From the desk of Kristen M. Reynolds, DPT, CPT…
Pilates is just for dancers: fact or fiction?
It is true that Joseph Pilates’ exercises were first embraced by the NYC dance community after he defected to the United States. His method reintroduced movement early in the rehabilitation process by encouraging active-assisted range of motion and low load muscular forces, which was unique to dancers and choreographers who were accustomed to long prognoses. However, most individuals are unaware that Pilates Method was intended for men. As we celebrate Men’s Health Month, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight the history and benefits of Pilates for the male population.
As a young child in Germany, Joseph Pilates suffered from numerous illnesses leading to significant weakness. Accordingly, he dedicated his life to becoming physically stronger and studied several methods of movement, including yoga, martial arts, calisthenics, boxing, and gymnastics. From these experiences, Pilates devised a unique method of physical and mental conditioning named Contrology with the philosophy that “a few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of doing sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.” This system of original 34 exercises is known today as Matwork. In a WWI internment camp, he was a caretaker for many soldiers bedridden by injuries and the influenza epidemic. He progressed Contrology by attaching bed springs to headboards and footboards to facilitate resistance and body support for patients. The dual feature of the apparatus is essential to the body as it learns to move more efficiently and truly complements Matwork.
Pilates has gained momentum and attention in the past decade as a modality for improving flexibility, strength and mind–body awareness. Over the past several years, the method has become a staple in the conditioning of professional athletes including NBA players Jason Kidd, Greg Oden, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James, MLB players Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling, soccer star David Beckham, and golfer Tiger Woods. Here are some of the top reasons these men do Pilates:
1. Power – Pilates maximizes performance and builds power by developing a strong foundation of core stability that allows the the primary movers and levers to work on explosive movements more efficiently. The spring-resistant Reformer eliminates gravity in the supine and sidelying positions to correct biomechanics during gait, jumping, and sport-specific movements.
2. Mind-Body Control – Pilates teaches participants to be mindful in their movements by integrating the pelvis, trunk and shoulder girdle in a safe, challenging and progressive system. The method facilitates neuromuscular re-education to occur in functional positions and multiple planes with focus on spinal stabilization. Dynamic activity in supine, prone, sitting, kneeling, quadruped, and standing postures requires balance and coordinated motor control. Concentration and the mind-body connection are essential components of this method and is typically what makes stellar athletes stand out from good ones. A recent study revealed that the Pilates method of exercise may contribute to improved performance in double leg lowering, star excursion balance tests, and throwing speed in college baseball pitchers (English T, Howe K. The Effect of Pilates Exercise on Trunk and Postural Stability and Throwing Velocity in College Baseball Players: Single Subject Design. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2007 February; 2(1): 8–21).
3. Stamina – Research has revealed that active middle aged men who participated in two 60-minutes Pilates mat sessions per week for 12 weeks demonstrated statistically significant increases in abdominal and upper-body muscular endurance (Kloubec, JA. Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. J Strength Cond Res 24(3): 661-667, 2010). Exercising on the apparatus also promotes endurance, as requires consistent co-contraction to concentrically resist and eccentrically control the spring tension.
4. Circulation – The emphasis on coordinating breathing with Pilates repertoire enhances blood flow to the soft tissue and reduces stress, reducing hypertension and Valsalva. Pilates workouts are gentle on the joints, but can easily be challenging, elevate heart rate, and make participants work up a sweat!
5. Mobility – Most men fear they are not flexible enough to participate in Pilates. The great benefit of this method is that it promotes functional mobility with a stable center. Experienced teachers will also know several way to modify for impaired segmental mobility or muscle length in the hip girdle and gradually progress clients safely.
Kristen M. Reynolds, DPT, CPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Pilates Teacher
Kristen Reynolds earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science from James Madison University in 2006 and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the MGH Institute of Health Professions in 2009. While practicing in orthopedics and sports medicine, a mentor introduced her to the Pilates Method and she has since pursued comprehensive certification to compliment her clinical interests. She has studied with Balanced Body, Peak Pilates, and most recently Balancepoint Pilates. She is an active member of the Pilates Method Alliance, American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Sections, as well as the APTA of Massachusetts Shoulder and Manual Physical Therapy Special Interest Groups. Always interested in sports and fitness, she is a former YMCA and Junior Olympic gymnast, coach, and ACE personal trainer. Integrating the Pilates principles and Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, and Chair repertoire into her physical therapy practice has produced successful rehabilitation outcomes for a wide variety of patients, including adolescents, elite athletes and dancers, and individuals with chronic orthopedic conditions. Kristen utilizes this alternative therapeutic approach to improve muscle performance and joint mobility, correct posture and alignment, enhance body awareness, and create an evenly conditioned body that is more resilient to extremity and spinal injury. She greatly enjoys designing programs to target personal goals, educating clients to incorporate Pilates into their daily activities, and teaching small group classes.