Another way to bend
Perhaps you heard of the exercise technique called pilates and were intimidated because you weren't quite sure how to say it (pi-lah-teez). Maybe you assumed it was something like yoga.
Here's some information to help you. Joseph Pilates developed pilates in the 1920s as a rehabilitation method for prisoners of war. Pilates called his technique "contrology" because the method focuses on controlling every aspect of muscle movement.
One of the major benefits of pilates is its focus on improving core strength. Core strength may seem like a fitness buzzword, but it's acknowledged in medical and rehabilitation communities as a way to prevent injury, recover from injury and improve athletic performance. Core strength goes beyond crunches and abdominal exercises. Your core is your entire torso, shoulders to hips. To develop core strength, you need to strengthen the muscles which stabilize your spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle, as well as your abdominals.
So how do you get core strength, and why do you need it? An Internet search for "core strengthening exercises" results in multiple websites providing lists of exercises, but if you intend to seriously improve core strength or need the motivation of a class, consider pilates. Pilates is a functional form of exercise because its movements engage multiple muscle groups and work the same muscle at many angles. Instead of isolating the trapezius muscle in your back, for example, a pilates exercise simultaneously engages the triceps, shoulders, trapezius, lower back and glutes.
When you walk between classes or office meetings, you require many muscle groups to work at once: your upper back keeps your shoulders pulled back, your abdominals and muscles around your spine prevent you from sinking into the curve in your lower back and your legs and glutes propel you up stairs. Why shouldn't your exercise routine reflect the complexity of your daily activities? Athletes can take note: Strengthening your legs may improve speed, but when you are playing a game or running a race, you demand that your body function as a unit. I'm not suggesting you quit your regular lifting routine, but consider adding some core-strengthening exercises or a pilates class to your routine to keep your muscles balanced, improve overall performance and help prevent injuries.
As students, we slouch over books or computers for hours at a time, which can create an imbalance in our musculature. Pilates helps restore that balance so we can maintain proper posture for daily activities, which can relieve back or neck pain.
Pilates has become popular among women because the eccentric movements in the exercises create long, lean muscles. But pilates is equally beneficial for men. Remember, it was originally developed by a man for men. Pilates and core strength can improve your balance, coordination and range of motion at any age. It's also beneficial as cross training for sports including running, golf, skiing, rock climbing and cycling. As a former professional ballet dancer turned graduate student and pilates instructor, I think core strength is beneficial to everyone - males, females, young adults, seniors and athletes.
As always, if you are new to exercise or have any medical conditions, consult with your health care practitioner.
Amanda Gellett is a University Ph.D. Candidate in Pharmacology. She can be contacted at email@example.com.