houston pilates frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Just to give you an idea of how popular the Pilates method is, here are some famous names who have used Pilates as part of their workout regime:

Jennifer Aniston
George Balanchine
Cincinnati Bengals
Dyan Cannon
Glenn Close
Courtney Cox
Leonardo DiCaprio
Chris Evert
José Ferrar
Jane Fonda
San Francisco 49ers
Daisy Fuentes
Cary Grant
Katherine Hepburn
Ali MacGraw
Yehudi Menuhim
Sir Laurence Olivier
Brad Pitt
Jerome Robbins
Vidal Sasoon
Jane Seymore
Ted Shawn
Barbara Streisand
Rudolf Van Laban
Vanessa Williams
Kristi Yamaguchi

1. What is the Pilates Method?

The Pilates Method of physical and mental conditioning incorporates the postures and breath work of yoga, the focused concentration of Zen meditation and the calisthenics of ancient Greek and Roman exercise regimens. Sit-Up ComboJoseph Pilates considered the area of the torso between the lower ribs and the hips the "Powerhouse" or center of the body. This corset of muscles forms the foundation for all Pilates movements. A strong Powerhouse aligns and stabilizes the pelvis and lumbar vertebrae, giving the practitioner a significant increase in strength and control over all movements. This in turn improves performance, posture, poise, grace and balance.

The importance of coordinating proper breathing with movement cannot be overstated. It is 50% of the Pilates method. When you breathe properly, filling and emptying the lungs completely, you have more stamina, feel more alive and alert, and are better able to concentrate. The precise breathing patterns assigned to each exercise serve to assist in the contraction of the intrinsic (core) muscles of the Powerhouse and regulate the tempo and rhythm of the Pilates exercises.Advanced Climb a Tree

There are thirty-four floor exercises that make up the Mat work. These exercises are based on Yoga and indeed you will perform all of the Pilates floor exercises in your study of yoga. There are 500 exercises for the machines Joseph Pilates designed. These machines use springs of varying strength to provide the resistance necessary to increase the density (strength) of muscle, bone and connective tissue. Each spring also provides a variable resistance that increases with leverage. This allows the practitioner to perform the exercises through a full range of motion (flexibility) without causing injury to the joints. This emphasis on full range of motion with increasing resistance is the primary reason that the Pilates method lengthens the muscles as it strengthens them.

Monkey StretchJoseph Pilates called his system "Contrology" and required his students to perform controlled, precise movements in a flowing style. He understood the biomechanical advantages of improving posture to gain leverage and placed equal emphasis on strength and flexibility to improve function (physical). He created exercises to improve coordination (mental) and balancing exercises that required a state of calm under stress (emotional). He encouraged the perseverance (spirit) to flow from exercise to exercise without stopping to rest, thus experiencing the benefits of muscular endurance and moderate aerobic activity. This holistic approach to exercise results in significant weight loss, a long, lean body, with a flatter stomach and lifted buttocks, improved posture and an increase in cardiovascular health. This approach also develops the ability to perform any activity in a graceful and fluid manner with a minimum of effort.

"Contrology is complete coordination of mind, body and spirit..." -Joseph Pilates

2. How is the Pilates method different from other forms of exercise?

The Pilates participant is viewed as a true student of the method. The Pilates instructor Birdconsiders each workout a "class" not unlike that of dance, martial arts or yoga. The Pilates instructor focuses less on teaching repetitive movement and focuses more on muscular reeducation and development of the body/mind connection.

Many of the exercise systems that are popular today focus on the large, superficial muscle groups that control locomotion. An example of this would be pushing and pulling movements with arms or legs. These movements are usually performed through a small range of motion, which results in a decrease in flexibility, limited function and short bulky muscles. Typically these systems exercise the abdominals in a separate routine and focus predominantly on the rectus abdominus (six pack) and obliques.

