Pilates and Barefoot Running: A look at the Importance of Foot Health

Barefoot running has been gaining in popularity the past few years.  The idea is that long before footwear was common, the ability to run long distances over terrain was not for recreation or fitness, but instead to gather and hunt for food.  Humans needed to run from predators.  Running was effortless and natural.  Today, many doctors and researchers are considering the implications of footwear and how it may actually impedes the natural biomechanics of the foot.  Strained hamstrings, plantar fasciitis, and knee problems are just a few of the wide range of injuries that can possibly be attributed to the adoption of running shoes since the 1970’s.

The foot is an amazing structure of 26 bones and 25 articulating joints.  The foot has many proprioceptors that provide information about where the foot is on the ground and the ability to navigate uneven terrain.  Joseph Pilates understood the importance of the foot.  He developed foot correctors, toe correctors and numerous foot and leg exercises that emphasize proper use of the foot.  Pilates is one of the few exercise programs that considers the foot as a part of the body that needs strength and flexibility.  The foot is the foundation of the body; balance in the feet sets up optimal activity through the legs, pelvis and core muscles.  If there is weakness or imbalance in the feet, the body will be weak and imbalanced.  The basic Pilates principles of posture and alignment in movement can be rehabilitative, preventative and educational for a runner. Pilates can help a runner maintain the ability to run into the later decades of life.

If you are considering joining in the barefoot running trend, it is highly recommended that you have an assessment by a professional first to determine if you are ready for barefoot running.  If the feet are not strong enough yet, the impact of the movement can travel up the body to the ankles, knees, hips, lower back and neck.  Pilates is a great cross-training program and is ideal for the runner who is adapting e to barefoot running.  Avoid the “too much, too soon” syndrome. Before venturing outside to tackle mountain terrain, begin slowly. Visit a Pilates class to strengthen your feet and ankles, align your knees and learn about how the lower body and core muscles support the joints.

Pilates and Pregnancy

Pilates is a wonderful form of exercise for pregnant women. Through Pilates, women can stay connected to their changing bodies and reduce pregnancy aches and pains. By strengthening the abdominals, back and pelvic floor muscles, Pilates will help women stay strong and fit throughout pregnancy, aid in delivery and help achieve a quick recovery after the birth.  The biggest benefits of Pilates is that it is a very adaptable form of exercise.  Pilates exercises can be continually modified as your body and abilities change.

If you have never done Pilates before, it is recommended that you work one-on-one with an instructor to learn the fundamentals of Pilates first. Women should look for a qualified instructor who has special training and experience working with pregnant women. A qualified instructor will be able to assess each woman’s specific needs and abilities. Always check with your midwife or doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.

Being pregnant completely changes the body. One of the first noticeable changes may be a shift in the body’s center of gravity. As the baby grows, your center of gravity will shift. Movement that used to feel simple may require more concentration and energy as the pregnancy progresses.  Pilates can offset this imbalance in the body and prevent injuries. There are many particular Pilates exercises that are designed to build better balance by strengthening the core.  Another change is the presence of the hormone relaxin in the body. This hormone creates laxity in the muscles, joints and ligaments, necessary for labor, but easy to overstretch.  While stretching may feel fine (and even good), overstretched tendons are not elastic and will never return to their original shape.  Stretching should be limited and a smaller range of motion is often advised.

In the later stages of pregnancy, some specific modifications will need to be made.  The first consideration is that after the first trimester, a pregnant woman should not lie on her back for extended amounts of time.  Lying on the back puts pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, which could decrease blood flow to the brain and uterus. Additionally, in the later stages of pregnancy, a woman should not remain in any one position for an extended amount of time. A knowledgeable instructor will understand how to correctly modify the exercises to accommodate a woman’s changing body.

While prenatal Pilates is not particularly strenuous, you will still want to pay attention to your body.  Some signs that you may need to slow down include dizziness, feeling faint, nausea, shortness of breath and uterine contractions.  As long as you listen to your body, Pilates is the safest possible exercise you can do during pregnancy. The benefits of prenatal Pilates include increasing circulation to the baby, breathing better, becoming more relaxed, and developing muscle strength. Practicing prenatal Pilates will allow you to maintain or improve upon your activity levels, your body and your lifestyle.

Pilates and Golf

While many onlookers may think that golf is an easy game, leisurely and fun, every golfer knows that golf is in fact a complex game that requires a perfect balance of mobility and stability in the body.  Whether twisting the body on a drive, bending over to pick up a ball, or squatting to place a tee, golfers are continuously torquing their bodies.  These movements, combined with the repetitive motion of the ever-important swing, create strength in certain muscle groups and weakness in others.  Muscular imbalances in the golfer can affect the legs, hips, shoulders and low back.  These imbalances can result in decreased stamina, shorter, less accurate drives and overall greater susceptibility to muscle pulls, strains and tears.  Studies indicate that 60% of recreational golfers will sustain at least one golf-related injury in their golf career.

