Beat the Winter Blues with Pilates

When it’s cold outside it’s easy to find an excuse to stay lazy and hide under blankets all day, but that means calling it quits on your New Year’s resolutions for being a healthier you. Instead, try heating up your core in one of our cozy Pilates studios — fulfilling your fitness goals while staying warm and toasty.

Start your New Year’s resolutions right by incorporating Pilates into your weekly routine. Pilates is nearly a century old practice that is focused around core strengthening, body alignment, and muscle balance. The results are unique to other workout practices because of the focus on proper posture alignment and balancing your muscles, targeting the psoas and diaphragm. In addition to leaner and longer bodies, Pilates practitioners have straighter postures in their daily life, resulting in reduced back and hip pain. Still not convinced? Here are seven enticing reasons to start Pilates now:

1) Pilates is phenomenal for your core.

In Pilates, we call the core the powerhouse.  The powerhouse is the group of abdominal muscles starting with the diaphragm on top, the pelvic floor on the bottom and the psoas, transverse, and obliques in between.  All Pilates exercises are focused on strengthening and balancing these muscles, resulting in a stronger, more flexible spine. A stronger core means better balance and improves overall muscle agility. Once your powerhouse is strong, your overall performance in any physical activity will improve dramatically, even if it’s just walking up the stairs. 

2) Pilates increases flexibility.

For everyone who thinks Pilates isn’t right for them because they aren’t flexible, they are absolutely wrong, and should be doing Pilates. Pilates makes you more flexible. Yes, the first few classes will be difficult, but you can only improve from there.  Once your diaphragm and psoas get flexible, the rest of the body follows.
3) Pilates is not hard on your joints.

Unlike many forms of high-impact exercises, Pilates does not take a huge toll on your ankles and knees. Though there is still cardio involved, it has minimal impact on joints and is perfect for people with weak joints, or people who wish to keep their joints strong.

4) Pilates eases lower back pain.

By focusing on properly strengthening and stabilizing the lower abs and the psoas, the back stops doing all the work and can balance out with the lower abs to support the lumbar spine. Practitioners with chronic lower back pain often boast of rapid and life changing pain relief.

5) Pilates classes are a good workout.

It’s easy to go to the gym and put minimal effort into a good workout, but when an instructor is motivating you, and you are surrounded by people putting in the effort, it’s difficult not to get a good workout in. Modifications are encouraged, and people can still move at their own pace, but the classroom setting makes the sweat and soreness fun and rewarding.

6) Pilates is versatile.

Pilates is perfect for all ages and fitness goals. It has minimal impact on joints, requires little equipment and can be performed everywhere. Once you are familiar with the exercises, you can take your practice home with you, at a park, or on a sandy beach. Pilates increases overall agility, balance, flexibility, strength and coordination — key components for any physical activity or sport. It is for anyone, anywhere with any goal. 
 

7) Pilates is a stress relief.

Pilates requires the utmost mental concentration to perfect the specific muscle movements, forcing life’s stressors out with every focused, mindful breath.

The Time has Come!

Fall is coming! The weather is cooling down. I'm not melting every time I leave my apartment (now it's only once I step on the subway platform), and I can stop wearing ponytails because it's finally cool enough to have my hair brush my neck.

This is no doubt my favorite time of year: scarves, sweaters, cinnamon, and soups. Leaves change colors, wind picks up, and – eventually – fall turns into a harsh New York winter. The colder it gets, the harder it is for my body to maintain the openness of the summer. What's a girl to do?

This is the time of year when I love Pilates. Not for that beach body it gave me, but for the luxurious stretch and strength it takes to get through the colder weather. Because as much as I relish the idea of curling under a blanket with tea and a book, I know that eventually that curling will result in me losing flexibility. It's all fun, games and pumpkin spice until my hamstrings get too tight from crouching on the couch watching X-Files reruns.

Pilates in the fall is as necessary as a good beanie for a number of reasons:

  • Keeping my core strong helps me run up and down subway stairs in my heavy combat boots (good-bye, light summer sandals.) 
  • My year-round computer hunch gets much much worse since my upper body must now bear the the weight of my fall backpack, as well as that chunky scarf I crocheted last year. But after a few exercises on the foam roller or the barrel, my shoulders open up (the better to show off that peacoat with, my dear.) 
  • My legs look better in my leggings (especially in Jody's LulaRoe leggings. Ask her about them, you won't be sorry.) 
  • More Pilates means more Pie and Lattes (and warm apple cider and mulled wine. I'm very serious about my spiced fall beverages.) 

