Exercise Should Be Hard
In general, I define exercise much as Joseph Pilates did, as movements done in a specific way in order to make the rest of life easier and more enjoyable. So it also makes sense to me that “exercise” by definition should be harder and more focused than what we do in the rest of our lives, and that’s why it is a separate activity from our daily life functions.
People generally begin a new exercise program in order to look better, feel better, get stronger, become more flexible, perform better, and relieve pain. In order to accomplish any of these goals you will need to work hard and smart! Focus on moving well instead of just straining.
Moving Well Can be a Challenge
While many of us like to do other things when we work out, I believe in at least some focused exercise time. The hard work in Pilates exercises is in the focus that it takes to move well and correctly, not because the movements themselves are particularly hard or complex. The same can be said for suspension training, kettlebells, Crossfit, yoga, and dance aerobics.
The exercises don’t have to look challenging to be challenging. In fact, many people look at the basic Pilates mat exercises such as the roll up or the hundreds and assume that they must be easy to do because the movements appear to be simple.
Principles of Pilates
Joseph Pilates laid out the Principles of Contrology (what Mr. Pilates called his method) in his book, Return to Life through Contrology. I counsel my clients to remember the six basic Pilates principles whenever they are exercising, no matter what activity, as the principles help with any type of exercise.
Pilates exercises focus on the Powerhouse of the torso – the abdominals, back, butt, inner thigh, and shoulder muscles. All of your movements should come from this stable, strong center core. This is your natural support belt!
We live in a multi-tasking society where it can be difficult for us to focus on one thing for any length of time. This is why many people would prefer to hop on an exercise bike with their cell phone, magazine, television, and iPad. When doing Pilates, or any exercise, you will find that the more you focus on your body and concentrate on what you are doing, the more effective the exercises will be.
Exercise is about being in control of your body. In Pilates we move with control and we learn how to stabilize and move properly. This can mean that you move slowly at the beginning, but ultimately we start to look for speed with control.
The same is true for any workout. Learn to move properly with control and you will stay safer through more advanced Crossfit WODs, some new yoga variations, and some deep squats.
Joseph Pilates believed that exercise should be precise in order to be effective. So in leg circles, for example, we do not just let the hips and shoulder roll all over the place as we circle the leg. Instead we look for a strong stable torso with a nice precise circle of the leg – harder to accomplish but much more useful in the long run.
Precision is important in weight lifting, yoga, cardio…. Well, just about everything.
Breathing is the key to life (really, you will die without oxygen) and it is the core torso muscles that assist in breathing. The abdominals and back muscles work together with the diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles to help move the air in and out. Different breathing patterns can help or hinder movement in the body.
In Pilates we learn how to breathe and move at the same time, in the most efficient ways for the exercises. This is, or should be, true of any exercise. For example, if you do Olympic weight training with improper breathing patterns, you can really hurt yourself.
Pilates exercises are flowing movements, and a pilates workout flows from one exercise to the next with a minimum of movement. In this way we gain grace and quality of movement along with the strength and flexibility.
While not all exercise methods have this so obviously built in, a well thought out weight training session can be as flowing as a good yoga session. I don’t know of any exercises that require jerky, uncontrolled movement from an unstable base. We tend to value flow and ease of movement.
So get moving!