Pilates sessions reform balance, strength
Lauren Cerqua of Robinson stretched out on a piece of Pilates equipment called the Reformer, placed her arms on the bars and pushed away from the metal framework.
Marissa Watson, co-owner of the Motion on Main gym in Carnegie with Erika Hornyak, guided Cerqua through movements on the Reformer, which has an upholstered surface that glides on its steel frame and springs that provide resistance. The Reformer forced Cerqua to work her back muscles.
Watson, 35, of Canonsburg, who conducted the private Pilates training session, said people often tense up in their shoulders. The Reformer helps correct that muscle tension when the person using it pushes and pulls with the spring action. The exercises extend the back muscles out, Watson said.
“Nice job,” Watson told Cerqua, asking her to arch her back and focus on her thorax.
Before the evening ended, Watson guided Cerqua, 35, through exercises on the Tower and Chair, two other pieces of Pilates equipment designed to increase Cerqua’s core strength and flexibility and improve her form.
Using Pilates equipment can be helpful for people who want to work out, but want more stability in their movements than the workout they receive doing traditional Pilates exercises on a mat. Such exercises use controlled movements that strengthen, stretch and align the body, all workout goals that the apparatus can expedite.
Watson said the Pilates equipment “adds resistance to the same exercises, and it also can assist the body executing the exercise depending on the springs.”
Proper form and stability are hallmarks of Pilates, which grew out of developments by physical fitness guru Joseph Pilates, a native of Germany. Pilates emphasized proper breathing, muscle control and spinal support in designing exercises.
When the German government pressured Pilates to train the German Army before World War II, he left his native country for the United States, where he and his wife, Clara, established a following among the dance and performing arts community in New York City.
Noted choreographers such as George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet and Martha Graham sent dancers to Pilates for training and rehabilitation.
Cerqua has used Pilates equipment in the private sessions to increase her flexibility. When she arrived at Motion on Main several years ago, she could reach down only as far as 2 feet off the ground. “That’s how tight her hamstrings were,” Watson said.
Cerqua has had a series of back problems that were complicated by a July 2010 accident, which led to surgery four months later. Then, she twisted her back at work.
As a result of the surgery, “I don’t trust many people with my spine,” she said. “I trust Marissa completely. She’s so good at identifying restrictions and faulty movement patterns as well as cultivating a plan to correct them.”
Watson said the Reformer “can be a little easier on the body if you have an injury and plus, you’re in a personalized setting where my clients have my undivided attention.”
Dancers, who are in peak physical condition, often cross-train with Pilates because “choreography doesn’t necessarily give you a balanced workout,” said Ann Corrado, coordinator of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre‘s Pilates program.
Ballet dancers “may be required to do a motion (repeatedly) on one side,” which can be artistic but builds an imbalance, said Corrado, a charter dancer of PBT.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.