I first got on a Pilates reformer in 2001. I had just graduated from PT school and was working in an outpatient orthopedic clinic in Denver. They had a reformer, and the Pilates instructor was giving a small inservice on how to use it. I had played soccer competitively for 18 years and had done my share of sprints, laps, wall sits and suicides. I figured I was strong and fit. While I wanted to learn something new for my clients, I definitely didn’t think I would get anything from it myself. Thirty minutes and two jello legs later, I was put in my place and I was hooked. Nothing had made me feel that shaky and worked and I loved it.
I started writing this post about the history of Pilates and all the proven reasons it’s wonderful and you should try it. But really, I just want to tell you how much I absolutely, wholly, deep in my core, love it. If I was talking to you right now, I’d be waving my hands and raising my voice because that’s what I do when I get excited! So picture that, and you’ll get an idea of my passion for Pilates :)Obviously, Pilates (along with Physical Therapy) has become my profession. First and foremost, though, I love it for myself and my body. I want to share with you the top three reasons I love Pilates as a Physical Therapist and the top three reasons I love Pilates as a student.
As a Physical Therapist:
1) Anyone can do Pilates
Yes, that means you. And you. And you! In my 14 years practicing, I have never met I client I couldn’t help in some way using Pilates and/or the Pilates equipment. One of our most amazing and dedicated clients just had her 84th birthday! I have seen clients with brain injuries, scoliosis, postpartum issues, MS, cancer, development delays, chronic pain and sports injuries. I have seen people who are teenagers and injured themselves in gymnastics, and I’ve seen people who have shattered bones in parachuting accidents. I’ve seen people who can’t get out of a wheelchair, and I’ve seen people who needed the help of their assistance dog to get on the equipment. It is forgiving and it is meant for anyone who wants to improve and get better.
2) It takes the fear out of movement and empowers people
Unless you’ve been in pain or had an injury, it’s hard to know the effects that fear of movement can have on a person. A client wants to feel better and get stronger, but they don’t know what to do that won’t cause pain or make them worse. So they do nothing, which makes everything worse. It’s a horrible cycle. The body WANTS to move and NEEDS to move and Pilates lets you do that in a safe way! It’s like WD-40 for your joints.
3) It focuses on the entire body and not just one piece
This is one of the toughest things about traditional rehabilitation. We are taught in PT school to look at the entire body, but in most clinics the therapists will only look at the body part that’s injured. This is usually dictated by certain insurance rules and limitations of the individual clinic. The body works as a whole, and if your neck is hurting, usually we need to look at the hips and low back as well! Pilates lets us do that. You then get more effective treatment, and less likelihood of re-injury in the future.
As a student (just plain old Jessica):
1) It changed my body
Nothing has had a more significant impact on my body than Pilates. This includes how it looks, but also how it functions and how it feels. I remember looking in the mirror a few months after starting Pilates and seeing a small space between my thighs. I had NEVER seen that before! While that wasn’t necessarily my goal, it was nice to see real changes in what my body looked like. More importantly, with consistent practice over the years, Pilates has helped eliminate chronic pelvic and back pain I was experiencing, and has helped me carry myself taller and with more confidence.
2) It combines the strength training of an athlete with the grace and fluidity of a dancer with the fun of a playground
The reformer is an amazing piece of equipment, and part of that is how fun it is! I get the resistance training I need and enjoy, but also get to feel some length and grace I never got in my soccer days. Add to that the straps and hanging on bars and the fact that the reformer looks like a jungle gym, and you are bound to have some fun and enjoy yourself. I get to be tough and strong and graceful and long all at once.
3) It allows me to be better at everything else I do
Pilates is by no means the only exercise I do. I also lift weights, run, hike, do yoga, high intensity interval training, barre exercises and lift a 9 month old all day. Pilates is truly the reason I can do those things. Pilates is why I could train for and run a half marathon without getting injured (and I am by no means a runner – just ask anyone who saw me run that race). Pilates is why I can do yoga successfully and not lose my form. Pilates is why I sit with good posture at my desk. Pilates is why I lasted through 43 hours labor with 4 hours of pushing during the birth of my daughter. I am strong. I am confident. I am flexible. I am not afraid of trying new things. This truly is because of my journey in Pilates.
Do I think everyone could benefit from Pilates? Yes. Would I like everyone who has ever experienced an injury to come see us for PT so we can change their life? Absolutely! Do I think everyone would love it like I do or needs it in their life? No. It’s not for everyone, and that is true for every fitness activity and it’s what makes our world unique. To see real benefits from a Pilates program, you need to have an open mind and be willing to work. You need to be ready to think about movement and get into your body. You need to be willing to commit and give it 4-8 weeks before seeing the difference. With those things in place, Pilates can help make permanent changes in how you look and feel. And really, who doesn’t like to hang upside down sometimes? 🙂
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