 

These are my reasons for putting my feet in the leg springs and doing the Series of 5 to my heart's content. What are yours?  

Soul, Joe and You

If I asked you to compare the functions of a bullet and a rubber band, would you be able to? Would you question their integrity or strength? It sounds like they have no business being together at all, but I’m here to tell you that these two things can learn from the other, they can make a harmonious place in your fitness routine. I’m talking about SoulCycle and Pilates. SoulCycle, the bullet, is a high intensity, shot-out-of-a cannon thrill ride. Pilates, the rubber band, is patience and strength, the building blocks to changing your body. Let’s start at the beginning.

JulieAnne Hull teaches a Mat Class at the Uptown Pilates West Village studio. Picture by CLASSPASS

JulieAnne Hull teaches a Mat Class at the Uptown Pilates West Village studio. Picture by CLASSPASS

 

Pilates started as a workout regimen developed by a man named Joseph Pilates while he was forcefully placed in a German Internment camp in 1912. He trained other inmates using a unique series of exercises which became the basis of the Pilates Mat we know today. Unhealthy as a young child, Joe wanted Pilates to be rehabilitative for people with diseases. His idea of the perfect body was one that was mentally, physically and spiritually fit. Joseph was able to take this exercise technique to America where he opened his own studio in New York City in 1926. In New York, his method known as contrology became widely popular among dancers and actresses but later spread to the larger population. Only after his death was the practice referred to as Pilates, his classical style was passed down through a generation of “Pilates Elders” and it still practiced in New York today.

Master Instructor Stacey Griffith teaches a packed studio photo by SoulCycle

Master Instructor Stacey Griffith teaches a packed studio photo by SoulCycle

Flash forward to 2006 when SoulCycle was founded by Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice; two business-minded women who were looking to get more out of their workout routine. Neither of them being trained in any fitness capacity, they enlisted the help of some of the top trainers in New York City to help them find a way to break out of the mundane workout trap. They developed the SoulCycle method, which gives indoor cycling a rock-and-roll makeover. The cycling class is held in a dark room, music cranked at max volume like a nightclub but made a sacred space with candles lit. The instructor sits on a podium at the front of the room as a trainer, a guru and DJ- providing the riders with inspirational tunes for a whole 45 mins. Almost 10 years later, this single company has revolutionized the boutique fitness scene in New York City and has set a high standard for hospitality and management.

It’s obvious these two things should have nothing to do with one another, and why you ask would they ever meet?

That’s where I come in.

            Having a background in dance, movement and yoga, it was a no-brainer to work at a fitness facility for my day job. I was lucky enough to have worked for SoulCycle and Uptown Pilatesa classical Pilates studio...at the same time. Meaning- without realizing it, my workouts between the two studios became a cross-training match made in heaven.

Here’s the thing. Pilates and SoulCycle classes are not that different.

They both are asking you to engage a specific muscle group: the core
The way a SoulCycle bike is built, it requires the rider to elongate the spine, hovering the hips over the saddle, chest up, hands light, it engages the abdomen, with a slight tuck in the lower back. Now think of this position on your bike, flip it over onto your back...and you have the leg series of a classical Pilates class.

They both use breath to engage and connect the body
Breath connects your flow in a workout and that speaks to both forms. During class, muscles are engaged and oxygen is the only thing in the moment that will help you physically (and mentally) continue. Both classes link breath to movement, whether you are on a mad sprint down a hill or holding your muscles taut while pumping your arms frantically for the hundred. In addition to the physical connection of breath and body, I might add that both the Pilates and the SoulCycle method are all about bringing your Mind/Body into a deeper connection to the spirit. While people may scoff and snort at the idea of a workout being a spiritual engagement, many fitness junkies are able to have a higher level experience. Chemicals in our bodies react, endorphins are firing and the breath allows us to ride the highs and lows of a great workout, be it on a Mat or on a Bike.

Springs & Chains
Both classes use equipment to help accomplish a full-body workout. What you might not have realized is that the SoulBike uses resistance just like a tower/reformer machine. The only difference is that in a SoulCycle class, you push against the resistance to climb steeper hills to build strong muscle memory. In Pilates, you use that resistance against your own bodyweight to build length in your muscle memory. **Also both use a system of High Repetition, Low Weight in their arm series.

