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Getting Fit with Pilates

By Karen Asp as published in The Costco Connection, 2010

IN EVERY EXERCISE, YOU'RE ENGAGING ALL OF THE MUSCLES IN YOUR BODY SO YOU'RE GETTING A TOTAL-BODY WORKOUT, STRENGTHENING YOUR MUSCLES EQUALLY AND PROPORTIONALLY

Although Pilates has been around for decades, this mind-body exercise is still one of the hottest fitness activities and for good reason. Pilates offers mental benefits such as reducing stress and improving mental focus, but the physical benefits are the biggest draw.

Pilates was created in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates, a gymnast and bodybuilder who devised a series of exercises that focused on the core postural muscles, often called the powerhouse, which include all of the muscles that wrap around your torso and hips—abdominals, gluteals and lower back. Breathing and spinal alignment are also crucial.

While Pilates isn't a cardiovascular activity per se, the exercises do involve flow, so while you're strengthening your body you may feel a slight increase in heart rate. For example, one fundamental exercise is called the Hundred. You start lying face up on the floor. You then lift your feet, shoulders and head off the floor and, with your arms at your sides, pump your arms up and down 100 times.

So why should you choose Pilates? “In every exercise, you’re engaging all of the muscles in your body so you're getting a total-body workout, strengthening your muscles equally and proportionally,” says Andrea Rogers, Pilates instructor and creator of the DVD, 10 Minute Solution: Quick Sculpt Pilates.

Another well-known benefit of Pilates is improved posture. “Not only do you build strength to hold yourself taller, you’re also more aware of how you move throughout the day,” says Suzanne Bowen, a Costco member and owner of Seren Motus Fitness Studios in Tennessee, and star of the 10 Minute Solution: Pilates Perfect Body DVD.

And because Pilates is a mind-body exercise, melding breathing with the movements, you're able to clear your mind. “You have to focus on what you're doing, and because of that you don't have time to think about your worries, so you naturally relieve stress,” says Rogers.

The Costco Connection

While Pilates is designed for everybody, no matter your age or fitness level, it’s best to start with a beginning Pilates workout, usually done on a mat. You can learn Pilates from DVDs, but Rogers recommends taking a class or private instruction at first, if possible. “Working with an instructor for even just three classes can help ensure you’re using proper form so you don’t injure yourself,” she says.

As you get more advanced, you can add Pilates tools such as the magic circle, arc barrel, resistance ball and resistance band to your mat workouts. “These props add resistance and increase the focus on the muscles you're working,” Rogers says.

The mainstay of Pilates equipment, however, is the reformer. This piece of equipment features pulleys and springs that activate muscles differently than is possible on a mat. The reformer also requires a little more balance and coordination, Rogers says, adding that beginners through advanced Pilates practitioners can use it, although most beginners start with mat work.

Doing Pilates several times a week can benefit your mind and body. An added bonus? You’ll tighten those abs and perhaps lose a little weight, which is why Pilates remains so popular today.

Costco.ca carries several items from STOTT PILATES, including a reformer, stability chair and arc barrel and props package. Pilates DVDs are available in most warehouses.

Freelance journalist Karen Asp specializes in fitness, health and nutrition.