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Stars choose Pilates over fad workouts

Lady Gaga, Jennifer Aniston, and even Ozzy Osbourne have touted the benefits of Pilates, an exercise that has become popular among Hollywood's elite trend setters. But world-renowned Pilates instructor Rael Isacowitz says Pilates offers more than a fad exercise with a quick fix. “Pilates is not just an exercise, but a system that should be integrated into every facet of life,” he explains.

In his upcoming book, Pilates Anatomy (Human Kinetics, March 2011), Isacowitz and coauthor Karen Clippinger take an inside look at Pilates through anatomical illustrations that break down the muscular involvement in every movement and analyze each exercise on this basis. But before an anatomical understanding can be reached, Isacowitz says practitioners must develop a foundation for Pilates through six key elements that connect the body and mind.

  1. Breath. Breath can be described as the fuel of the powerhouse, which is the engine that drives Pilates. “It may be viewed as being of the body, of the mind, and of the spirit,” Isacowitz explains. “In this view, breath can serve as a common thread that runs through all the principles, in a sense sewing them together.”
  2. Concentration. Before beginning an exercise, Isacowitz advises going through a mental checklist of points to focus on. “Concentrate on the alignment of the body and on maintaining correct alignment and stabilization,” he says. “Practitioners should strive to maintain this concentration throughout the duration of each session.”
  3. Center. Each person is built differently and has a unique center of gravity. “Where the center of gravity lies distinctly affects how an exercise feels and how difficult or easy it is to execute,” says Isacowitz. “Therefore, it's a mistake to assume a person lacks strength if he or she cannot execute an exercise. Lack of success may have more to do with how the person is built and the distribution of body weight.”
  4. Control. Refined control requires practice, which can aid in developing the necessary strength and flexibility of key muscles as well as allow for the development of more refined motor programs. “This practice can also allow these motor programs to run with less conscious attention so that a practitioner can pay attention to finer details and make minute adjustments,” Isacowitz explains.
  5. Precision. “Precision can be associated with both the activation of isolated muscles and the integration of the other required muscles to create movement,” says Isacowitz. Precision can be the factor determining whether a muscle is accessed and whether a goal is achieved.
  6. Flow. Flow requires a deep understanding of the Pilates movement and incorporates precise muscle activation and timing. “As movement proficiency develops from extensive practice, each movement and each session should flow,” Isacowitz explains.

“The way in which each person integrates these principles into the practice of Pilates and life itself is individual,” Isacowitiz explains. “The important issue is that the execution of each exercise and the practice of the system as a whole are not just a careless imitation of the exercise steps, but rather a process focused on learning how the exercises are executed and applying these six principles in accordance with your current physical and mental acuity.”

For more information, see Pilates Anatomy.