Pilates: getting to the core of the matter

Mon Aug 17, 2009 6:29am EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Let the group fitness gadflies flit from belly dancing to body sculpting to circus stunts. Pilates people opt to take long, steady aim at the core.

And they say the payoff is sweet: strength without bulk, slender thighs, flat-as-a-board abdomen.

"With Pilates, the focus is core strength," said Jessica Matthews of the American Council on Exercise. "It concentrates on centering and encouraging improved posture and strength throughout the core."

The core, or powerhouse, refers to the muscles that gird the torso from the lower rib cage to below the beltline. Pilates is a system of over 500 exercises that promises to condition the total body by centering on that center.

The mat exercises comprise several series of leg lifts, chest curls, and roll ups -- each one said to be the equivalent of six sit-ups -- and the signature "hundred," which entails much flapping of the arms and legs.

And while they might look like sophisticated sit-ups, the moves are performed with precision, concentration, breath control and flow. In fact, Pilates was originally called Controlology.

"Because you're so aware of where the exercise is coming from, you're really focused on where you're working," Michele Bastos, Pilates instructor at the Crunch national chain of health clubs, said of the regimen now practiced by an estimated 10 million people worldwide.

Unlike the 5,000-year-old practice of yoga to which it is often compared, Pilates is the 20th century creation of one man.   Continued...

<p>Pilates instructor Michele Bastos guides a Reformer class at Crunch, New York City in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Crunch/Handout</p>