Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Pilates report

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I am so glad to be back. Much work to be done. Pilates (in a 1- or 2-person session with a trained instructor who has a good studio with the various apparatuses Joseph Pilates invented to focus on various parts of the body) is sort of a cross between physical training and physical therapy. One thing I noticed, being freshly back after a 6-month layoff, is how much of the work (at least in this session) was exercising one’s trunk in various ways: twisting, arching, bending, etc., against resistance (the pull of springs or one’s own weight). Of course, I knew as an abstract statement that the focus of Pilates was on strengthening the core—that’s commonly known—but today I noticed (and felt) it in practice: my trunk was well exercised, and it felt very much that distinct layers and groups of muscles in the trunk were being exercised separately.

Of course there were exercises of arms and legs, but even in those the focus was on how the muscles in the trunk controlled those movements or provided the support or balance for doing them. In a chair exercise, for example, we (The Wife and I) each stood on one leg in front of a Wunda Chair (pictured), arms folded flat and held in front of us, the other leg raised so the ball of the foot rested in the middle of the cushion on the paddle, heel raised in high-heels position. The exercise was simply to push down the paddle and then let it return.

Obviously, this exercises one’s balance—I had a lot of trouble with this when I first started—but the deal is to feel how the legs sort of are connected: the straight leg holding the balance and providing support for the leg pushing up and down, and she emphasized how we should feel in our lower back the connection as the leg moved up and down. We also had to focus on the muscles on the inside line of the supporting leg.

One doesn’t do Pilates exercises to exhaustion—that would really impact form—and the whose session moves directly from one exercise to another, with lots of groups of muscles getting their turn. We did this one with about 8-10 paddle pushes per leg, then sat on the edge of the chair and pushed paddle down from that position, first with balls of feet, then arches, then heels, arms straight down at our sides, trunk upright, and then into next exercise.

It sounds sort of simple, but by the end of the one-hour session of exercises I felt a warm glow all over from the muscles that had been worked. Great stuff. We also did a lot of work on the Cadillac today (shown below), but no Reformer work. We used the bar at the left end, the swinging wooden bar at the other end, springs attached to the end-poles (feet in slings so legs stretch the springs) and so on: quite a few exercises for various muscle groups in the core, including bending to the side (each side), kneeling and leaning trunk back, lying on back, etc.: lots of different exercises.

To give you an idea, the following video shows a series of exercises on the Wunda Chair. The first time I did the exercise the instructor calls The Swan (5:08-5:32 in the video), I got stretched out, my arms holding down the paddle, and when my instructor told me, “Now bend your arms,” I could not do it—somehow I could not figure out how to make my muscles do that. It was if I could not find the wiring in my mind to send the order. It was the same feeling I get when I’m trying to lift one eyebrow (something that, say, Stephen Colbert can do readily): for me, the communication channel to that muscle is somehow blocked, or I can’t find it. Same with trying to move the muscles that wiggle my ears: don’t know how to reach them. But this time it was bending my arms. I was able to do it after a brief (10 second?), confused pause, but the feeling of not knowing the pathway to get to those muscles at that time was quite strong.

Which is one of the things that Pilates develops: new neural pathways in the brain for controlling muscles. A lot of activities do this, of course: learning to play a musical instrument (the piano, the clarinet, the guitar, whatever); learning martial arts; learning various sports. Pilate simply does it with respect to general movement. Joseph Pilates called his discipline “Contrology” because it was learning to control the body.

UPDATE: As I thought about it, it occurs to me that the various exercises are designed to focus on a particular muscle or group of muscles, and that the difficulty I had was that The Swan’s focus was a muscle I had not generally used by itself—in moving my arm, I had probably developed a pattern to calling on other muscles, and this particular muscle—the one I couldn’t readily command—just went along for the ride in my normal activities. Being called out specifically showed that I had sort of lost contact with that one. This is consistent with both The Wife and I finding that after some sessions we’re sore in strange places, like inside our thorax at various places—places where we didn’t even know we had muscles. “Strengthening the core” means strengthening (i.e., locating and exercising) muscles that we’ve allowed to atrophy somewhat, but the apparatuses and exercises find those guys—with a good instructor. You’ll not in the video the instructor is constantly offering little corrections and also touching the student’s body lightly—my instructor does the same, instructions and the light touch, which she uses to make sure the right muscles are engaged and working and not slack and resting.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2012 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Fitness, Pilates

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