Pilates, More Than Just Mat (Beyond the Mat: How We Use Equipment for Resistance Training)
Resistance Training with Pilates Equipment
By: Courtney Holcomb, Certified Pilates Trainer, Waveforms Pilates
Pilates, in the early Millennium, was often depicted in the media as housewives doing high-kicks while lying on their side. Thank you Denise Austin!
While there is Pilates mat work like her style, it is a small piece of the school of Pilates. When I explain Pilates, people often tell me they had no idea there is equipment available.
Many people are familiar with the small pieces of equipment used to complement a mat class – such as rings, balls, foam rollers, and hand weights. They’re less familiar, however, with the large pieces of equipment used in Pilates.
Don’t Worry…Looks Can Be Deceiving
Pilates equipment can appear to be quite intimidating and almost appear torturous. It is the exact opposite! People love the way it feels to move with the equipment and to experience the smooth and relaxed range of motion. Here’s a bit more insight to break down that barrier.
What Is Pilates Equipment?
Joseph Pilates, father of the Pilates Method, invented and patented over two-dozen pieces of exercise equipment. Not meant to replace mat work, equipment training serves as a great complement to mat classes. Some of the most common pieces of larger Pilates equipment include: the Universal Reformer, Wunda Chair, and the Trapeze Table/Cadillac.
In some cases, the equipment provides some precursory exercises to help you build strength for advanced mat work. In other cases, the equipment exercises make similar mat exercises more challenging by adding resistance.
“I invented all these machines… it resists your movements in just the right way so those inner muscles really have to work against it. That way you can concentrate on movement. You must always do it slowly and smoothly. Then your whole body is in it.” – Joseph Pilates
How Does the Equipment Work?
Increased Resistance Training with Springs
Pilates is resistance training, just like weight lifting. The main difference is that Pilates equipment primarily uses springs as the source of resistance instead of dumbbells or cable weights. Springs need the user to maintain fluid range of motion from the beginning to end of an exercise. If you try to “jerk” the range, or use momentum for exertion, the machine won’t function properly – so there’s no cheating! The springs also help you control both the flexion and the extension range, allowing you to use the fullest range of your muscles.
This fluid control causes the muscle to also be stretched during the exercise, which improves flexibility and overall strength. Resistance can also be increased or decreased based on how many springs you attach and where you attach them. Not to mention, springs help trigger your deep core muscles as you negotiate finding balance and stability.
Closed-Chain Exercises & Pulleys
Working with the springs and pulleys associated with some Pilates equipment, you are able to perform more closed-chain kinetic exercises. Closed-chain exercises increase the force on the joint to increase stability. Closing off the kinetic chain by having a grounding point, helps protect connective cartilage and the joint itself. These types of exercises also work multiple muscles and joints at a time, making them very efficient.
Anyone who has experienced an injury, in conjunction with, and post physical therapy, working in a closed-chain manner is safer. Other populations that benefit from this type of execise include: those with osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, hypermobility of joints, muscle weakness, and middle-aged to older adults.
The equipment helps to train and reinforce symmetry in body, by working with even force on both sides. For example, placing both hands in separate equal-length straps, you must press with even force with both arms in order to move the machine.
Using Gravity and Body weight for Resistance
The higher off the ground you are, the greater the effect gravity has on your body. With the Pilates equipment raising you off the floor, you experience more natural resistance from gravity. Just like with mat work, most exercises incorporate body weight resistance and gravitational forces.
Versatility of Pilates Equipment
Working the Body in All Positions
Exercises on the Pilates equipment mimic movement actions that you use in daily life. This makes the exercises applicable and practical outside of the gym. The equipment can be used seated, lying down, kneeling, standing, side-lying, flexing forward, curving backwards, and rotating. Any possible position you could find yourself throughout the day, there is an exercise for it! This creates a full-body workout every time and provides functional fitness.
Incorporating Pilates Equipment Training with Physical Therapy
Joseph Pilates made his first piece of equipment working with wounded soldiers by taking two springs from under their cots and attaching them to the bed frame with a pole. If someone had a leg injury, there is no reason they couldn’t work their upper body!
Many people use time on Pilates equipment for post-physical therapy work, or in conjunction with their physical therapy. Many special populations such as people with osteoporosis, hip replacements, MS, pregnant women, and people with scoliosis, to name a few, are able to utilize Pilates equipment to perform safe exercises and stay in shape.
Exercises for All Populations
Don’t be fooled though, the equipment can give a vigorous workout! It’s not just for rehabilitation. Professional athletes all over the world use Pilates equipment to help with injury prevention, alignment, flexibility, core, and overall strength. The possibilities truly are endless. There are modifications to make each exercise more or less challenging based on the client’s abilities and goals.
Feel The Pilates Resistance Difference!
The best way to understand the difference between traditional resistance training and Pilates resistance training is to feel the difference!
Pilates equipment trains the whole body instead of individual parts, making for a complete full-body workout every time. The resistance is smooth and demands control from start to finish to create a fullest range for the muscle. The fluid sensation created from the springs provides stretch and strength to the body and gives support for the joints.
Sign-up for a session to feel the difference today!