Pilates Connects to Core Strength and Develops Flexibility

Randi Moore adjusting on the Reformer.

Stuck in a workout rut? Been meaning to start exercising? Or are you trying to get stronger, run faster or farther, or jump higher? If you haven’t tried Pilates, what are you waiting for? Eleventh Street SE has become home to the Hill’s first fitness studio dedicated to teaching one of the most powerful exercise methods that strengthens, tones, and connects the body, breath, and mind. Just a few blocks north of Gingko Gardens, Rooted Pilates, owned by Randi Moore, opened two months ago. She offers small group mat classes and private apparatus sessions drawing from both classical and contemporary approaches to Pilates.

What Is Pilates?
Pilates hits your core (in Pilates-speak, your “powerhouse”) unlike any other workout. In fact, after completing 36 weeks of Pilates training, women strengthened their rectus abdominis (the muscle responsible for six-packs) by an average of 21 percent, while eliminating muscle imbalances between the right and left sides of their cores, according to a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

It’s about flowing with our movements, not muscling through them. Isolated muscular strength and bulk doesn’t count for much in a mat class or on the “reformer” (one of the pieces of Pilates equipment used at Rooted Pilates). It’s control, concentration, ease of movement, precision, and breathing that matter.

Pilates is a progressive system of exercises that has elements of martial arts, yoga, gymnastics, and calisthenics, yet it is like no other exercise discipline. Because correct execution of Pilates is so precise, very few repetitions of any one exercise are needed to achieve maximum benefit.

German-born Joseph H. Pilates developed his exercise program almost 90 years ago and called it Contrology. He wanted to create “a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.”

Control of movement is the basis of all Pilates exercise. It is one reason why many physicians and physical therapists encourage patients to begin a Pilates exercise program. Body awareness and control of movement can help avoid injury. They can also help rehabilitate from injury.

“Pilates became a way to heal me from a terrible car crash,” said Katherine Hambrice, who has been teaching Pilates mat classes and offering private sessions for about eight years. Before her crash Hambrice had been taking Pilates classes at Excel Studio in Northeast DC. “I told my physical therapist I need to do core exercises. Because of my core awareness they could put me up on my feet. I had titanium rods in my legs and I couldn’t move my wrist, so having core awareness was vital to my being able to stand up and ultimate recovery. I knew how to move safely. I didn’t need crutches to hold myself up. I knew how to use my core muscles. I learned that in Pilates.”

Who Can Do It?
Everyone can do Pilates. “It’s a gateway exercise in that people start with Pilates, gain confidence, and take the body awareness they learn to weightlifting, to running, or their sport of choice.” said Hambrice. She was drawn to the discipline because as a tall woman runner she had challenges with her posture. “I let my head and shoulders come forward to interact with those not as tall. I thought good posture was throwing my shoulders back and standing up straight. I didn’t realize that good posture starts at the base of the spine from the pelvic floor up through the ribs and up to the back of the neck. It involves all the network of muscles that support us.”

Hambrice sees Pilates exercises as becoming an important component to prehab – people who are going to have surgery, a hip, knee, or shoulder replacement. She also recommends incorporating a few basic movements into the daily movement regimen. “It’s safe to do every day. It can be done to fatigue but should not be done to failure or exhaustion.”

Moore, who has been teaching for nine years, had her first child at a young age. “I said to myself, ‘I’m too young not to have my abs work anymore,’ so I started doing Pilates.” At her studio she teaches prenatal and postpartum mat classes as well as beginning and intermediate mat.

Pilates for Men
Ben Diamond has been practicing Pilates mat for about 12 years. “Not only does Pilates help the muscles but also the precision of it helps the brain.” Diamond suffered a stroke in 2002. “I realize the brain can be retrained and repaired. Perhaps that’s the major reason I do it. I love the precision of the exercises.” Just last month (after 12 years of practice) he told me he had figured out how to keep his shoulders relaxed during the exercises. “I still find the workout a challenge. I also take other classes which are probably easier because my core is so strong.”

Last month a fit young man took his first Pilates class with me. He came because he was tight and muscle-bound. He looked good but didn’t move well in his sculpted frame. After class he told me how much he enjoyed the workout. He felt the movements deep in his pelvic floor. Another male student who has been coming to class for years came both before and after shoulder surgery. Yet another has had several joint replacements.

I’ve been practicing and teaching Pilates mat for 20 years. The more I do it the more I learn about my body and the brilliance of the method. Because of my strong core, I find I recover quicker from injury, have few aches and pains, and am able to do activities that I enjoy – whether it be contradancing or twisting and bending in yoga. When your core is strong your body’s frame is supported. This means your neck and shoulders can relax and the rest of your muscles are free to do their job.

For the schedule at Rooted Pilates log onto www.rootedpilates.com.

Katherine Hambrice and Randi Moore teach Pilates mat classes at Sport & Health Capitol Hill. For a class schedule log onto www.sportandhealth.com.

Pattie Cinelli is a holistic personal trainer and Pilates and yoga teacher who has been writing her health/fitness column for almost 30 years. Please email questions, comments, or column ideas to fitness@pattiecinelli.com.