Monday, March 31, 2003

Pilates goes to the mat and machine

Which version you choose depends
on your strength

By Llee Sivitz
Enquirer contributor

Pilates class
Staisha Grosch (foreground) works out on a mat, but the member of Cincinnati Ballet says she prefers machines.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
| ZOOM |

These studios offer both Pilates mat and machine sessions:

BodyMind Balance
3440 Edwards Road
Hyde Park

Essence in Movement
9468 Towne Square Ave.
Blue Ash

Pendleton Pilates
1115 Pendleton St.
4404 Brazee

Pilates Bodys
Suite 19, 6934 Miami Ave.

Pilates Center of Cincinnati
10921 Reed Hartman Highway
Blue Ash

Pilates Studio of Spectrum Rehabilitation
Suite 236, Christ Hospital Medical Office Building
2123 Auburn Ave.
Mount Auburn

Mat or machine? Pilates gives you a choice.

Created by Joseph Pilates (Pi-lah-teez) in the 1920s, this stretching and strengthening program, which emphasizes the core muscles of the torso, started out as mat exercises.

But it was later used in a rehabilitation program for German soldiers, with added springs, pulleys and straps attached to their hospital beds.

Today, the Pilates Studio of Spectrum Rehabilitation in Mount Auburn is one among several Tristate locations offering both "versions" of a Pilates workout.

Is your core strong enough for a mat class? According to physical therapist and Spectrum Pilates instructor Jill Vonderhaar, the ability to do "crunches" does not indicate core strength in the lower abs.

"If your lower abs are weak," says Vonderhaar, "it makes the mat work more difficult and you tend not to do it correctly." That may lead to injury, such as in the lower back.

A Pilates machine provides support so you can relax into those same postures and stretch to your body's limits, she says.

The four basic Pilates machines are called the Reformer, Cadillac, Chair and Barrel. Each is padded and comfortable. Various pieces of apparatus hang above or are attached to the machine's sides.

A striking difference with Pilates machines and other strength-training machines is that the Pilates have moveable springs, straps, harnesses and bars, but no weights.

"These allow you to do a lot of dynamic movement, moving your spine through space rather than just holding onto a bar and pulling it down," Vonderhaar says.

Vonderhaar says machines can be used not only for assistance but resistance. "You can adjust the springs so you get a deeper stretch than you can on the mat," she says.

The number of exercises you can do on Pilates machines is in the thousands - such as sports-specific movements.

"No matter what sport they want, we can set something up to simulate it," says Vonderhaar.

Staisha Grosch, 19, of Hyde Park, a member of the Cincinnati Ballet, started private Pilates lessons at age 12.

"I definitely notice I'm more susceptible to injury when I haven't been doing it," she says. "I like the Reformer better (than the mat). I like the extra stretching that I get."

Vonderhaar says Pilates begins with proper alignment of the spine, called "organizing the trunk."

To try it, lie with your back just lightly pushed to the floor, relax your head and neck, open up the shoulders, and pull the ribs together while pushing your belly button toward the spine. Sound simple?

The goal of Pilates is to train the body to move using this

alignment, so muscles deep in the core are used throughout one's everyday activity.

Art gallery owner Kelly O'Donnell, 39, of Hyde Park has been taking Pilates for four years. She comes to Spectrum once a week to work on the machines, and occasionally takes a mat class.

"For me the mat is a more vigorous workout. . . . With the machines you stretch a little more, a little farther . . . but on the floor you have this greater sense of personal achievement as you hold yourself in one position for a very long count."

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