I often get asked to recommend certain Pilates classes, especially Pregnancy Pilates classes. Since there are sooo many different Pilates classes around, I am going to share with you the key elements that make up the ultimate Pilates class.
But first…let me explain why Pilates is so important. We all know (or should know!) that exercise is an integral part of our existence. Humans are designed for movement, not to sit behind a desk for hours on end. When we exercise – like go for a walk, jog, do weights or higher impact exercise like a step or attack class – our large muscle groups are activated e.g. quadriceps, glutes, hip flexors. However, in Pilates – if taught & performed correctly – we activate our deep stabilizing muscles e.g. transversus abdominis, pelvic floor, deep glute muscles. So as you strengthen your core & deep stabilizing muscles in Pilates, your posture, alignment & muscle recruitment improves. As a result, when you then do other forms of exercise (like those listed above) your technique & control improves because your stabilizing muscles are stronger & are switching on when they should. This increase in spinal & pelvic stability also plays an important role in the prevention & management of back & pelvic pain.
As a result, I am a big advocate that everybody does Pilates – both men & women. I do believe Pilates becomes increasingly necessary for women to do during their pregnancy & after childbirth, as this is a time when their core muscles need to be strengthened & rehabilitated.
Now let’s get down to the 10 Key Elements That Make Up The Ultimate Pilates Class:
1. Physiotherapist Run.
Physiotherapists have done 4 years of training (if not more) & therefore have an incredible knowledge base on the human body. When it comes to Pilates you know you are in safe hands when a Physio is running it. In saying this, there are some wonderful Pilates instructors that are very experienced & passionate about Pilates who are not Physios.
My advice is to seek out a Physio run Pilates class, otherwise it is a matter of trying out the class & instructor to see if you feel supported.
2. Individual Core Assessment.
Another benefit of doing a Physio run Pilates class is that we do an individual core assessment prior to you starting Pilates. This means we teach you how to contract your core muscles correctly using a Real-time Ultrasound machine. This is very useful as you can see whether you are contracting your deep abdominal & pelvic floor muscles correctly on the screen.
During the assessment, it’s important to have a chat about any pain you may have so the instructor knows this going into the class. This is especially important if you have pain such as pelvic girdle pain or wrist pain during pregnancy.
After having your baby, an individualised assessment is imperative to check your abdominal separation & chat about your birth & pelvic floor recovery. This is ideally done with a trained Physio at your Pilates studio; however if this is not available then an assessment with a Women’s Health Physio is highly recommended. This is to ensure the Pilates exercises you do early postpartum are safe for you & facilitate optimal recovery.
3. Core Activation.
Once you know how to contract your core correctly, you can implement this in the Pilates class. Instructors should be cueing your core during the class, as this will reminds you to activate the correct muscles when you are performing the exercise.
Pilates is about multi-tasking so the better you are at activating your core, the easier Pilates becomes. Practising your core exercises at home is one way to fast track your core strength & make Pilates easier.
4. Technique ~ Posture ~ Alignment ~ Control.
Essential components of Pilates are – technique, posture, alignment & control. Pilates is not about pumping out as many reps as you can as quickly as possible. It’s about doing the exercise the correct way, holding your body in the correct position, activating the right the muscles & moving with control. Doing the movement correctly & with control is what makes Pilates challenging. What may seem like a simple movement can be challenging for your body when you put all the different elements together.
If your technique is not correct or the quality of your movement is poor, you are at risk of injuring yourself.
5. Hands-on Feedback.
Hands-on feedback & correction from the Pilates instructor is an important way to teach you where your body should be positioned in space. With both verbal & tactile cues your body awareness can start to improve.
Breathing is an important element of Pilates. People commonly hold their breath when they are concentrating on something or doing multiple things at once, as in Pilates. The key is to maintain your breath & your instructor needs to be re-iterating this during the class.
Some instructors teach exactly when you should inhale & exhale during an exercise, but I am a believer of breathing the way that is natural for you. In my experience, I have found that when you place too much emphasis on the timing of breath, clients focus too much on when they are breathing & it detracts from the quality of the exercise.
Completing the class with diaphragmatic breathing is a nice way to end, as it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body, promoting rest & relaxation.
7. Incorporate Stretching.
Our bodies tend to be stiff & tight due to the amount of sitting we do in a day, Incorporating stretches into a Pilates class is a great way to help alleviate this tension. You can ask your instructor to include stretches into your class.
8. Mat vs Equipment.
Whether you choose do a mat Pilates class or equipment based class is based on personal preference. I have taught both & believe both to be beneficial. Mat Pilates can be made interesting with the use of small equipment such as fit balls, chi balls, dumbbells, rollers, therabands & fitness circles. The Pilates instructor should be mixing up each session to make sure it is different from the last.
9. Modification for Injuries.
If you have an injury, such a pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy, it is important that the Pilates instructor can modify exercises for you to ensure your pain is not aggravated. This is another advantage of Physio run Pilates as we are trained to understand injuries & which movements the client should avoid during the class. Physios can also prescribe specific exercises/stretches that will help the injury.
10. Pre/Post-Natal Specific Class vs Modification.
A specific Pilates class for pregnancy or postpartum is ideal for many reasons. Not only is the class designed specifically for this group but it is run by an instructor who is trained in this area. As a result, they know what exercises are safe. In addition to this, you have the opportunity to meet & get to know other expectant or new mothers in the class.
In the instance that a specific pregnancy or postnatal class is not available or accessible to you, it is possible for a mainstream class to be altered to your needs. This modification is essential as some of the exercises in a mainstream class may not be safe for you to do if you are pregnant or early postpartum. My suggestion is to ask the Pilates studio if they would be able to accomodate for this & check the expertise of the instructor.
All in all a good quality Pilates class is an awesome form of low-impact exercise as it focuses on core strength & stability. I am a strong believer that every pregnant & postpartum woman should do some type of Pilates to reap the physical benefits during this transformational life stage.
Share with me in the comments below – What do you think of Pilates? Would you consider giving it a go after reading this post?!