, in some way, a little more we can find in ourselves. I know I will, both as a student and a teacher of Pilates.
I am looking forward to 2015 and here’s to 20 more years. I hope that 2015 brings you much health, happiness and Pilates.
See you at the studio,
I have been exercising most of my life. As a former athlete, dancer and current Pilates Instructor, my physical abilities always have been front and center in my focus. For most of my life, I have needed to stay in performance shape. Formerly I worked toward this goal by spending hours a day in a dance studio, gym or on a practice field. Now, as a fitness instructor, I am no longer performing or competing but I continue to set fitness goals for myself. I want to set a good example and motivate my students as my teachers have motivated and inspired me.
I am dedicated to being physically fit, to being in the best possible shape I can be. I do this not just for appearances, but also for my overall health, mental well-being and safety. As I rapidly approach my mid-fifties, I no longer need to be in peak performance shape, but I do want and need to be ready for all the things I want to accomplish or anything that comes my way. I want and need to remain active and moving for a lifetime. I want to not only live with “spontaneous zest and pleasure,” but to be ready to jump out of the way of an oncoming bus if needed. Pilates has given me endless ways to stay on that path.
My quest to remain active has given me the confidence to try and allowed me to still be able to slalom water ski (got up first try this summer), achieve level one in a Parkour class, learn to surf, take kite surfing lessons, keep up with my 12-year-old, and fly on silks in an aerial class. I credit my Pilates practice for keeping my body agile and strong enough to try and enjoy all of these activities in my fifties. The one event that I feel has most proven to me that I’ve maintained my fitness in my fifties is a specific day when I needed to call on my body in an emergency.
The summer I turned 50 my husband was undergoing chemotherapy for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The treatment left him fatigued and queasy most of the time but he was determined to enjoy a bit of summer. We took an afternoon dinghy ride up the Choptank River to one of our favorite spots, a somewhat isolated shoreline and sandbar. With us were my son and step-grandson (both age 8 at the time) and my stepson (age 30). We beached the boat and went exploring. A few minutes into our walk I looked back at the boat, which was now drifting from the beach and floating about 100 yards into the Choptank River.
If that boat got away we were stranded. Cell phones were on board. My husband did not have the energy, and the two eight-year-olds looked to the adults to rectify the situation.
My stepson and I ran. I passed him, (I am not a runner). I ran into the water until it was too deep to run. I swam (I am not the best swimmer) as fast as I could and caught up to the drifting boat.
I called on my body in an emergency and it came through. While a bit of adrenaline helped, I totally credit my Pilates practice for getting me to that dinghy.
It has been years since spending those hours in the gym, on the field or in a dance studio. But I do practice Pilates daily. If my schedule doesn’t permit me to do a full work out, I always make it a priority, first thing in the morning, to do at least a 15-minute Pilates mat.
It is inevitable as we age that our bodies and abilities change, but knowing I can do something physically challenging in an emergency motivates me. It also gives me a sense of responsibility to maintain that ability as long as possible. My practice of Pilates is my path to doing so. It is an empowering method of exercise for a lifetime.
I also still want to water ski when I am 80…
“To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limits of our ability.” -Joseph H. Pilates
~Author Lesa McLaughlin is the owner of Excel Pilates DC, the first Pilates studio in Washington, DC. Lesa’s experience is that of a Master teacher. She has worked with clients for 20 years in The Pilates Method Of Body Conditioning. She was certified as a teacher in The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning by The Pilates Studio in New York in 1995 under the tutelage of Romana Krowsanavska.
It’s not a mystery… working out is and should be hard work. It’s how we gain strength, muscle mass and definition. But ultimately it should feel good and movement should come with a sense of ease. Muscle tightness and stiff joints can create an additional challenge that generates tension in a workout rather than the “zest and pleasure” of an invigorating session of exercise. When you find the balance of stretch and strength it creates a sense of efficiency that will make you say “that was easier!”
As a teacher of Pilates I often am asked by students, “can you recommend some stretches to help me gain flexibility in my ________________?” My answer is Pilates.
I believe one of the many reasons that the Pilates Method is so ingenious is that each Pilates exercise incorporates stretch components as well as strength components. Participants gain range of motion by what is referred to as active stretch. Active stretch means that you contract a muscle directly across from the one you stretch. One muscle relaxes while the opposing muscle initiates the stretch. In Pilates it is most often a dynamic active stretch, which means the muscles and body are in motion. Through this dynamic active stretch, you gradually increase range of motion to maximize the contraction potential of a muscle. You are simultaneously working on one to help gain the other.
A few examples of this in action are the Roll Up, during which you strengthen the abdominals while you stretch the lower back through the sequencing of the spine; Double Leg Kick, which strengthens the muscles of the back and hamstrings while stretching the pectoral muscles and quadriceps; and Chest Expansion, which strengthens the muscles of the upper back and triceps while it stretches the shoulders and chest.
The harder you work on an exercise, the more flexibility you gain. As you gain flexibility, you are able to access your muscles with more depth and intensity.
Stretching is a vital component of any fitness regiment because supple muscles and joints allow the body to move with more ease. A healthy range of motion allows the skeleton to be in proper functional alignment with the muscles to create efficiency of movement. Efficient movement helps the body gain strength with balance. Balance in movement reduces the potential for pain and injury. Stretching makes you feel more comfortable when you move; the more comfortable you feel moving your body, the more you will want to move it and the better you will be at moving it.
If you would like to learn more about stretching through Pilates, please come to Excel Pilates’ Stretch with Pilates Workshop: Maximizing the stretch potential of your Pilates workout. This hour long workshop will be taught by Lesa McLaughlin, on Thursday, May 8th, from 7:00-8:00pm — $20 or use your Mat class package.