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.