 

Similar, Not the Same
Obviously there are things in a SoulCycle class that we cannot get out of a Pilates class and vice versa. SoulCycle is a contemporary, high-energy room where you are encouraged to push yourself to the limit. You surround yourself with a “pack”, you get lost in a dark room, you dance. Physically I describe a SoulCycle class like being shot out of a cannon (hence the bullet); it’s compact, fast and intense. As a result the muscles in the body tend to shorten, stay tight for long periods without proper stretching, as so many riders like to hop off their bike immediately once the ride is over and continue on their New York hustle.

With Pilates, you are encouraged to slow down and focus on the mind/body connection. It’s a series of exercises that are meant to make you look and feel taller by the end of it. It’s a healthy combination of flexibility and strength (aka a thick rubber band). Although it looks intimidating, the machinery is pretty fun and there to help you gain a stronger center. The lights are on, there is no hiding in the back row, you are encouraged to sit up, pay attention and listen to specific verbal cues. That being said, with all the lights on and a small class size, you are required to be honest but tough with yourself. At the end of the class, you are guaranteed to walk away energized and connected.

It goes without saying that one of the top perks of working at both of these facilities...is the free class. I got to experience a variety of instructors and styles- to be perfectly honest, I’m a lot more “Soul” than “cycle” and the reformer still makes me a little nervous. It’s impossible to deny the obvious appeal to both- any fitness routine that brings you closer to your body, gives you strength or makes you happy is a step in the right direction. However, utilizing these two together could score you a spot in fitness nirvana.
 

Coral Elizabeth Smith is a New York City transplant from Merritt Island, Florida. She graduated in 2012 from SCAD with a B.F.A. in performing arts with a minor in dance. A yogi for seven years, a dancer for sixteen years, she has found her happy place working at fitness facilities for her day job. She also works as a writer/actor and an arts administrative assistant.

Five Reasons Why A Pilates Tower Class Is Your New Favorite Summer Workout:

Written by West Village Instructor JulieAnne Hull

1.     Isolation. The apparatus is sleek and lean, just like the muscles it will help you sculpt. The majority of Tower exercises focus on one area of the body at a time, making it easier to isolate muscle groups. Want “sun’s out, guns out” arms? Ask your instructor to challenge you with an extra arm spring variation or two.

2.     Flow. Unlike Pilates Mat and Reformer workouts, there is no set classical order for the Tower exercises. This means that beginner Tower students enjoy a much lower learning curve. Instructors create a flowing combination of exercises to fit the class in front of them and all students must control their movement and follow along with patience instead of prematurely setting up for the following exercise.

3.     Advancement. Although we love to say, “Pilates is a practice, not a performance,” Tower students actually do advance quickly which is a nice perk of the apparatus. After just few visits to your favorite studio you will be familiar enough to move through the work and sign into an intermediate class. There is always something to be gained from revisiting the basics though, so don’t fret if the advanced Tower class is full when you go to book it. Trust me that a beginner level will always offer a challenge.

4.     Stretch. The stretch on a Tower is unparalleled. Have you been pounding the sunny streets of tourist New York? Dancing all night on a rooftop in the LES? How about that ten mile hike you took upstate last weekend? And when was the last time you really stretched? The Tower exercises assign a great deal of focus to opening the hips and lengthening the spine, with a special emphasis on breathing to deepen each stretch. A Tower class is guaranteed to leave you feeling taller and lighter. 

5.     Core. It’s still Pilates, but with spring options for extra resistance, which means it still chisels the abs and builds deep abdominals. Almost all Pilates core work is taught to come from the deepest layer of the abdominal wall, the transvers abdominis. Continual engagement of the TVA during Pilates exercises ultimately results in a tighter waist, a healthier posture, and a visibly flatter midriff. While Pilates fanatics enjoy these benefits year-round, there’s no better time to showcase all that hard work than in the sunshine of the summer months. 

Pilates. Who is it for?

