Saturday, November 14, 2009

Workout spotlight: Pilates and Pilates Reformer

I thought it might be interesting, now that my Good Health Guidelines series is finished, to spotlight some of the more interesting workouts I'm doing, in case anyone out there is looking for something new and fun to try.

Yesterday's workout was Pilates Reformer, which uses a machine with springs and pulleys to provide resistance and assistance for doing various exercises. I found a good video on YouTube that helps illustrate how this works:

Pilates has an interesting history, and was designed as a physical therapy of sorts. I started with Reformer a little more than a year ago. Before I started doing Reformer, I had a lot of little aches and pains, most of which were running-related. I trained for my half marathon completely injury-free, and I know my posture has improved.

Most studios will want you to start with the mat exercises first. In the mat classes, you will learn the breathing techniques, the body alignment required to protect your spine, and learn exercises like The Hundred and Leg Circles that you also do on the reformer. Right now, I'm doing mat class once a week and Reformer once a week, because I think that the mat helps me get back to basics. Reformer allows you to use more strength to push the carriage around, while in mat it's all about alignment and focus.

My first experience with Pilates was at home with a video, "Pilates for Dummies." This was a great way to start because I already knew some of the basics before walking into a class. When I started with this back in 2000 or so, Pilates had a reputation of being for dancers, athletes, and other very fit people, at least at my gym, and I felt too intimidated to take a class until I had some experience first. I would still recommend this video to people who wanted to try out Pilates on their own before taking a class. All you need is a thick mat to cushion your back if your floor is not carpeted, or even a yoga mat.

I now take Pilates at a studio where people of all levels, mostly women, take classes, so it's a lot friendlier. There are a lot of things to focus on: Spine alignment, tightening my abs and pelvic floor, breathing, keeping my legs tight, foot position, etc., etc. Classes are small and the instructors have eyes like a hawk and make sure to let me know if I'm letting something slide, which felt frustrating at first but now just helps keep me focused.

At first I was tempted to skip things like Pilates and yoga because I thought they didn't help with weight loss, but I'm seeing some real results. I can see (faint) signs of a six pack under my remaining inch or so of belly fat, and having strong core muscles has helped me continue to run and swim without being sidelined by injuries. I can also feel that those strong abs and back muscles help me when I'm doing other activities, like raking my yard or carrying heavy objects. Plus, I think all the mind-body work has improved my coordination. I don't feel like such a klutz anymore.

I would really recommend finding a small studio for your first classes rather than trying it at a place like the YMCA or a college recreation center, because the instructors are more likely to have taken specialized training in Pilates techniques. You might feel silly Rolling Like a Ball, but everyone else there will be doing it too. Like me, you may find that it helps you build all-over strength and flexibility while also adding a little grace and ease to your movements.


  1. I hate yoga, I just can't get in to it, but I've always liked Pilates. My new gym has reformer trainers, and I'd love to give it a try.

    This might be the push I need.

    Also, I totally LOVE having CORE muscles. It's so interesting to *feel* them working while doing seemingly meaningless tasks - like turning the steering wheel while driving.

  2. Cool video. I think pilates would be a good things for me. maybe I will give it a shot. Thanks and congrats, looks like you have another loss..

  3. left you a thought in my comments...


  4. I ruptured a disc in my back about 10 years ago, and Pilates was the ONLY form of exercise I could do that didn't hurt. I took Reformer training first, and actually found it (and still find it) focuses me on the little things more than the mat classes do, because machinery helps support my body in some ways, allowing me to focus more on the individual muscles.

    I ended up buying a Personal Reformer of my own, and I LOVE IT.



"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07