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MY INTRODUCTION TO PILATES

By Cheryl Alden, PT


In 1999, I was working at a physical therapist at an outpatient orthopedic clinic.  It was there that I was first introduced to pilates.  The PT facility was hosting a workshop, ‘Pilates for Physical Therapists’.  Pilates had started becoming the ‘new thing’ at the fitness facility where I was currently teaching kickboxing.  So, in order to see what this pilates thing was, I decided to attend the 2 day workshop.  The primary instructor was also a PT and she brought along a pilates apprentice to help assist with the class.  An apprentice?  For pilates?  The style taught was the classical style of pilates training as I found out later.

Day one focused on pilates history and mat based exercises.  At a PT student, I was fortunate enough to do a gross anatomy course with cadaver dissection so I was very familiar with the core anatomy.  BUT, I was really made aware of it after day one of the mat exercises!  I could feel, it seemed, every muscle fiber of my obliques as they wrapped around my torso.  I remember commenting to the instructor how sore my abs were from the previous days workouts.

Day 2 focused on the proformer exercises.  Hind site being 20/20, I now know that the proformer was their version of a home reformer. 

I found the course interesting but not awe inducing by any means.  It wasn’t until I took a more formal pilates course, the STOTT PILATES® intensive mat plus (the first of 5 courses for a full certification) that I really started to get an appreciation of the benefits of pilates. The 40 hour course went through in much more detail the pilates exercises but also anatomy, posture, programming and implementation of the pilates exercises to all body types.  Now it became interesting.  During my time in the course, I began implementing the exercises into my patients programs with great success.  The STOTT PILATES basic principles are good for overall body awareness and the course had given me more variety of terms, a new language if you will, to teach my patients about good body awareness and movement patterns.  It also gave me new ways of viewing the body as a whole and not just an injured body part.  I was hooked. 

Part of the STOTT PILATES certification is a written and practical exam.  This also included a requirement of a number of teaching, taking and observation hours prior to testing.  I was a pilates apprentice!  I started teaching as many patients, friends and gym goers as I could as well as seeking out certified instructors to observe.  When I really started doing the exercises, I started to find out more about my weaknesses and imbalances.  Me?  Weak and imbalance?  Things started to make sense in my body and how my imbalances were leading to my low back and hamstring muscle tightness.  Let me explain…..

I am a runner!  I ran cross country and track in junior high and high school and have continued running ever since.  I love it.  It wasn’t until after college that I was running and started getting tightness in my back and my hamstrings were a bit tighter than they should be.  I had been strength training very consistently for years with free weights as well as the machines and teaching fitness classes so it wasn’t for lack of activity. I do admit, however, I was never good about stretching but truly didn’t think it necessary until I started getting back tightness with running.  I started thinking to myself that maybe I was not made to be a runner. 

So, as I started my 6 months of studying to take my exam, doing the exercises, I learned a lot about MY muscle imbalances through the essential and intermediate mat repertoire.  The exercises showed me where my weaknesses were and all I needed to do was listen to my body, leave my ego at the door and perform the exercises as they should be done.  With proper form, focus and quality of movement.  

It took me months to ‘get’ some of the exercises and the feel them in my body but when I did, things started to change.  My running improved and I again believed that my body was meant to run.   

From my own experiment, I knew that pilates could help so many others improve upon their imbalances.  I needed to learn more.

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