Sally Belanger, co-founder of Inside-Out Training, is recognized as an authority in Pilates-based core training. For more than a decade, Sally has been known for her work as one of the most sought after Master Trainers for STOTT Pilates, presenting at numerous industry trade shows and conferences (i.e., IDEA World Fitness Conference, FIBO, CanFitPro, ACE Personal Trainer Conference, IHRSA). TodaysFitnessTrainer.com recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sally about her experience as a Pilates instructor and educator, to learn about the Pilates method, and determine how our readers can benefit from this particular exercise modality.
1. What exactly is Pilates?
SB: Pilates is an exercise modality performed on a mat with small equipment, or large pieces of Pilates equipment, that focuses on correct movement, breathing patterns, and strengthening of the core musculature. The exercises focus on proper postural alignment which allow for greater ease and efficiency of movement. It focuses on balance, flexibility and mental focus. It can be done in a personal training setting, one-to-one, or in group classes.
2. What are the primary benefits of Pilates?
SB: Pilates provides a great low load workout that brings awareness to how an individual moves and how they should or shouldn’t move. It re-inforces proper pelvic and shoulder stability which is necessary for proper movement or movement without pain. It helps with flexibility, buy working through various ranges of motion while working on strength and stability simultaneously. All movements in Pilates are taught with a breath pattern, which is great for focus, relaxation as well as proper mechanics and stability of the core.
3. What is the difference between Pilates and yoga?
SB: Both Pilates and yoga are fantastic exercise methods. Pilates and yoga are both great mind body exercise modalities. Yoga is based on static poses, energy, meridians, and chi (in a very basic sense). Pilates focuses on how the body moves, what needs more movement and flexibility and what needs more strength and endurance. More contemporary approaches to each modality provide better alignment cues, postures and exercise modifications.
4. What is Mat Pilates?
SB: Mat Pilates consists of Pilates exercises which may incorporate the use of small accessories (i.e., stability ball, bands, weighted balls, Pilates circle), but do not utilize the large pieces of equipment (such as the reformer, cadillac or chair). It is a versatile exercise modality that can be done virtually anywhere (at home or in a gym environment).
Currently my favorite two exercise are the “Single Leg Extension”, because the glutes are a largely underutilized muscle group, and the “One Leg Circle”, because it provides a significant challenge and is great for working on core strength.
5. What is the reformer?
SB: The reformer is a piece of Pilates equipment that has a moving carriage and spring resistance. The exerciser can sit, stand, kneel or lie on the moving carriage and perform a variety of exercises against the resistance of the springs, in addition to challenging balance.
My two favorite exercises on the reformer are the modified “Single Leg Stretch” and modified “Side Splits”. I like the balance challenge of both and they integrate the entire kinetic chain (which makes them functional for either rehabilitation or performance based training).
6. What is the cadillac?
SB: The cadillac is a piece of Pilates equipment that looks like a long table with a frame. It is a great piece of equipment for challenging exercises and movement through many planes of motion. It is a great piece of equipment for working with injuries, as it allows many different exercises to be modified appropriately.
Currently, my two favourite exercises on the cadillac are “Cat Kneeling” and “Side Twist Standing”. Both exercises integrate a large number of joints and are challenging in terms of stability and balance.
7. What is the chair?
SB: The chair is the smallest of the large pieces of Pilates equipment. Although it can be used to make some exercises “easier”, more often the chair is used to add intensity or challenge to a workout. Both the “Elephant” and “Scapula Isolations” are exercises that are challenging. The exercises are not achievable if the client cannot utilize the proper muscles or maintain core stability, which provides great feedback for the client, in addition to the added challenge.
8. What is STOTT Pilates? What are the key characteristics that differentiate it from Pilates in general?
SB: STOTT Pilates is a contemporary version of the Pilates method. Developed with the collaboration of physical therapists, and sports medicine and fitness professionals, the STOTT Pilates method incorporates current scientific and biomechanical research. The most significant difference between STOTT Pilates and the original Pilates method is the position of the spine. In the original method a straight spine is used during exercise. STOTT Pilates focuses on maintaining the natural curvature of the spine. STOTT Pilates has an essential, intermediate and advanced repertoire. Clients are able to advance through the exercises in a way that is beneficial to their specific body and postural issues or needs. The programming of exercises is based on specific clients needs.
In addition, the breath pattern in STOTT Pilates exercises follows the proper breathing mechanics of the spine and ribcage. Exhalation occurs during flexion of the spine or exertion which mimics normal breathing patterns.
9. What three (3) tips you would give a first time Pilates participant/student to ensure they get the most out of each class?
SB: If you have not done Pilates before, the first workout may feel strange or unnatural. I did not enjoy my first workout. I didn’t get it, so to speak. That’s most likely because I am a “serotonin junkie” and I like to sweat. Pilates-based movement are slow and controlled and every movement may feel as though they are being done incorrectly. As awkward as it may feel (at first) listen to the instruction and try to integrate the corrections into every exercise. Be mindful of what your body is doing (or trying to do), and don’t forget to breath (especially when you’re not sure whether to inhale or exhale during stages of an exercise). As a society we often don’t get time to focus on what we are doing and a Pilates workout, when taught properly, will help bring focus to the mind and body.
10. What is the recommended frequency for doing Pilates?
SB: Ideally, Pilates is done 2 to 3 times per week. The more frequently the exercises are done, the faster the body relearns proper posture and movements. The more frequently the body learns to move properly, the more “normal” those patterns and postures become. Benefits can be achieved by doing Pilates once per week, but will not be seen as quickly as the recommended 2 to 3 times per week.
11. What are the benefits of Pilates versus traditional exercise?
SB: Pilates focuses on small movements done with proper form and technique. Pilates focuses on specific postural issues or incorrect patterns (because the body is compensating for improper postural alignment) which can lead to injury or poor performance. Pilates focuses on stabilizing the joints in the proper range of motion and then adding strength and flexibility to the proper movement patterns. Pilates is a great complement to traditional exercise as it gets the body ready for the challenge of running or lifting weights or whatever sport demands are placed on it.
12. What type of person is best suited for the Pilates practice (i.e. specific population, personality type)?
SB: Although it may sound ridiculous, Pilates is great for everyone! My clientele ranges from everyday people to professional athletes; the injured and those who need performance work. The focus on proper movement, increasing strength, and improving flexibility in each movement range has been lost. This awareness helps the body to move and respond properly, throughout a wide range of challenges, on a day to day basis. The mental focus and being aware of how the body cheats is invaluable to everyone.
13. Who shouldn’t do Pilates (i.e. contraindications, medical conditions, etc.)?
SB: Unless your medical professional has advised against it, Pilates or modified Pilates exercises are and excellent way to keep the body moving without stressing it with too much load or impact.
14. How can the addition of Pilates to a traditional workout/exercise program provide added benefit when looking to achieve results?
SB: If a joint is stabilized and moves properly, the sport skill or movement pattern becomes more biomechanically efficient as the larger power-generating muscles can do what they are supposed to do. Pilates is a great method to achieve joint stability.
For more information on Sally Belanger or Inside-Out Training, click here.