Pilates for the Ages
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons
Getting older introduces a variety of changes to our bodies, but no matter what changes those may be, being active helps to keep us feeling young. Certain activities are actually more suitable for older populations. One of them is Pilates.
Pilates is a popular form of exercise that can benefit all age groups and fitness levels. It’s a form of strength training with little to no impact. It emphasizes alignment, core strength, muscular rebalancing and joint strength—making it ideal for the aging population. Other benefits include injury prevention, injury rehabilitation and an increase in balance, body awareness and confidence. It’s a very safe way to stay fit. Also, practicing Pilates has been found to improve cognitive skills, coordination and memory. Because of this, the exercise method has been used as part of the recovery process for people suffering brain damage from strokes and has helped slow or reverse the effects of debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
How Does it Help?
As we get older, many of us begin to slouch. This can lead to pain, injury and disc dysfunctions. With Pilates, posture naturally improves because of its emphasis on strengthening the core muscles that support the spine. This emphasis on core strength and alignment is very functional, helping people stay involved in regular activities like bending over, reaching overhead and maintaining balance. Additionally, Pilates exercises begin with a smaller range of motion—making it ideal for arthritis and general joint strengthening. This mid-range motion of the exercises is also what helps people with Parkinson’s and other brain traumas overcome rigidity and become more limber.
Exercises & Their Benefits
The following workout entails equipment-based exercises rather than mat-based exercises because most mat exercises are not suitable for older clients. The equipment provides support, which makes these exercises much more accessible.
Before starting any new exercise program, be sure to get approval from your doctor.
If you have osteoporosis, it is best to avoid flexion, rotation and lateral flexion of your spine. Instead, focus on a neutral spine and spinal extension. If you have spinal stenosis, it is best to avoid spinal extension.
When choosing a studio, be sure the instructors have the knowledge and training to work with your specific needs.
Footwork on Chair
Benefits: Increases lower body strength and joint stability. Improves posture.
How To: Start seated with a neutral spine at front edge of chair with hands pressing back against front edge. Inhale, prepare. Exhale, press pedal down. Inhale, lift pedal.
Swan Dive Prep on Chair
Benefits: Improves posture by strengthening and lengthening upper and mid-back muscles. Good for lumbar stenosis.
How To: Position prone on chair, neutral spine, hands shoulder distant apart on pedal, legs laterally rotated. Inhale, prepare. Exhale, initiate by stabilizing scapulae and extend spine as high as possible, keeping pubic bone in contact with the chair. Inhale, stay. Exhale, lengthen back to start.
Standing Lat Press on Cadillac
Benefits: Increases lat, rotator cuff and wrist strength. Improves standing posture and alignment.
How To: Stand facing Cadillac, holding wooden bar shoulder distant apart with straight arms, legs hip distance, spine and pelvis neutral. Inhale, prepare. Exhale, press the arms down, keeping them straight. Inhale, return to start. Optional: Add spinal extension with lat press.
Benefits: Strengthens hip abductors and adductors. Improves balance. Increases bone density in spine and hips, making it good for osteoporosis.
How To: Standing, place one foot on Reformer platform and one foot on edge of reformer, legs straight, spine and pelvis neutral, hands holding hips.
Hip Abductors: 1–1.5 springs Inhale, prepare. Exhale, keeping legs straight, press reformer out equally from both legs. Inhale, resist back to start.
Hip Adductors: 1/4—1/2 spring Inhale, keeping legs straight, press out. Exhale, pull in.