Pilates: The Whole Body Workout
by Rebecca Broida Gart

Move over, aerobics. Here comes Pilates.

"The population has hurt themselves long enough doing inappropriate movements in aerobics or over-achievement movements in running or skiing, so they're looking for something more nurturing and health supportive," says Rachel Segel, who co-owns The Pilates Center in Boulder, Colo. "Pilates is not only aerobic — so it can replace that modality — but it's also such a balancing workout that you feel energized, refreshed and enlivened instead of exhausted."

Originally developed by German-born Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s for bedridden people, Pilates (pronounced "pah-LAH-tees") is a system of exercise that is composed of several hundred controlled, precise movements aimed at stretching and strengthening the muscles of the back, buttocks and abdomen. Most always, the emphasis is on form; in a typical Pilates class, you do fewer repetitions of an exercise, but you do each one with intense concentration and coordinated breathing.

And the results are astounding: Pilates enthusiasts say they feel more energized, their bodies are leaner, they're able to eat anything they want without weight gain, they're breathing better and they have even "grown" taller. Other benefits might include an improved posture, better balance, increased stamina, more efficient movement, relief of aches and pain, and increased flexibility.

Although it was not a great choice for me when I took my first class at four months pregnant, I did what I could, knowing that I will return after the baby is born for a full-body workout.

Here's how it works for most non-pregnant people: Using the seven pieces of equipment Joseph Pilates developed, clients can quickly begin molding their bodies into optimum shape through studio work — mainly performed on all fours, lying down, sitting or hanging — in addition to extensive mat work, which can also be done at home. The equipment includes springs and straps acting as pulleys that can be adjusted for resistance.

As the client focuses on the individual muscle group, the rest of the body must be correctly positioned at all times. "It's much more of an internal workout with subtle movements," says Kim Simmerman, my instructor at The Pilates Center, "but that's not to say you won't sweat your butt off or get a good workout."

For more information on Pilates or to find a certified instructor in your area, call The Pilates Center at 303-494-3400.