Pilates.  Who is it for? It is for rock stars, tennis pros, swim stars, NY Giants and other boys of the NFL. For gymnasts, the NBA and NHL, and all amateur and professional sports, including professional and aspiring dancers. And, of course, all celebrities: male, female, and yet undefined, wishing to remain svelte and stunning in their $200K bikinis and loincloths.  It helps the aging, those burdened with such physical challenges as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and our younger generation with other such neurological disorders. An excellent means of cross-training with cardio-vascular workouts, Pilates leads to long, lean muscles and better all over control of the body with proper muscular initiation. Developed by Joseph Pilates – who called it Contrology – and who utilized it to train army troops, interned prisoners, and men and women from all walks of life – it is just as good for us normal humans who have careers, families and the regular tensions of 2014 as part of our daily regime.

All over the world, men and women are practicing Pilates for its health and conditioning benefits, for a multitude of great reasons, including the following five:

Increased Flexibility

Pilates uses specific exercises and techniques to increase range of motion in all joints and movements of the body. The structure of the male body is different to women and usually tighter, and Pilates can help make a big difference. But it ain’t just a simple stretch people – we are talking eccentric contraction of muscles so they are both the primary muscle(s) in the initiation and completion of a motion, while ALSO lengthening in the process. Kill two birds with one stone! Perfect for our speedy lifestyles of today, right?

All-Over Balanced Body Strength and Awareness

Pilates offers functional strength, meaning the body must maintain correct posture and muscle patterns while building strength. This brings the often-neglected muscles into engagement; building equal strength with agonist/antagonist muscle groups (such as building the triceps muscle to match the biceps) and offers a balanced body less prone to injury. This combines with a conscious awareness of proper motion verses incorrect movement that could possibly be en route to injury. This awareness transcribes into our daily routines – all forms of sports-related movement and daily motion, from the perfect wide receiver’s leap into the end zone to bending over to pick up a delivery in the office. Not just our execution of Pilates vocabulary, but LIFE! 

Great All-Over Core – Front, Back and Sides Combined!

Pilates has unique and targeted repertoire for working the lower and upper abdominals, internal and external obliques, and the opposing lower and middle back muscle groups; unmatched to date by any other method (our biased claim – not yet verified). The Pilates apparatus offers ways to work the core on a deep, skeletal level, and give the real twenty-four-pack strength – not just six-pack – inside and out. This also leads to improved posture, less likelihood of spinal injury, and a healthy addiction to proper alignment for life!

Stay Younger and Happier

It has been claimed, though not yet statistically validated, that Pilates workouts release internal anti-ageing and stress relieving chemicals known as endorphins into the body, giving a natural “high” after each session, similarly known as the “runner’s high”. Endorphins are the body’s natural feel good chemicals, and when they are released through exercise, your mood is boosted naturally. As well as endorphins, various forms of exercise also release adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. These chemicals work together to make you feel good; a euphoria following a session! But maybe a little sore a day or two later…happy, good, challenged muscles sore! Pilates is not considered a cardio-vascular workout, except when certain exercises such as the spring board on the reformer are incorporated, but many Pilates addicts also claim it is great as a tension and stress release/relief, while improving the mood. The focus upon proper breathing, stretching, and correct, aligned motion in space can help release negative emotions in the body whilst relaxing you, and often “feeling two inches taller!” following a session.  However, if none of the above works in releasing tension, then put that Pilates ring between the thighs, picture the head of that person at work who is DRIVING YOU CRAZY and SQUEEZE AWAY.  That should do it…

Prevent and Repair Injuries

Pilates, for all the reasons above, is one of the best ways to prevent injuries from occurring. Sports medicine MDs, physiotherapists, and physical therapists alike highly recommend Pilates for continued rehabilitation.  You know the feeling – whether or not you are healed, according to dear American Medical Insurance, all you need are eight physical therapy sessions and once that is done, no more for you! 

BUT do Pilates NOW - BEFORE the injury, and you are less likely to be injured in the first place!

So, your first exercise:

1. Sit upright in front of your computer, you pelvis upright with your ischial tuberosities (sitz bones) the primary weight-bearing site, with your thighs together, feet resting on the floor, the back of the neck long, ribs soft, open across the collar bone, shoulders soft and wide, and breathing gently.

2. Exhale to lift your dominant hand off the desk and onto your mouse, with only a soft grip.

3. Slide the mouse over onto www.uptownpilates.com and book your first appointment today!

Do 10 times without slumping into your shoulders, so you have at least 10 sessions/group classes booked within the six weeks ahead.

And enjoy!

By Mary S. Burns, Ph.D.