The main principle of Pilates is to concentrate on the strengthening the ‘core’ muscles which help support the spine. Pilates also helps strengthen smaller muscles, allowing them to take some of the strain away from larger muscles. Invented by Joseph Pilates in the 1900s, the regime is a low impact but effective way to strengthen and tone muscles, by isolating individual muscle groups and working them without putting strain on other (sometimes already fragile) muscles and joints.
As a contemporary dance teacher Alan Herdman was invited to New York to learn about the Joseph Pilates Method. He worked with two instructors who trained with Joseph Pilates himself and was so impressed he returned to the UK to set up Britain’s first ever Pilates studio. Among his first clients were actors, dancers and singers. Word soon spread and doctors and physiotherapists began recommending Alan to patients struggling with chronic injuries.
Pilates improves flexilibity over 50
“Exercise is important for everyone, but aerobic exercise puts a lot of strain on the heart, lungs and joints. For women over 50, Pilates can be a good alternative – it’s a lower impact regime but with huge benefits. I have worked with people who have been plagued with back problems for years, but learn to strengthen weak muscles and correct their posture through Pilates, therefore avoiding any recurrence of pain. I’ve also worked with elderly people who perhaps haven’t exercised for 50 years, but after a series of sessions can achieve a degree of flexibility they hadn’t enjoyed since their twenties” says Alan.
Some of the problems we experience as we age include kyphosis (the curving of the spine leading to slouching or a humpback situation), lordosis (the inward curvature of a portion of the lumbar area), lower back problems and frozen shoulder. Pilates can help with the pain that accompanies these ailments, by strengthening the muscle groups affected and increasing flexibility.
Generally, the first joints to start to seize up as we get age are the knees, ankles and hips, which can affect our sense of balance – which is why older people are more susceptible to falls. As a preventative measure, Pilates can help balance by keeping joints supple and increasing strength in the legs and the core.
Pilates and Osteoporosis
Pilates can help to prevent Osteoporosis by increasing bone density, and a modified Pilates routine may even be able help those who are already suffering from Osteoporosis – although it’s important to check with your doctor if this is the case. The regime is increasingly popular amongst those who have had joint replacements – after the operation, Pilates can help re-build and strengthen the muscle, and prevent stiffness – especially handy in the colder weather.
Alan says: “Once we have assessed the needs of a client, we put together a programme which will specifically address any highlighted problems or ailments – all our staff are qualified to help tailor the workout to ensure it suits each individual. Our studios are welcoming and comfortable which is an important element of Pilates, as the environment must not feel intimidating or competitive.”
Alan Herdman is the UK’s original Pilates guru. Alan has been practicing Pilates for over 40 years – after training in New York, he bought Pilates to the UK and set up the nation’s first Pilates studio in 1970. He runs two Pilates studios – one in Canary Wharf and the other in Seymour Street W2. He is the author and co-author of several books on the subject, including The Pilates Directory and Pilates (Gaia Busy Person’s Guide). For more information visit: http://www.alanherdmanpilates.co.uk