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Exercise

ThirdAge Health Close-up: Pilates

I’m doing Pilates machines workouts by the process of elimination. I’ve tried and given up just about everything else. For the last year, my friend’s words have echoed in my guilt chamber: “Just pay the money and do Pilates machines classes. They work!”

I had to agree, considering that my friend and her husband, whom I’d known for years, no longer had their familiar pudgy guts. But my hesitation was because of the money, as it is an expensive workout, and also because of my complete ignorance of the machines, which look like variations on an obstetrics table and other torturous appliances. However, I’ve found the machines provide great strengthening workouts THAT I CAN DO ON MY BACK! What could be better than that?

A quick rundown on Pilates. The methodology is credited to Joseph Pilates. In an internment camp in England during World War I with other German nationals, he created a system of resistance exercises using springs and hospital beds to help those who were confined and bedridden to increase their strength. After the war, his methods were adapted as part of a modern dance curriculum. Because many of the exercises are performed in reclining or sitting positions, and most are low impact and only partially weight bearing, Pilates is so safe it can be used as physical therapy to recover from injuries.

The main piece of equipment we use in my Pilates class at Lents Pilates in Delray Beach, Florida is the Reformer. It’s a sliding, padded platform with springs and ropes that can be adjusted to create resistance-based exercises using your own body weight. You lie down with your shoulders against padding and your feet on a bar and push up and down in different positions to strengthen different muscles. One of my favorites is when we put down the bar and put in a small platform for horizontal jumping, like on a trampoline, but you’re lying down.

Other machines include the Pilates Tower, Cadillac, Chair, and Barrel. It’s kind of like learning to be your own marionette.

It is super important to be trained on the machines before taking a group class. Also, the group classes should be small enough that the teacher can keep a close eye on everyone’s alignment, which is key.

My trainer, certified Pilates instructor Amalia Massey, had a year and a half of training, including anatomy and foundational movement classes, before teaching me. In addition, she is a triathlete and could definitely do “Dancing With the Stars” with no problem regarding stamina. Some certified Pilates instructors have only a few weeks of training, so be sure and check them out before committing to $75 per hour and up private sessions. I had three privates before joining a class. Otherwise I would not have known what I was doing on the machines. Amalia’s instructions “Keep your tail down while pushing,” and other tips helped me focus on my core when moving weights with my legs or arms. “The machines give you feedback on moving symmetrically,” Amalia points out.

One of the things that Amalia told me when I was struggling with balance was “instead of worrying about falling and breaking your hip as you get older, prevent the fall.” No one else had ever pointed that out. In other words, if you have good balance, you are far less likely to fall. I was focusing on taking calcium and getting bone scans, which are potentially helpful. But most helpful is not to fall at all.

In just a month, my balance is so much better I bought a pair of 5-inch platform shoes that I have actually worn to Target for 15 minutes. So far, so good. Although I have realized I don’t need to be 6 feet tall. I just need to maximize the spaces between my vertebrae and tuck in my tummy and butt, with the help of Pilates.

Judy Kirkwood writes articles for print and web publications – national, regional, and local; is a contributing writer to Simply the Best and Boca Raton Observer magazines in South Florida; and plays on the beach and in the pool year-round. Visit her on Facebook @JudysFlorida and please visit www.JudysFlorida.com

Contributing writer Judy Kirkwood is getting balanced in Delray Beach.