Kneeling BackbendThe Pilates Method is a flowing style of exercise. It is designed to condition the whole body simultaneously and uniformly. The Pilates student focuses on increasing kinesthetic awareness and toning of the intrinsic muscles. These are the deeper layers of muscles (core) that stabilize the skeleton. This gives one greater leverage when engaging the extrinsic muscles that are closer to the surface and are the larger muscles of locomotion. We refer to this as "sequencing" because we initiate all movements by engaging the stabilizing muscles before that of the "prime mover". This uniform development combined with focused concentration, proper breathing, and precise movements ensure that the body is aligned as it was designed to be, with all joints supported by balanced weight and force.

"Each muscle may cooperatively and loyally aid in the uniform development of all our muscles. Developing minor muscles naturally helps to strengthen major muscles." - Joseph Pilates

Horseback3. What is the difference between the "Soft" and "Hard" styles of the Pilates Method?

The use of the titles "Soft style" and "Hard style" are a convenient way of describing two approaches to any form of exercise. They are not exclusive to the Pilates Method.

A Soft style is a "restorative" approach to working out. Its intensity is light to moderate. It has fewer exercises and is performed at a slower pace. The student is allowed to rest for a moment between exercises, taking stock of any changes, which may have occurred in alignment, sequencing, or ease of movement. This is a very safe way to increase one's kinesthetic awareness while correcting any muscular imbalances or movement patterns that may impede proper alignment or performance.

The Soft style is recommended for exercise rehabilitation, prenatal and postpartum, the special needs of senior citizens and those new to formal exercise. All new Pilates students, regardless of their fitness level, begin with the Soft style in order to acquire a strong foundation in the fundamentals of the Pilates Method.

Long Spinals and Reverse FlysA Hard style is a "stimulating" workout. It has more exercises than the Soft style and the tempo is vigorous. The intensity is high and the student must flow from exercise to exercise, performing choreographed transitions as they make their way through the routine. The benefits of this flowing style include a significant increase in muscular endurance and cardiovascular health, a high caloric burn, excellent balance and coordination, and long, lean flexible muscles, trained to fire in the proper sequence for grace and ease of movement.

"With body, mind, and spirit functioning perfectly, as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person"- Joseph Pilates

4. Can I Lose Weight Doing the Pilates Method?

Yes, once you have studied the Soft style long enough to gain expertise in the fundamentals. This will require you to attend a minimum of two, one-hour sessions per week. At this point you can begin to pick up the pace and intensity of your Pilates routine and burn enough calories to make a noticeable change in the ratio of body fat to lean muscle mass.

Within the first five sessions (2 /1/2 weeks), you can expect to feel a positive change in your body. The tone and flexibility of your muscles will have begun to improve. You will be standing taller and moving with greater ease. In twelve sessions (six weeks), you may notice your clothes are a little loose and your friends and family will notice the difference. After forty-eight sessions (six months) you will have made a profound change in the shape of your body.Reverse Push Through

There isn't anything magical about the Pilates Method. The old adage about burning more calories than you consume will always be true. The fundamental principals of biomechanics incorporated in Pilates are the same as those found in many physical disciplines such as classical ballet, martial arts, and yoga, but the emphasis the Pilates Method places on the lengthening of the muscles while increasing their density will cause you to burn more calories at rest and make you look thinner.

It is worth noting our bodies are all about "adaptation". The degree to which your body changes is in direct proportion to the intensity of your workout. Simply put, if you are relatively comfortable while doing your workout, your body will have no need to adapt and change. An effective Pilates session will be challenging enough to encourage adaptation without being a struggle as this will just create tension and interfere in the creation of the Pilates body.

"If you will faithfully perform your Contrology exercises regularly, only four times a week for just three months, you will find your body development approaching the ideal, accompanied by renewed mental vigor and spiritual enhancements." - Joseph Pilates

5. Can Anyone Do the Pilates Method?

Yes. The Pilates exercises can be modified to match anyone's state of health, regardless of age. If you are new to formal exercise, a professional athlete or dancer, in a prenatal or postpartum period, recovering from surgery, or have chronic pain, the Pilates Method will be of benefit.

InversionThat said, it is always recommended that you consult with your health professional before beginning any exercise program. This will ensure that you have no preexisting conditions that might make certain types of exercise inadvisable.

