Updated: 7:51 p.m. Friday, March 18, 2011 | Posted: 5:29 p.m. Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pilates fine-tunes the body and mind

Versatile exercise program puts emphasis on flexibility, strength


Pilates fine-tunes the body and mind photo
Susan Honer, an instructor at Pilates Plus Movement Studio in Dayton, works out on the Reformer. As a dancer, she says Pilates has enhanced her balance.
Pilates fine-tunes the body and mind photo
Rebecca Combs does an advanced excercise called "The Star" on Reformer equipment in Natalie Malay-Peppel's Triology Movement Studio located at 2600 Far Hills Ave. in Oakwood.

By Robin McMacken

Staff Writer

As Rebecca Combs demonstrates various Pilates exercises at Oakwood’s Triology Movement Studio, her lithe body brings to mind the steady grace of a ballerina and the strength and balance of a gymnast.

Seven years ago, this picture seemed like an impossible future for Combs. After developing a serious case of runner’s knee during marathon training, the aching, burning sensation in her joints had left her feeling anything but active, let alone athletic.

“I couldn’t do much of anything,” she recalled. “I was sent to my physical therapist and she put me on a (Pilates) Reformer, which I had never heard of before. It was a totally new form of exercise.”

Combs, 37, credits Pilates with her recovery — both from the knee injury and later lower-back pain after a car accident. She was so impressed by the movement series developed years ago by the German athlete Joseph H. Pilates that she became a Stott Pilates-certified instructor.

The Bellbrook resident also credits Pilates for helping her hit an elegant stride as an award-winning equestrian.

“I tend to hunch over when I ride, so Pilates helps open my chest and also strengthens my inner thigh muscles.”

During saddle-seat equitation competitions, the judges not only look at the horses but also the performance and form of the riders.

Pilates is a body-conditioning routine that builds flexibility, strength, endurance and coordination. The emphasis is on strengthening the muscles, not adding dramatic bulk to them. The exercise is a series of controlled movements done either on a mat or a machine or with small equipment like resistance bands. The result is longer, leaner muscles and strong, flat abdominal muscles.

Pilates is well-known for its ability strengthen the body’s “core” from which all movement originates, said Nalisa Baldwin, owner and instructor at Pilates Plus Movement Studio in Dayton.

The wide variety of exercises in Pilates, with such memorable names as the Elephant, the Star and Rolling Like a Ball, makes it suitable for almost anyone, added Kathy Anderson, owner and instructor at My Pilates Studio in Centerville.

“My feeling is Pilates is not exercise; it’s a lifestyle. It moves you through your life,” Anderson said.

Natalie Malay-Peppel, instructor and owner of Triology, said “the whole point of Pilates is to add balance, increase flexibility in areas where the body is tight, and improve the mobility and flexibility of the spine.”

She said Pilates modeled the machines after the hospital beds and equipment he used when he was a nurse working with immobilized patients during World War I.

In 1926, he opened the first Pilates studio in New York City and worked with such dance luminaries as George Balanchine and Martha Graham, who routinely sent their students to Pilates for training and rehabilitation.

Since then, the mind-body exercise method has become a hit with everyone from celebrities and supermodels to baseball players, golfers and skaters.

“I think Pilates is so versatile,” said Combs. “It can be modified for the beginner or the super-fit person. It can be tailored for any age.”

Her clients range in age from 8 to 95.

“I love Pilates,” said Brent Johnson, 41, of Dayton, who works out on the Reformer at least once a week with Patrick Przyborowski at Practice Pilates in Dayton. “I think it’s really been amazing on helping me develop core strength, awareness and stability.”

He credited Pilates training for helping him maintain proper form not only during running, but also during weight lifting.

Susan Honer, an instructor at Pilates Plus Movement Studio and dancer with the modern-dance troupe, MamLuft & Co. Dance in Cincinnati, said Pilates has been a wonderful cross-training regimen that has enhanced her balance.

“Pilates is for everybody, regardless of their movement background,” said Honer.

Baldwin added her niece, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was encouraged by her neurologist to pursue Pilates training.

The many ways in which Pilates can be modified also make it ideal for older people, who especially need to do balance work in order to prevents falls.

Barbara Gibson, 64, of Springboro, faithfully works out with Malay-Peppel on Mondays during a group mat class.

“Pilates gives you some flexibility, and it strengthens the core,” Gibson said.

Baldwin said it was rewarding to see the positive changes in her clients of all ages, and she uses this formula to keep them motivated: “My thing is P plus P equals P. You have to be patient and practice, and you will see progress.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-0671 or rmcmacken@DaytonDailyNews.com.


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