April 30, 2015

How Pilates Helped My Sister Heal

Three years ago, my sister, Vanessa, had back surgery. As the daughter of a physical therapist and nurse, and the sister of a chiropractor and a registered dietician, the thought of having back surgery at age 32 was seemingly impossible. My sisters and I were all athletes and Vanessa was by far the strongest. However, a bad waterskiing fall coupled with two years of a work schedule that required business attire (i.e., heels), weeks of travel by air, train, and car, and a workout routine that was determined by convenience and consisting mostly of running, resulted in a herniated disc with nerve pain that was unbearable.

Vanessa was fortunate in her care. She had a wonderful chiropractor in New York who led her to a good neurosurgeon. A successful surgery was followed by 6 weeks of twice-daily physical therapy with our father.  To complement her home therapy program, Vanessa searched out a local Pilates studio. She began with one-on-one sessions at three times a week with a skilled instructor. The improvement was remarkable and life changing.

A complete workout program incorporates three key areas: flexibility, stability, and strength. As individuals, our movement and function is dependent on these three aspects. We often think of each element independently of the others. We “do cardio” followed by some “core strengthening” followed by some “stretching” and call it a day at the gym. Perhaps there is a yoga class thrown in once a week for good measure. In real life, however, our bodies naturally and instinctively combine flexibility, strength, and stability: we coordinate them together to move as a whole. In order to train for “real life,” we need to train our body to seamlessly adapt to the environment around us. Ultimately, we exercise to improve our quality of life. It follows, then, that we should train to mirror our daily requirements.

A Pilates instructor’s training is thorough and detailed, and a quality instructor is key to any instructional program. The reformer equipment used in Pilates actually acts as a second trainer. The reformer allows you to understand the way your body is supposed to move, bringing an awareness to your movements that is often overlooked in traditional programs. Being able to activate your core muscles is important. Being able to train your core to work in conjunction with your hips, shoulders, legs, and arms addresses a real life need. This is the value of Pilates training.

Think for a moment about your workout routine. What aspects of flexibility, strength, and stability do you incorporate? What do you want to accomplish with all your hard work? Chances are, you are focusing on building the parts of your movements. You are lifting weights for strength, stretching to improve flexibility, and performing some core work for stability. The benefit of Pilates is in building on the work that you have already done, while teaching your body to function as a whole, rather than as a sum of parts. This is the heart of Pilates training.

This winter, Vanessa was walking to her car and slipped on the ice. As she fell, she felt her core engage to protect her. The months of Pilates training was validated in that one instant. Her body has been trained to react in a coordinated manner, combining her strength, stability, and flexibility. The fall left her bruised, but she had trained her body for real life, and she was otherwise uninjured.

To learn more about how you can minimize your risk of injury, visit

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