Helping MSers with balance, body awareness, stress reduction, flexibility, and strength
Upsides + Excellent for core strength + Most exercises done on mat + Can be done at home easily
Downsides - Pilates instructors not created equal - Chin to chest = Lhermitte’s bonanza - Hard workouts can generate heat/fatigue
One of the most popular exercise buzzwords over the past several years has to be Pilates. The now popular exercise program started in the early 1900s, when a young man named Joseph Pilates rigged up springs to hospital beds to help bedridden patients exercise. His rehabilitation program evolved over the years, helping everyone from professional athletes to the disabled. Today more than 10 million people practice Pilates, including a number of MSers.
What makes it so popular in the MS community? Pilates focuses on core muscles--muscles in the center of the body like deep abdominals and muscles around the spine--that are important for overall stability and balance, common problem areas in multiple sclerosis. Pilates also builds strength (without bulk), teaches body awareness (great for those MSers with numbness), promotes good posture, and improves muscle elasticity and joint mobility (stiffness anyone?).
One of the more overlooked benefits of Pilates is that it emphasizes proper breathing and smooth, flowing movements--both natural stress relievers. As you are probably aware, combining stress and multiple sclerosis is like putting John Stewart and Dick Cheney in the same room. Not good.
Like yoga, there is a good deal of mat work in Pilates; you are often in a reclined or seated position (handy if you are unsteady on your feet). Aside from a few exercises, it tends to not be aerobic--reducing the risk of overheating and fatigue. Using low-impact, partial weight-bearing techniques, with an emphasis on economy of motion, it’s a safe workout for MSers of any age.
Reservations: The downsides? Finding a good Pilates instructor who’s a good fit can be challenging, so don’t give up if you don’t particularly enjoy your first experience. We at ActiveMSers have experienced a half dozen instructors: one great, two decent, two poor, and one atrocious (think LOUD dance music with an instructor screaming into a mic to pump it up). It pays to shop around! Also, Pilates tends to be more aerobic than tai chi or yoga, so heat and fatigue could be issues (especially if they don’t keep the room cool enough!). If you are doing a reformer class (a Pilates machine), it can be more challenging on balance, so the instructor to participant ratio should be high. Lastly, some postures can fire up our Lhermittes (the spine buzzing sensation MSers often experience when bending the head down toward the chest).
Recommendations: We have a few tips to keep in mind when you start your Pilates program. 1) I know, I know, you hear this all the time, but it’s smart to first talk to your primary care physician and/or your neurologist. 2) Try out a class at your local gym or Pilates studio. Then try another class with a different instructor. And then try one more class with a different instructor still. Go back to the one you like best and who best fits your exercise style and needs. Some instructors have ungodly challenging classes while others are so effortless that you might as well be taking a nap. 3) Pay attention to your workout room and class times. If heat gives you problems, choose a gym that keeps their rooms on the cool side and aim for morning sessions when these areas tend be cooler. Additionally, classes during off times are less crowded meaning fewer bodies to generate heat. 4) Go at your own pace. If a certain exercise bothers you--your Lhermittes gets fired up, you get too hot, whatever--take a break. Your Pilates instructor can likely suggest alternative positions that would work better for you. By the same token, if you feel you are not challenged enough, ask the instructor to show you a more difficult technique. 5) For those on tight budgets (or tight timeframes), you can practice Pilates at home once you are comfortable with traditional Pilates movements learned at your classes. It helps to have a yoga/Pilates mat and we’d advise a DVD or book to help jar the memory.
ActiveMSers Bottom Line: Pilates has the potential to help those with multiple sclerosis in many common problem areas: balance, body awareness, stress, spasticity, and strength to name just a few. As a refreshing mind/body workout, it’s a great alternative--or accompaniment--to tai chi and yoga. Physical therapists often recommend Pilates to help rehabilitate injuries since it incorporates low-impact movements in a gentle, graceful manner: “By emphasizing proper breathing, correct spinal and pelvic alignment, and complete concentration on smooth, flowing movement, you become acutely aware of how your body feels, where it is in space, and how to control its movement.” We agree. Give it a shot, MSers.
Joseph Pilates was one buff dude.
Pilates and Lhermittes sometimes go hand-in-hand. Not all moves are this technical.
This book is great for beginners, with thorough and easy-to-follow instruction.