Why are there so many different sports, workouts and fitness classes? I suppose the main reason is that fitness is so important to our general well-being and health; we all like to get our exercise in different ways – so it’s great to have something for everyone. But it’s also because our bodies have different needs when it comes to being generally ‘fit and healthy’. We need stamina that comes from cardio or aerobic workouts; we need strength that comes from weight training and repetitive exercises and we need flexibility that comes from stretching. It’s very rare to find one type of workout (that we enjoy doing) that gives our body everything we need – and those needs may change as our lifestyle changes. And some workouts may give great benefits in one area, but create issues that need to be addressed – like ‘tennis elbow’, runner’s knee, cyclist’s hamstrings.
Well, I just had a great one-to-one session that made me feel stronger, longer and showed me how it was possible to correct years of bad habits. This insightful workout was Pilates with Laura Weavers. Websites, such as the NHS Guide to Pilates, will tell you that Pilates can help improve posture, muscle tone and flexibility, core strength and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension and is good for all ages and abilities. There are different ways to try Pilates. Joseph Pilates originally developed his ‘Pilates’ exercises on special equipment that would help isolate muscle groups and ensure proper alignment. He then developed mat based exercises that people could do at home.
If you have any injuries, issues or are new to exercise and want some guidance the best place to start is either a beginners class or like I tried and highly recommend, a one-to-one session. Laura teaches equipment based Pilates at Balanced and mat based Pilates classes or specially arranged one to one sessions where I met with her, at New Town Therapies.
After just one session I decided I never want to do any exercise workout ever again without Laura sitting beside me!!
- Telling me to let go of the tension of the muscles that should be relaxed and focusing only on the muscles needed for that movement ,
- Helping me to engage my core muscles to support the movement,
- Smiling as she explains each move in a easy to follow way,
- Making sure my alignment is correct and that I’m breathing fully.
Ideally, this 1-2-1 session is what everyone should do BEFORE starting any type of workout, to stop bad habits from ever forming, but as I learned in just one hour, it’s never too late!
Laura started our session with a postural assessment standing in front of a mirror. With Laura’s guidance I was able to see that my left shoulder was raised and my right foot shifted back due to my left hip coming forward. Throughout the assessment Laura was so thorough and knowledgeable but, at the same time, she was able to explain everything in a way I understood and could relate to. I did some postural assessments as part of my massage training but to be honest I didn’t absorb a lot of it, although my instructors were also knowledgeable, they didn’t explain it as well as Laura did.
The same issues were observed when I then laid down on my back. Laura also noticed that my shoulders ‘hunched’ forward and my lower back was arched, so that I wasn’t lying flat on the mat. Laura said that this was common as in daily life we are constantly, naturally reaching forward. It’s very rare that we reach behind, pulling our shoulders back but when we do consciously pull our shoulders back, we tend to over arch our back to compensate. When we first started the floor exercises (lying down on a mat), Laura give continuous tips allowing me to make minor adjustments. I have to admit, I was a bit concerned after the initial assessment that the years of bad habits had permanently shifted my shoulders and hips out of optimal alignment. After some spine curls, using my core muscles to slowly, deliberately lift my back off the mat, one vertebra at a time, I was able to get my back flatter on the mat – no longer just resting on parts of my shoulders and hips.
Here’s Laura demonstrating:
Then came the squishy, small Pilates ball. Placed between my shoulder blades, just at the base of my neck, it lifted my spine/shoulder blades off the ground, causing gravity to gently, naturally allow my shoulders to drop down.
Next, we added in the breath. My intial ‘deep’ breathing only got as far as my upper chest, my diaphragm was under utilised. With Laura’s guidance, I was able to concentrate on the muscles used for breathing and use them to open my ribcage and allow my lungs to fill, expand and then empty. It was amazing how after just a few repetitions, with minor corrections each time, my back was flatter my shoulders were relaxed and my breathing deeper and effortless. The initial despair quickly turned to optimistic hope that with repeated classes I could undo the damage and restore balance, flexibility and strength.
What makes Pilates different, especially the work I did with Laura, is that we used small movements working on one muscle/joint at a time, getting the technique right. Think quality over quantity. Small concentrated movements, done properly, can be very effective in correcting muscular imbalances. But what I really took from my work and talk with Laura, is that most exercise focuses on our muscles. We want longer muscles, stronger, more defined, leaner, toned. My session with Laura went beyond this and we looked deeper, at the bones and joints. When you think about it, the true job of our skeletal muscles is to move the bones or joints. Making sure the bones are aligned properly and that the joints work in their full, natural range of movements is one of the main principles of Pilates.
So, who would Pilates be good for? Actually, everybody could benefit. If you’re new to exercise, working in a small group or with someone with a great eye for the human body like Laura, could help ensure that you start out correctly, develop good technique and don’t develop bad habits. If you sit alot it can help improve your posture; if you do other sports (running, cycling) it can balance out your whole body and complement your main discipline.
Overall, I loved getting the one-to-one attention and the help I needed to be able to perfect a few of the Pilates exercises Laura selected for my particular needs. This taster definitely left me eager to try more by attending a scheduled class and checking out the unique Pilates equipment. Always check with Laura to find out the current timetable of classes and prices, but as of writing this post her schedule is:
At New Town Therapy:
Monday 11am to 12pm – Intermediate
Wednesday 12:15 to 1:15pm – Beg/Improver
Friday 5:15 to 6:15 Beg/Improver