To reduce risk of injury, many recreational and professional golfers, including Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam, use Pilates as an essential conditioning tool.  With its focus on core strength, flexibility, and stability, Pilates can help to balance the golfer’s body and improve performance.  The Professional Golf Association describes Pilates and golf as a “perfect match.”  Both Pilates and Golf are mind-body activities that share some of the same principles.  Pilates focuses on control, concentration, core strength, precise movements and proper breathing.  Golf also requires precision, accuracy and fluid motion. Pilates is based on movement extending from the core of the body, as are most shots in golf.

A golfer can correct their own technique by altering different aspects of their swing, but ultimately, the weakness in any golf swing is related to the weaknesses in the body of the person swinging the club.  A proper Pilates conditioning program will work to build the back muscles evenly, align the spine for better stability and strengthen the core.  It can increase overall flexibility, strength and balance, and increase range of motion in the hips and shoulders.  Specifically, Pilates can help golfers attain an optimal backswing and follow-through with increased range of motion in the shoulders. They’ll also achieve greater distance and power because of added hip and torso flexibility.  Furthermore, balanced back muscles will generate a more powerful swing.  Less overall strain on the body will decrease fatigue and increase vitality.  Pilates can ultimately help each golfer play without pain and can extend the number of years a person will play!

Pilates Myths and Misconceptions

Though Pilates continues to soar in popularity, there are still some common myths and misconceptions.  People who are not familiar with Pilates often have lots of questions and many assumptions.  If you are interested in learning more, read on as we dispel 5 common Pilates myths.

Myth #1: Pilates is just like Yoga

While the goal of uniting mind and body may be the same in both yoga and Pilates, the path to achieving that goal is very different.  Yoga and Pilates approach movement very differently; they have different breathing styles and utilize different exercises.  Yoga is primarily a mat-based workout, where in contrast, Pilates also offers workouts on several pieces of equipment (such as the Reformer, Cadillac, Tower, Barrel and more).  While Pilates and yoga are very complimentary practices, they are also very different.

Myth #2: Men don’t do Pilates

Pilates is often stereotyped as a form of exercise for women.  Many forget, or don’t know, that Pilates was designed by a man.  Joseph Pilates himself was a boxer and martial artist and trained at both Scotland Yard and the Hamburg Military Police in self-defense and physical training before coming to New York in 1926. Despite this history, Pilates has gotten off to a slower start with men.

Men should know that Pilates can enhance their athletic performance by improving strength and flexibility. Golfers can hit the ball further.  Runners can run longer and without pain.  Professional sports teams, including the New Jersey Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are using Pilates as an essential part of their conditioning routines.

Myth #3: Pilates is too easy

Pilates is only easy if you aren’t doing the exercises properly.  Pilates requires that you concentrate on each and every movement. Because the exercises engage the deepest core muscles, you also need to understand how to do them properly to get the most benefit.  The emphasis in each movement is on control, awareness and form, so to the casual observer, Pilates may appear to look easy, but in fact, it is not.  Attending a class with a trained instructor will help ensure that the exercises are done true to form and you will leave feeling like you’ve had a good workout.

There are a few other reasons Pilates may appear an easy form of exercise.  As Pilates gains popularity, mat classes can be found at almost any gym or studio around the country.  While this is a good thing, there are often many beginners in these classes, which means that students are not necessarily being exposed to the intermediate or advanced levels of Pilates.  If you are looking for a challenge, ask the instructor.  A good instructor will know how to increase the difficulty of an exercise.

Myth #4: Pilates is too expensive

The area you live in will make a difference in the price of a Pilates class, but you can find affordable classes almost anywhere.  Mat classes and even some group equipment classes can cost as little as $10-$20.  These fees are comparable to other fitness classes, including yoga, Jazzercise, Zumba or others.  The average cost for private and semi-private classes are comparable in price to a personal trainer at a gym ($23-$60).  Pilates instructors and aficionados agree that the investment is worth it, as Pilates aids in the prevention of injury.

Myth #5: Pilates is only for young, fit people.

Pilates has a wide range of applications.  You can often find classes that will target a specific demographic, such as children’s classes, pre- and post-natal classes and classes for senior citizens.  Pilates classes can also be tailored to address rehabilitation of knee injuries, back injuries, hip replacements and much more.  There are also Pilates instructors who specialize in scoliosis, arthritis, and osteoporosis, as well as specialized sports programs for runners, golfers, skiers and more.  To put it more simply, there are styles and modifications available for all levels, almost all injuries and most health issues.  Pilates can truly be enjoyed by just about everyone.

 

Sheramy Keegan-Turcotte began her Pilates training in a quest to strengthen her dancing body.  After falling in love with Pilates and the way it had changed her body, she decided to pursue Pilates teaching certification.  Sheramy was certified in Pilates Mat through the Kelly Kane School of Core Integration in New York City and was Equipment trained through The Fitness Guru (formerly Half Moon Pilates) in Brooklyn, NY.  Sheramy has taught Pilates mat and equipment classes throughout New York, Rhode Island and London, UK. When not teaching or dancing, Sheramy spends time enjoying life with her husband Neil and their three boys, Simon, Keegan and Ezra.

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