Pilates has been around for close to 100 years. Founded by Joseph Pilates, a German physical trainer fascinated by the balancing of body, mind and spirit, the discipline is all about strengthening the body, toning the muscles and improving posture and flexibility. This makes it a perfect companion for Canicrossers and general runners.
Those who practise Pilates extol its many benefits for the mind, body and soul. It has grown exponentially in popularity over the past 12 months as people have more time to spare to try out new activities and more fitness instructors are moving online to give classes and physical training sessions.
Someone who can tell us more about this highly effective form of exercise is DogFit Canicross trainer and Pilates instructor, Louise Humphrey.
What are the main benefits of Pilates?
Pilates is a series of strengthening moves and muscle toning exercises aimed at helping your flexibility and improving your posture and balance. The exercises help us to improve our strength and ability to perform everyday functions and gives us greater awareness about how our body moves and works. It focuses you on having your body and mind work together and gives you an overall sense of wellness, balance and strength.
How long have you been teaching Pilates and how has it evolved over that period?
I have been teaching Pilates for more than 20 years now, and have seen it evolve in many ways. For instance, when I started, I was teaching in a village hall with a few mats on the floor. I was the only Pilates teacher for miles around. Now, Pilates training is a common sight in fitness studios and gyms with fully equipped facilities to help those taking part get the most out of their sessions.
The basic moves and exercises haven’t changed all that much though, but as we learn more about how our bodies work, they have evolved to reflect our greater understanding of how Pilates can support activities such as running, horse-riding, walking and gardening. That’s why I love it so much – there is always a reason to do Pilates!
How does Pilates differ from Yoga?
There are lots of similarities between Pilates and Yoga, but the latter is more spiritually based and centred on things like breathing, meditation and movement. Poses are held longer, so it is good for stretching. Yoga tends to be part of a wider lifestyle, whereas Pilates is more physical, honing in on strength, posture and mobility for body strengthening, injury prevention or rehabilitation. Both Yoga and Pilates focus a lot on the core stomach, trunk and back areas. So they can complement each other very well.
What equipment and clothing do you need for Pilates?
Another great thing about Pilates is that it is not complicated or expensive to get started. At its most basic, you just need a mat or a carpeted floor. Thicker mats are available to buy if you want something slightly more comfortable to lie on. Wear what you want – you don’t have to buy expensive kit, just make sure that you can move freely in your chosen clothing and that it doesn’t have a restrictive waist band.
As you progress, you might like to invest in some specialist equipment such as a Pilates ball or stretching bands, but you can substitute with things like cushions if you prefer at first. If you get into the activity more later on, you can add to your kit list as you see fit.
Is Pilates safe for people with back issues or similar injuries?
Yes, absolutely, so long as you and your instructor both know about the injury and that you have had a medical expert sign you off as fit enough to do Pilates. Many people come to me for Pilates as part of a rehab programme after an injury, but I prefer it if people start training with me before they reach that point, as Pilates can really help prevent injuries from happening.
For example, if you go for a run when you are tired, you tend to slump forward, which will eventually lead to problems with posture and pain. Doing Pilates alongside a running regime teaches you how to keep focusing on your core as you run to strengthen your back and help you maintain a better posture. You can do Pilates at any age. It helps you stay fitter and more flexible for longer, avoid injury and build up resilience against the effects of ageing. I recently had a client aged 95 take part in my classes and she was amazing!
Is going to a qualified Pilates instructor important?
Yes, it is very important. An instructor can assess where you are in your fitness and tailor the moves and exercises to your individual level. This is especially vital when following a rehab programme. Your instructor can help you build up your strength slowly and then, when you get stronger, guide you onto a higher intensity workout. Following an online video may not be quite so helpful as you can’t have the moves differentiated for you. A word of advice though – always make sure the instructor you choose is properly qualified and insured.
Do you have to do other things alongside Pilates to stay fit and lose weight?
Yes. Pilates won’t get you sweating or out of breath on its own, so you need to add other activities to your fitness regime to get the most benefit out of it. Think of your fitness programme as a circle where you have lots of different activities all around the edge and then Pilates goes in the middle to act as the stabiliser that enables you to achieve all the other things to keep you healthy and strong. If you want to lose weight you need to eat cleanly and count your calories while following an active, healthy lifestyle.
As you age, your body finds it harder to maintain its fitness levels so anything you can do to support your future health is good. Women especially see their bone density lessen as they get older and Pilates can help their bodies become stronger, retain flexibility and build up more resilience against injuries.
How doers Pilates benefit your mental wellbeing too
Quite apart from the fact that a healthy mind will naturally follow a healthy body, Pilates can help you to focus more on your breathing and how your body moves and works to bring everything into alignment. It is a great stress reliever and the exercises quickly become second nature, so that you can free up your mind to work on your running and other forms of exercise. Personally, I get enormous satisfaction from seeing my running and Canicross performance improve and if I skip a Pilates session, I can really feel the difference in my body and my mood.
Are there any specific Pilates exercises that are beneficial for people who take part in Canicross?
I have been delivering a Pilates for Runners course for a while now that is perfect for canicrossers. We do lots of ‘standing up’ exercises that focus on running technique and posture. Exercises around shoulder placement will really help, as will getting the muscles around the core, glutes and hips working to loosen them up and prevent injury.
The stronger you are, the better you will be able to run – and for longer too – especially with the Canicross harness positioned on your hips, rather than around your waist, to prevent discomfort when your dog pulls on it. If you run with your pelvis steady and pointed in the right direction this will add power to your legs. Pilates also involves lots of balance-based exercises that improve your stability and help prevent injuries from slips and falls while on the move.
Finally do you have one piece of advice to offer someone who is considering taking up Pilates or Canicross?
Consistency is the key to success when it comes to mastering Pilates, so regular sessions are very important while you learn the exercises and begin to get familiar with them. Then, once you are more confident in the moves, you need to keep it up regularly – I tend to do ten minutes every day just to stay in shape and remember what to do. If you do it little and often, you can see some real results.
As for Canicross, my advice would be to sign up for a taster session to find out what it is all about and just go for it! You can’t gain the full experience of anything as active as Canicross by just reading about it. Actually grabbing your dog, slipping on a harness and joining in a run can really lift your confidence and show you that you can do it and have fun. There’s nothing stopping you from giving it a try!
Find out more about Louise and the classes she offers below:
If you are interested in the next Pilates for Runners course then you can join the waiting list here
To hear Louise on our DogFit Podcast click here