When Linda Callewaert, an active Rhinelander ‘boomer, wanted an exercise program that would be effective yet easy on her joints, she turned to one of the most popular methods around: Pilates. In Pilates, movements are controlled and deliberate, as opposed to the rapid movements of other popular exercise programs. That suits Linda and other Pilates fans around the world just fine. “It’s a low impact exercise that makes you feel good,” she says. “It’s a good workout. It’s very enjoyable.”
Although it doesn’t leave those who practice it drenched in sweat and gasping for breath, Pilates is very effective. By utilizing six basic principles-centering, control, flow, precision and concentration-Pilates allows its practitioners to build core strength and craft long, lean muscles. Exercises are done on a mat on the floor or by using resistance equipment.
At first glance, with its precise, controlled movements, Pilates may look similar to another popular form of exercise, yoga. Some of the poses are the same, although they have different names. But the two exercise methods are quite different.
“Yoga focuses more on the mind, flexibility and stress reduction,” says Jean Petrick, who teaches Pilates at the YMCA in Rhinelander, “where Pilates is more strengthening and toning. It’s more rehabilitative. With Pilates, there is constant movement going on.” Jean has taught Pilates at the Y for two years and has practiced it for about five years. Pilates, she explains, appealed to her because it doesn’t involve high-impact, aerobic workouts. “When we joined the Y about five years ago, I was looking for an exercise program,” she recalls, adding that she has never been very big on the more aerobic forms of exercise. She tried Pilates and decided, “That’s my style!”
A lot of other people feel the same way, for several reasons. “It’s truly an exercise that anybody in any age group and any fitness level can participate in and benefit from,” Jean says.
Linda, a member of Jean’s class, agrees. “It’s adjusted to what you can do,” she says of Pilates. She has been practicing Pilates for a year and a half and likes the fact that the exercises are low impact, easy on her joints and have improved her posture. “It gives you flexibility of the joints, especially the hip joints,” she says, “and strength in your core. It gives all-around improvement and well-being.” And, she notes, practicing Pilates has improved her outlook and helps her sleep better.
It seems fitting that adaptability is one of the Pilates method’s most notable characteristics. Its founder, Joseph Pilates, was himself nothing if not adaptable. He created the exercise method that bears his name under daunting conditions. After World War I began, German-born Joseph, who was living in England at the time, found himself in an internment camp. While he was held in the camp, he devised the floor exercises that formed the basis for modern Pilates mat work. He also started using his method to help rehabilitate others in the camp who suffered from injuries. A resourceful man, he created resistance equipment out of such items as beer keg rings and bed springs. From such humble beginnings came an exercise program well-known for its effectiveness. The program, which Joseph Pilates originally called “contrology,” was eventually integrated into the rehabilitation process of World War I veterans.
Joseph opened his first studio in New York City in 1926 and students have carried on his work ever since. At first popular mainly with dancers and elite athletes, the Pilates method is now used by people of all ages who are simply looking for an effective exercise program, who are going through physical rehabilitation, new mothers who want to tone up after pregnancy, seniors-in short, just about anyone who wants to get into shape.
Another hallmark of Pilates is its emphasis on strengthening the core, which, Jean says, “is especially important as we age.”
The core area, which includes the deep, internal muscles of the back and abdomen, provides stability and support so that the rest of the body can function well. Weak core muscles account for various ailments of the body, and a common one is lower back pain. Strong core muscles aid in proper balance and stability, and they also aid the body by easing shocks from physical activities such as jumping.
“The core strength is important,” Jean explains, “because it helps support the movements in all exercises. When you perform other exercises, your lower back is protected.
“Pilates focuses on balancing the large muscle groups with the small muscle groups,” Jean continues. The controlled movements help release the tightness of muscles around joints, she adds. “When people are done with the class, they often say they feel taller; they feel lighter.”
There are a lot of reasons, it seems, that Pilates is the program of choice for many who want to get into shape, among them its effectiveness in toning, strengthening and lengthening the muscles. But there’s another reason, a very simple one, why Pilates appeals to so many people around the world.
“You feel energized and refreshed,” Jean says, “and you feel very relaxed.”
For more information, log on to ymcaofthenorthwoods.org.