"In ten sessions you will feel the difference, in twenty you will see the difference and in thirty you will have a whole new body"-Joseph Pilates

6. Is the Pilates Method good for rehabilitation?

Yes. Joseph Pilates began developing his theories of exercise rehabilitation and the exercise machines we use while working with injured soldiers during WWI. He claimed to be 50 years ahead of his time, and it appears he was correct. He discovered the benefits of using variable resistance (bedsprings). He taught both closed kinetic chain and stabilazation exercises and placed an equal emphasis on strength and flexibility to return full function to injured joints. He would even make his patients take walks right after surgery to increase their circulation.

Side Splits and Knee PullsAll the protocols for exercise rehabilitation have existed within the body of Pilates' work for over 75 years. Many physical therapists are obtaining a Pilates certification and now take advantage of the hundreds of exercises created for this purpose. All of the Pilates exercises can be modified into gentle, simple movements. As the client's strength and mobility increases the exercises can be carefully modified to increase the intensity of the workout until the client has regained strength, stability and full range of motion. In many cases this shortens the period of recovery or eliminates the need for a surgical procedure.

Beyond its rehabilitative effects, the Pilates Method can help prevent joint and muscle injuries. Taking the "balanced body" approach to uniform muscle development, the client can eliminate potential compensatory injuries by balancing the muscular force around the joints, lengthening tight tendons, and reprogramming ineffective or destructive movement habits.

There are many therapeutic benefits to the Pilates Method. It has been used successfully to treat complications from ankle, knee, hip and shoulder cuff injuries. It aids in the recovery from stroke and other neurological events, and it is an effective therapy for spinal issues such as: herniated or degenerated discs, scoliosis, arthritis, sciatica, unstable sacral iliac joints, and decompressing injured vertebra, helping to relieve nerve and disc pressure.

"Neither the mind nor the body is supreme one cannot be subordinate to the other"-Joseph Pilates

7. Is the Pilates Method safe in pregnancy?

Side Split with PoleYes, in those with previous Pilates training. The expectant mother should always consult with her primary care provider before beginning a new exercise program. Postpartum training in Pilates is a wonderful way to tighten up the pelvic floor and abdominals.

During pregnancy the body releases the hormones relaxin and progesterone which loosen the pelvis and all other joints in preparation for childbirth. This joint laxity increases the potential for joint and muscular injury. Pilates strengthens the muscles that support the joints, and by increasing the muscle tone and endurance, it can help counter the stresses in pregnancy. Most women find that practicing Pilates results in fewer incidences of backache, shortness of breath, constipation, varicose veins, fatigue, and morning sickness.

It is best to take a "restorative" approach to Pilates during pregnancy. This slow, flowing style has a calming effect on your nervous system as it helps you to develop good breath control, carry your pregnancy more comfortably and strengthen your body for a smoother delivery and a faster return to your prepregnancy body shape.

Down StretchIn the first trimester, we will continue with the uniform development of your whole body, while being careful to keep your core temperature and heart rate at a safe level. In the second trimester, we will modify your workout slightly by eliminating any prone positions (lying on stomach), and exercises that are executed with just one leg, as this could harm the pelvic structures. We will encourage you to do as many of the abdominal exercises as you are able at this stage, and will continue to modify the exercises as your balance and range of motion in forward bends begins to change. In the third trimester, we will replace some of the more difficult abdominal exercises and those that put you at risk of falling with more upper body work. This will prepare you for some of the physical challenges of having a newborn.

Reverse Flys on BoxTaking this calm, balanced approach to exercise with its focused concentration, breath work and attention to detail is good for both mother and child. They will share in the benefits gained from increased circulation of oxygen rich blood, the regulation of hormones, and the rhythmic, flowing movements that help to calm and center us mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Please inform your Pilates instructor and your primary care provider immediately if you experience any of the following danger signs at any time during pregnancy: persistent severe headaches, dizziness, visual disturbances, elevated pulse or blood pressure after exercise, chest pain, excessive fatigue, persistent contractions, any sign of bloody discharge, sudden swelling of ankles, hands and face, or unexplained abdominal pain. Beginning a Pilates regime is not recommended in women who have no prior Pilates training.

"Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness" - Joseph Pilates