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An exercise that is gentle on the joints

Thursday April 14, 2005

An exercise that is gentle on the joints

Need a form of exercise that does not strain your joints? The Stott Pilates Reformer might be an answer, writes LOH FOON FONG. 

THE Stott Pilates Reformer, a bed like frame with moveable carriage where a person sits or reclines and does his or her stretching, is an excellent way of exercising without hurting the joints while strengthening muscles.  

Lisa Jones, Pilates Reformer trainer, demonstrating how the Reformer is used.
The Reformer strengthens not only the mobilising muscles that move the body but also the stabilising muscles that keep the joints in place – for example, the muscles in the shoulders, knees and hips. By strengthening the muscles around the joints, we can protect our bodies against injuries and dislocations.  

“The way the spring works on the Reformer makes exercises smooth and acts a lot kinder on the joints,” says Lisa Jones, Pilates Reformer trainer at Fitness First in the John Hancock building in Kuala Lumpur. This is the only Fitness First outlet that offers the Pilates Reformer as an exercise option. 

While the use of springs in the Reformer creates resistance and builds up strength, it also provides a gentler environment for joint movement. 

“The Reformer isolates the muscles a lot better. It also makes the stretch deeper. The ‘mermaid’ stretch, for instance, is enhanced when the moveable carriage is pushed away from the stretch,” says Jones. 

“While Mat Pilates is still an excellent way to work on the pelvic floor, abdominal and core muscles, it does not use resistance in stretching like the Reformer,” she says. 

“Moreover, people get more ‘worked out’ from the Reformer. It can stretch the arms and legs better and there are more choices of exercises,” she says. 

The Reformer, easily adjusted according to each person’s size and ability, is a total body workout and is used only under supervision of a trained and qualified instructor. The exercises do not build up bulky muscles but lengthens and strengthens muscles and focuses on developing a strong torso. 

The exercises are a lot more creative and gentler on the body than gym work outs and effectively stretch so many muscles in the body that people do not even realise some of them exist. 

The exercises may look simple but they are not at all easy because much concentration is needed in getting the breathing, posture and muscle exercise right. Even in exercising, the abs are also being worked on, says Jones. 

“The men tend to think that Pilates is easy until they try it,” she says.  

Unlike Joseph Pilates’s original fitness programme that promotes a flat spine, Stott Pilates came up with his own interpretations and workouts that maintain and realign the spine’s natural curves, she says. 

Most of us have over-trained our muscles by doing too much forward bending and not enough stretching and strengthening of the back. Similarly, athletes tend to overuse certain muscles while neglecting others.  

Pilates builds up the weaker side of the body and helps correct posture and put the balance of strength and flexibility back into the body, says Jones. 

“With weight lifting, people can cheat and not do it correctly. However, you cannot cheat with the Reformer. You will not be comfortable when that happens,” she says. 

“It’s initially difficult to understand how to exercise muscles that are hardly worked on but after five or six sessions, people usually begin to understand better, and after 10 sessions, they start to feel stronger and by the 20th session, they start to see changes in the way they look,” she says. 

“People say they walk away feeling light. Migraines disappeared for some people. We even have people who had suffered slip disc, hernia and back problems and we help them build up and strengthen their body slowly,” she says. 

While most clients are in their 30s and 40s, the oldest client is 68 years old, she says. Pilates attracts mostly women; however, more men are beginning to join the classes. 

While Pilates helps with muscle strengthening, Jones says that people should still do cardio works in separate exercise sessions. 

Pilates is a brainchild of Joseph Pilates, a German born in 1880. As a sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, he was determined to become physically stronger. He studied and became good at bodybuilding, diving, skiing and gymnastics.  

In World War I, Pilates became a nurse in camps and trained internees in physical fitness exercises he developed. He also helped hospitalised fellow German internees in England recuperate during World War I. He mounted springs onto hospital beds to provide resistance for bed-ridden patients to exercise. 

He was widely credited when none of the inmates succumbed to an influenza epidemic that killed thousands in England in 1918. 

After the war, Pilates continued his fitness training programmes in Hamburg, Germany, and used his methods in the police force. He immigrated to the United States in 1926. On the ship to America, he met his wife Clare and upon arrival, the couple founded a studio in New York and became a hit among well-known dancers who came to him for training or rehabilitation from injuries. 

Pilates died in 1967 and his exercise methods are used until today.  

Moira Stott improvised Joseph Pilates’s method and started the Stott Pilates Studio in 1987 in Canada. 

At Fitness First, the Stott Pilates Reformer is offered on an individual basis or to a group of five. Each session will take an hour and cost between RM50 and RM100. Block schedules are also available.  

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