Understanding Pilates

Mat PilatesBy: Cathy Clark

The Pilates Method of body conditioning is a unique system of stretching and strengthening exercises developed over 100 years ago by Joseph H. Pilates. It strengthens and tones muscles, improves posture, provides flexibility and balance, unites body and mind, and creates a more streamlined shape. Think of Pilates as working to recreate your approach to exercise. You are re-teaching your body lessons of correct form and movement that will serve you for a lifetime. Your goal might be to break harmful habits and to connect to and form an alliance with your body for overall health and strength. For most this means enjoying movement and its associated benefits of better posture, a strong center, suppleness, and the feeling of wellbeing.

Understanding that the Pilates Method is a corrective system of exercise in which you will progress in stages is important. The physical and mental commitment you must make to achieve your goal is the most important step in the process of change. Take the time to understand the essence of each exercise and to enjoy the freedom of movement, in time it will create the results you are looking for. Believing in your innate ability to achieve is the key to changing your mind and body.

Without the mind/body connection Pilates is just another set of movements that, without thought goes only to the surface or already over-used muscles, negating the small, integral muscles surrounding your spine and the less obvious transverse muscles in the trunk of your body, your “powerhouse”. The good news is Pilates will continue to challenge you as you peel back the layers of body awareness.

Connecting with a small studio in your neighborhood with an instructor who has the full body of Pilates knowledge and can help you to understand your imbalances in your body is a great place to start. Having someone take the time to teach you “hands on” mat classes or to work on the equipment in a private or small group setting is optimal for getting involved with Pilates.

What’s the difference between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates?

Since Pilates mat workouts and Pilates reformer workouts provide similar benefits, it’s no wonder that newbies (as well as regular Pilates devotees) are often confused about which form is right for their current goals and abilities. Here’s a breakdown of the two types of classes to help you decide.

Working against resistance is essential to the 500 classical Pilates exercises, which are designed to train the body’s “powerhouse” — the abdomen, lower back, hips and buttocks. But you can accomplish that in Pilates using either a mat, where your own body weight creates resistance, or a reformer, where pulleys and springs create resistance.

How Pilates on a reformer works

Reformer PilatesTo some, reformer equipment might resemble a torture apparatus, looking like a single bed frame but with a sliding carriage and adjustable springs to regulate tension and resistance. Cables, bars, straps and pulleys allow exercises to be done from a variety of positions, even standing. Because this contraption can look daunting, many students start with a few months of private sessions before moving on to group classes. In many facilities, completing a series of private reformer sessions is required before participating in group classes.

The resistance created by the pulley and spring system can provide a more challenging strength and endurance workout than mat classes. It may also produce visible results sooner — arm, leg and abdominal muscles can look more firm and defined within a dozen or so regular sessions.

The reformer’s many attachments increase the range of modifications that can be made to the exercises, and allow additional exercises beyond what can be done on a mat. This capability, combined with the support afforded by the resistance the machine provides, allows people with limited range of movement or injuries to safely do modified exercises. Competitive runner and cyclist Val Shockley discovered this when ordered to avoid weight-bearing exercise for 12 weeks after foot surgery. Despite her “big, heavy, pink cast,” Shockley was able to begin reformer work. Once healed and back to running, she continued her Pilates practice to keep formerly common complaints such as pulled groin, back and leg muscles to a minimum.

Still can’t decide between mat or reformer work? There’s no need to agonize over the decision — most people can reap similar benefits from either approach. Both forms will teach you how to use your powerhouse, make performing daily activities and sports easier, and tone your body along the way.


Cathy Clark of CClark Pilates StudioAbout Cathy Clark
Classically Trained Pilates Instructor | Gyrokinesis® Instructor
Reiki Master | Spin Instructor

Cathy comes to the Valley with extensive training and experience. She has completed over 600 hours of Pilates education and training with Power Pilates. Cathy has studied with some of the best instructors of Pilates in the country including Bob Liekens. As an instructor of classical Pilates for 10 years, Cathy has worked in a variety of settings ranging from small studios to large health clubs. For the past three years she was a Pilates, Gyrokinesis® and Spin Instructor at the University of Utah-Salt Lake City where she was voted 2011 Fitness Instructor of the Year.

CClark Pilates Studio
Market Place Suite 225
124 W. Wisconsin Ave, Neenah, WI 54956