Tuesday, August 05, 2008


This summer I've used my free time to explore all the benefits of my YMCA membership. I upgraded from one son's program membership, which just let him take youth sports classes, to a Full family membership, saving us quite a bit over the course of the year if we all use it. Since I'm paying for it I decided to take advantage of it. I have managed to work out at least three times a week for the past two months and I am in better shape than I've been in for probably 20 years.

It happens that they have a beginner Pilates class at 8:30 am on Saturday. Because my boys' swimming class is also on Saturday morning it's not that difficult to get us up and out early. I've been to the Pilates class three weeks in a row. It is the hardest exercise program I've ever tried but I love it. I've never been a big sports buff. I've never been on a team or had a coach. My idea of exercise is usually taking a walk through the woods. I have done Tai Chi for years, although not much lately. Pilates is the perfect combination of stretching, flexibility, and strength. The music my class listens to is old skool R&B from the teacher's iPod. It's very relaxing and challenging at the same time.

So I'm hooked. I come out of each class relaxed, happy, and a little sore. I decided in order to really get the program I need more than just one class a week, but I can't manage to get babysitters for more than that. I resisted the urge to run out and buy a bunch of Pilates equipment, videos and books, and instead I went to the library to see what resources I could round up.

Pilates for Every Body by Denise Austin is a great introduction. She gives background history of how the program was developed, encouraging descriptions of what the program can do for you no matter what body type you have, detailed discussions of the principles and why they work, and several levels of work out plans you can mix and match. There are numerous clear photos showing exactly how the exercises should be done and summery chart pages one could copy and post in a useful place near your mat. She has a "3 week total body makeover" that I am planning to start with. It's cool that I have the book out of the library for exactly three weeks, giving me a greater incentive to finish the program on time.

POWER PILATES by Dianne Daniels is another useful, easy to follow guide. She starts out explaining how Pilates is good for everyone, no matter where you are starting. She gives an in depth explanation of how Pilates changes your body if you really work the whole program.
"Pilates changes the body from the inside out. The key to success is using your mind as well as your body. In Pilates you won't tune out. Instead, every movement, every repetition, is performed with concentration and mental control. You will learn to tune in to exactly what your body is doing and not doing, what is moving and what is not moving.

Your body will gain new wisdom. What begins as a thought or visualization in your mind is relayed via new neuromuscular connections that trigger your muscles to respond. Sometimes the muscles are called upon to make movements that, though almost imperceptible to the eye, are the very essence of the work."

She goes on to explain that the main focus of Pilates is the "core" muscles of your midsection. Even when you are stretching or moving your legs and arms you are focusing on holding the abdomen muscles taut and working your strength from there. I found this book easy to read and follow. It's a very good introduction to the program with helpful charts, photos, and explanations. The main section of the book is a catalog of the exercises carefully described and illustrated.

I've also borrowed a DVD that I haven't had time to watch yet. If you are doing Pilates, what have you done to learn it? Do you have a class, a book or a DVD to recommend? Are there any useful tips you can share with a newbie?


janet said...

I'm a big fan too. After my second daughter was born, I saw Mari Winsor's infomercial and picked up her dvd's. It built my core strength amazingly, and I liked the way it slimmed down my legs too. Her advanced dvd (about 50min.) is a great all-over workout, with floor exercises and some standing ones.

Another dvd I like to use once in awhile is Jennifer Kries' "Target Specifics." She incorporates some ballet and yoga, too. It's a full hour long and focuses for 15 min. each on different parts of the bod. The music is a little wierd for my tastes -- mostly drums. But I always feel exhilarated when I'm done.

"Collage" has an exercise video website that gives great information about each product -- conditioning emphasis, length, level of impact, etc.

Strangely, I haven't read any books about Pilates. These that you've reviewed look good. And the class experience sounds neat... I've only done Pilates alone in my living room before.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I've never taken a class (I probably should), but I love this Pilates video: 10 Minute Solution Rapid Results Pilates by Lara Hudson. It has 5 10-minute workouts focusing on different parts of the body, including a total body workout and a stretching segment. nice if you're short on time!

Cloudscome said...

It's really funny but I always turn to books first when I am learning something new. It looks like I better check out some videos quick! When school starts I doubt I'll have time for the YMCA and I want to be able to do it on my own in the living room.

I have to say the class experience is really wonderful. It's nice to have others there working right along side you. It's very friendly and encouraging. It's also really great to have a teacher giving feedback as I learn the moves. I can't tell when my shoulders are up in my ears or my leg isn't high enough or my hip is off the ground instead of my thigh, for example. They have the mats, ring and balls, so I haven't bought anything yet. The room is lined with mirrors too, which really helps. All in all it seems like as many approaches as possible make the habit easier to gain.

Kohana said...

I never was a fan of team sports (the leap to a sports team for a home-school kid was prohibitively far in my family), and love dance (I have a minor in it but haven't done it with any consistancy since kids), but Pilates is my favorite exercise. I'd really encourage you to do as much classwork as you can as opposed to videos at home. Two reasons: 1. it's really simple to use wrong placement if you're not being observed (even if you have a lot of experience), and wrong placement can lead to injuries and stress on your body, and 2. going to a class with other people is much more motivating. It's easier to get into the workout in a studio, with people, than in your living room with chores peaking out from every direction, or children interrupting you! I'm so glad you are enjoying it. Get strong, girl!