“Many of us at the end of our daily work lack sufficient energy at night for recreation,” wrote Joseph Pilates about 75 years ago.

He added: when we go on the occasional getaways, we need about half-a-week to recover. This is because we lack the energy reserve to pursue physical activities. His words still resonate 75 years on.

It sounds crazy that we need to exercise to enjoy our holidays, but how often have we gone on trips only to find ourselves unprepared for the physical exertion? The walking, the heavy luggage, the climbing that are required on the trips. Has the demands of life zap us of our physical energy?

Joseph Pilates (1883 – 1967) created a series of exercises which he believed are crucial for total health, and to re-energize the body.  He called his exercise program, “Contrology,” and the program would later bear his name, Pilates. 

PILATES FOR FITNESS

Pilates exercises take the body to different shapes – spine flexion and extension, in upside down positions and even suspension – which require a person to have good body control, flexibility and strength. The exercises will challenge any athletic body, yet the ingenuity of the program is he created an exercise program for EVERYONE, with the help of the equipment or apparatus he invented. Pilates most endearing invention is the reformer.

Figure 1 – a Pilates reformer with a Tower

PILATES FOR REHAB & SENIORS

The Pilates reformer is a moving bed made of springs of different tension. Lying on the reformer, a sick or an injured person can do leg exercises or footwork — similar to squatting and standing — without actually being in a standing position. As the exercises are gentle, they are also suitable for seniors, who may have ankle pain or have difficulty walking. Imagine a senior — assisted by the ropes on the reformer —drawing circles in the air with his or her legs. An exercise which improves hip mobility. Pilates allows seniors to exercise in ways they won’t think they would have been able to do before. Pilates opens up new possibilities.

PILATES FOR CORE STRENGTH

Classic Pilates exercises like “the Hundred,” “Teaser” and “Roll-Up,” are tests of abdominal strength. The breathing technique of drawing the navel into spine when exhaling to support the lower back, is exactly how you would clinically contract the transversus abdominis, the deep muscle of the abdomen. We know now because of modern research, that the transversus abdominis is an important core muscle for lumbar control and in reduction of lower back pain.

Pilates exercise: Teaser on the long box
Figure 2 – Pilates exercise: Teaser on the long box. A test of abdominal strength and control. Photo source: Pilates Day

Core training is now an integral part of physical training, and in the rehabilitation of back pain. Back in 1960s and even 70s, it was unheard of and scoffed at. Pilates once said, “I am fifty years ahead of my time,” and he was right.

PILATES FOR FLEXIBILITY

You would think people who practice Pilates must be very flexible. On the contrary, Pilates is actually a good exercise for people who are inflexible. The Pilates reformer is particularly helpful if stretching a certain muscle, or a group of muscles is challenging for you. For example if your hamstrings are tight, the springs on the reformer allow you to stretch more than you would normally be able to do.

Figure 3 – Magic Circle. Joseph Pilates was believed to have made the first one from the metal ring of a beer barrel. Recycle, Repurposed.

The reformer is one of several Pilates apparatus. Joseph Pilates also invented other apparatus like the Chair, Barrel, the Trapeze table and Magic Circle which are still actively used today. You will find these apparatus in a Pilates studio. They offer novel and various ways of stretching, which are especially fun if you are inflexible and don’t enjoy stretching.

On the other hand, if you are very flexible, you would likely find Pilates to be “restrictive” and “controlling” at first. But take what  your Pilates instructor is asking from you, as lessons on how not to overstretch. Learning to control a stretch is particularly beneficial if you are hyper-mobile. It prevents injury, promote joint stability and can provide a new exercise experience. You will find you have to recruit muscles you haven’t had to use before.

PILATES FOR POSTURE

Pilates also helps improve posture. There are various spine flexion and extension exercises, which not only stretch the spine, but also help in our standing and sitting postures. One of Joseph Pilates most famous quotes is your spine health determines your age:

“If your spine is stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”

In Pilates, the goal of the exercises is not so much about achieving a big range of motion, but more about creating balance. For example, is your thoracic (upper spine) as good in extension as your lumbar or cervical (neck) spine, and vice-versa, are these segments of the spine equally good in flexion? When we create movement evenly through the spine, we create less stress points on individual segments. There is less chance of pre-mature bone degeneration or injury.

PILATES FOR EVERYONE

Pilates is most often practiced to strengthen core muscles, but it also has other benefits. Pilates improves posture, flexibility and bring renewed energy to the body.

Pilates is also very inclusive in that EVERYONE CAN PRACTICE PILATES. The reformer and other Pilates apparatus made the exercises suitable for rehabilitation, as well as for seniors. If you think you have weak core muscles, or are too inflexible for Pilates, think again. You’ll be surprised how Pilates is more often assistive than punishing. The exercises let you feel your core muscles, and stretch in ways you didn’t think would be possible before.


Medical Disclaimer: Always consult your physician if you have an existing pain or a pre-existing medical condition before beginning any exercise. The above information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or replace your healthcare professional.

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Testimonials

Knee exercises and activities that I can continue on my own

Working overseas, I came back to Singapore for a short four week holiday and thought I should get some Pilates classes to further strengthen my weak knee due to a meniscus tear. I found Move Therapy by googling and signed up for my 1-to1 trial class. May went through my problem and what the doctors did for me. She then designed a set of exercises and activities which I could continue on my own when I go back to work, overseas. After my first trial lesson, I was just so amazed by the differences in my legs. When I arrived back in Singapore, although I’ve recuperated from the meniscus tear through physiotherapy and physical therapy at the hospital, my legs still felt swollen and stiff. I was not able to bend my knees. My attempts at swimming, which was recommended by the doctor, was hard, as I wasn't sure how to move anymore. After my first session with May, my leg muscles felt more relaxed and subsequent sessions continued to make me feel I’m near full recovery. The exercises and activities May prescribed were easy enough to continue at home and in a gym anywhere I go. Thanks!
Angelina

Any stiffness always get relieved

I always leave every Pilates session feeling mobile and supple. Any stiffness and other related conditions, that came with a desk-bound job, always get relieved. It is because May’s approach to exercise is holistic. Clients are more aware of their everyday movement when they get to practice the movement in the sessions; the emphasis on connecting the breath and mind is also important. I wish there were more like her in the industry! I miss my sessions when I’m away.
Thanah

Each week I walk away with a smile

Just completed my 6th Pilates session and I feel great. I have really noticed the difference already. I am feeling stronger and fitter from my sessions. The care, precision and attention, that May provides, has allowed me to make quick progress and to concentrate on my posture, core strength and flexibility. I love attending my reformer session and each week I walk away with a smile!
Lucy

Less tired after a long day at work

I am in my 40s. I can feel that my lower back and kneecap are starting to weaken. After I attended May's Pilates lessons, I can feel that I have improved in terms of strength, fitness and balance. I have learned to strengthen and stretch certain parts of our body muscles that we rarely work on in our daily life. My body posture has also improved tremendously, and I feel less tired after a long day of work in front of a computer.
Victor

BETTER POSTURE

"The result is amazing! My posture has improved. I now stand taller and walk with greater balance. I enjoy every Pilates class with its varied exercises using muscles that I did not know I have."
Kwee Eng

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