In January 2011, we hosted an incredible event to kick-off the New Year called “Winter Fit Fest 2011.” The goal of the event was to give all of you the chance to explore several of the hottest fitness trends for 2011. Every day for a week, we had free fitness classes ranging from Yoga to Zumba, Bootcamp, TRX Suspension Training, Pilates, and more!
In case you did not have the opportunity of joining us for the event, not to worry! Joining us this month to help us take an up close look at Pilates was one of our fitness experts and instructors, Pat Karlsson Backe. Pat is not only a runner but also an avid active lifestyle enthusiast, owner of Essential Elements Movement, and has been teaching and training private and corporate clients in Northern Virginia for the past twenty-five years. With a passion for personal empowerment through fitness, Pat has worked tirelessly to promote healthy and active aging, as well as functional fitness, in our young and young at heart populations. Pat works with the Kingstowne Center for Active Adults, Franconia United Methodist Church, and the Kingstowne Residential Owners Corporation Recreation and Fitness Centers. In addition, Pat teaches private clients in her home studio equipped with a Pilates Reformer and Tower, a Pilates Chair, and state-of-the art treadmill and free weights.
Pilates has become an increasingly popular fitness trend in studios and health clubs across America, to the extent that there is a new flavor of Pilates cleverly termed as “Yogalates,” which is a synergistic fusion of both yoga and Pilates, though not to be confused! For many of you die-hard runners and walkers, you may be tempted to casually dismiss Pilates for the “recreational athlete” or as simply another exercise fad. However, based on personal experience, the simple exercises performed in Pilates are extremely challenging, advantageous and arguably essential for runners and walkers. Performance is markedly improved, but more importantly, you become less susceptible to injury.
Though your health club may offer Pilates, there may still be some fog as to what Pilates really is. With that said, I’ve asked Pat to not only give us a little background on Pilates but also to help explain how Pilates can help benefit runners and walkers as well as several exercises that can easily be incorporated into your workouts on a daily basis.
So to provide some background, what is Pilates? Pilates is a form of exercise that was founded by Joseph Pilates in the early 1920s that emphasizes core strength, flexibility, and awareness to support efficient and fluid movement. Joseph Pilates developed his Art of Contrology to overcome his own illness as a child and integrate the body and mind through breathing, proper spinal alignment and a systematic and progressive series of exercises called “the Method.” Though easily confused, Yoga originated as an eastern Indian tradition that focuses on strength, flexibility and spirituality and is very different from Pilates.
Anima Sana in Corpore Sano. While claimed by Asics and hence their namesake, this idea of “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body” is the core foundation of Pilates. Pilates believed that mental and physical health were interrelated and as a result developed exercise movements to strengthen both the mind and the body. Pilates primarily uses resistance training via body weight movement as well as various tools, with the most popular being the Pilates Reformer. The foundational principle is to build deep core strength and stabilization that in turn establishes a solid foundation for any movement, both in your daily activities and in exercise. The six principles of Pilates include concentration, control, centering, flow or efficiency of movement, precision, and breathing. Collectively, the goal of Pilates is to engage your core muscles, the “powerhouse,” through all exercises while focusing on quality not quantity of movement.
Based on her experience as both a runner and a Pilates instructor, I asked Pat how she has seen and experienced the benefits of Pilates in her own life as well as for runners and walkers.
“Most general and recreational athletes don’t aspire to set a world record, their love and desire to run or walk is generally to improve their overall health and fitness, and to combat the sitting that we do for almost 12 hours of our day. In my work with active older adults and even younger adults teaching, one of the first things people notice is that their balance is unsteady. Overnight they seemed to have lost their ability to stand on one leg, toss a ball with the grand kids or get through a normal day without feeling exhausted. Stress robs the body of many things and walking, running and improved well-being can come from the easiest pill to swallow…movement! What makes walking and running so wonderful is that it is relatively cost free except for a good pair of running shoes and you can do it anywhere…Pilates mat exercises are a perfect complement to running because it is relatively cost free, you only need a towel or mat, and you can do it ANYWHERE.
When you look at the benefits of Pilates for runners most articles focus on the physical exercises themselves targeting the hips and inner and outer thighs…I personally believe that breathing is the single best reason to do Pilates with its emphasis on combining the breath and proper body alignment. Breath control helps to improve inhalation and exhalation specifically during your various activities, such as running. Muscles are toned to hold the torso erect and allow deeper lung capacity and fuller breathing, increased oxygen intake and output and consequently, more oxygen to the muscles.
Here are a few Pilates exercises that will help strengthen the diaphragm, stretch tight muscles, and improve posture to help you run more efficiently.
In addition to breath control, there are several other very important benefits to improving core strength stability. Improved spinal alignment allows the body to move in a full, pain free range of motion. Hip and Knee stability – the hips power the legs, strong and flexible hip and knee joints help a keep a runner running. And finally, building strength in the feet and ankles. Flexible strong feet equal happy running!”
Now that you’re ready to get moving, next month we’ll discuss several Pilates mat exercises that Pat has used that will help strengthen the weaker muscles and reduce risk of muscle imbalance injuries that runners of all types and ability levels can incorporate to improve their running.