Shape up with Pilates

Karen Annalelis

Staying in shape is a hard commitment for many. Some women use lame excuses such as not having any time or money to afford expensive memberships at exclusive gyms. No more excuses allowed. An easy, cheap and accessible workout exists, a training program designed for everyone regardless of age or fitness level. While losing unwanted weight, one can effortlessly achieve a toned, sculpted body. This is all possible through Pilates, a method of exercise and physical movement designed to stretch, strengthen and balance the body.

Take me, for instance. I had trouble finding the right fitness regimen. Running, lifting weights and fat-burning exercises never crossed my mind. I abhorred exerting any form of energy. As a young, healthy and thin individual, I convinced myself that I did not need to exercise. Nonetheless, my primary physician advised me to devote at least a half hour everyday out of my hectic schedule to keep fit.

Following her suggestion, I grudgingly resolved to work out more. Feeling ambitious and determined to become a fitness buff, I launched into a training program immediately. While huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath, I realized I was out of shape after running at a relatively brisk pace for 30 minutes. Although I felt an unexplainable high after my invigorating run, I experienced excruciating shin-splints the next day, causing me to swear off running forever.

Next, I eagerly and optimistically went to a gym, hoping to work out my entire body with the cardiovascular and weight-lifting machines. Avoiding the treadmills, I headed straight for the bicycle machines. After clumsily readjusting the seat and slipping my feet through the foot straps, I began pumping my legs rapidly while casually reading a fitness magazine.

After a brief 20 minutes on the bicycle, I strolled to the weight room. After several repetitions aimed at strengthening my inner and outer thighs, I felt dissatisfied with my overall workout. I had not worked out all parts of my body. As a gym novice, I hardly knew how to use any of the intimidating, gigantic, heavy weight-lifting machines. Not knowing how to operate these machines effectively inhibited me from taking advantage of all the equipment at the gym.

At this point, I had completely given up hope of finding a simple exercise program perfect for me. Then, while visiting a friend of mine, I discovered a Pilates videotape. I relentlessly teased this six-foot-tall and toned guy for doing “girly” exercises because I assumed this workout was for women only. Intrigued by his interest in Pilates, I insisted on learning this form of exercise. Amazingly and instantly, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated after our extreme workout, pleased to experience immediate results by feeling tightness in my abdominal region. I was hooked. I jumped onto the Pilates bandwagon and fell in love with this addicting craze.

This well-renowned exercising method developed by Joseph H. Pilates in the 1920s, initially favored by dancers, has become popular worldwide. Pilates is invaluable toward one’s own fitness through the regular practice of precise exercises in conjunction with focused breathing patterns.

Because Pilates conditions the body, many physical therapists, chiropractors and orthopedists integrate these exercises into physical therapy and rehabilitative programs.

Furthermore, pregnant women can gain from Pilates’ proper breathing, body alignment and concentration. After pregnancy, it reshapes and tones one’s figure. Most importantly, Pilates offers physical harmony and balance for people of all ages and physical conditions.

Envisoning a slimmer body, I bolted to the nearest store to buy a Pilates video. I settled on the “Pilates Workout for Dummies,” voted “One of the 10 best videos of 2001” by Fitness Magazine. I cannot afford private sessions with a certified Pilates instructor, but purchasing a video remained within my budget. Plus, having a video made my exercises more accessible, allowing me to perform the workout wherever and whenever I desired. This video provides step-by-step instructions for 18 popular Pilates-mat exercises like “the saw” and “the leg rocker,” making exercising easy to follow and execute. No equipment is necessary for these exercises except mind and body concentration. The video only takes 30 minutes to complete, hardly time-consuming.

One will not see immediate results, but will eventually notice the profound, rewarding effects after continuous practice. No matter what Pilates video one chooses, results will show if performed proficiently and faithfully.

Through habitual practice, one gains several benefits from Pilates: increased lung capacity and circulation through deep, healthy breathing, increased strength and flexibility of the abdomen and back muscles, improved posture, improved bone density and joint health. Pilates shapes the “powerhouse” consisting of the muscles of the abdomen, lower back and buttocks to provide support and strength to the spine and to help the rest of the body move freely. It also promotes natural and correct spinal alignment and appropriate breathing techniques. Breathing correctly helps to engage the abdominal muscles by pulling the navel in toward the spine during inhalation and pulling abdominal muscles in and wide across the hips during exhalation, eventually flattening the abs. By focusing on quality not quantity, one utilizes concentration, balance and body control. These exercises ultimately help sculpt a lean, strong and flexible body.

The body conditioning methods learned through Pilates have changed my view of exercising, and I have become a converted fanatic. The difficult exercising equipment and pricey gym membership fees that prevented me from pursuing a healthy lifestyle previously are obstacles of the past. Pilates allows me to focus on every part of my body by strengthening and lengthening my muscles, improving my posture and toning and tightening my midsection. Never will I dread exercising again! I now enjoy fun and simple exercises like “the swan,” “the hundred” and “rolling like a ball.” For the first time in my life, I am truly dedicated to staying fit.

After several unsuccessful attempts, I finally found an exercise program suited for me that I look forward to doing everyday, which leaves me revitalized and aware of my physical and mental well-being.