As Joseph Pilates said, “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.” When it come to Pilates, age is just a number. Some of the strongest students are 65-plus years old and can execute the exercises more proficiently than people half their age. Here’s how two of our The Pilates Project clients credit their strength to Pilates…
What other activities do you do?
Susan is 73 years old and has been doing Pilates for 12 years!
Why did you begin a Pilates workout?
I wanted a new challenge in my workout and I wanted lean, sculpted arms.
Do you have any limitations or injuries?
I have a spine problem, stenosis, which has caused me a lot of pain. I had to give up a lot of gym activities that I really enjoyed. However, I can do most of Pilates. I was really depressed when I had to give up the gym, but in doing Pilates I feel strong and fit which makes me really happy and proud of myself.
How have you changed since starting this Pilates?
Pilates makes me feel strong and powerful. My grandson is 35 pounds and I can pick him up whenever he wants! I really like how my shoulders look. And I must say, I’m lucky to work out at such a great studio.
Are you over the age of 35 and noticing that your tush, thighs and triceps are not as tight, toned, strong and solid as they were a few years ago? You are probably not mistaken. So depressing, but with each passing year comes a loss of muscle mass — about 1-2 percent per year over the age of 35. After age 40, people lose about 3-5 percent of their muscle mass each decade, and that rate of muscle loss accelerates over the age of 70 .
Muscle loss is inevitable in the aging process and is caused by several physiological factors: loss of nerve cells that tell the brain to move your muscles, hormonal changes, vascular changes. Blood vessel function becomes impaired, affecting the delivery of blood and nutrients to the muscles. The body becomes slightly more acidic as it ages, which ultimately triggers protein breakdown. The loss of lean muscle in the older years is called sarcopenia and can cause frailty, which ultimately leads to falls and hospitalization. Here is the good news — you don’t have to be one of them. Here are some measures to keep your muscles strong for as long as you can.
Resistance Training. Great news! Pilates is resistance training. Whether you use springs, weights, bands or your own body weight, resistance training can keep and maintain the muscle mass and has been shown to help neuromuscular system hormone concentrations and protein synthesis rate.
Eat More Protein. With age, the body’s ability to synthesize protein diminishes. Consuming protein foods — especially those that are rich in the amino acid leucine — seem to stimulate muscle protein synthesis more than other comparable protein foods. Sources of leucine include milk, whey, tuna, beef, chicken, soy, peanuts and eggs. Doctors recommend 25-30 grams of protein per meal for older adults.
Hormone levels. Aging adults have a reduced output of mechano growth factor, a hormone that helps build muscle in response to exercise. Because hormone levels can significantly affect muscle mass, all adults over the age of 40 should undergo annual blood testing to track their hormone levels and address any deficiencies with a doctor.
As a Pilates instructor, my job is to help people get stronger and more connected to their bodies, so that they can be healthy, strong, confident, and competent to complete their day to day tasks and take on the world. It’s a great way to pay the bills and I am grateful every day to have a purpose and a job that I love.
The women I teach are beautiful, smart, and successful. They are all shapes and sizes, they are stay at home moms who raise children, they are college girls who are pursuing a career, they are career women who have important jobs or own businesses. But too often, the dialogue is the same: I feel fat. I am fat. My thighs are huge. How do I get rid of this muffin top, jiggly thighs, sagging skin, cankles, cellulite on the back of my legs?
This is not a judgement and I, of all people, am no stranger to self loathing. I struggled with a negative body image since childhood. I can remember being in ballet class in the second grade and having a skinny 6-year-old girl named Bonnie (it was so traumatic I still remember her name) point to my belly and declare “You’re fat.”
I gasped, shocked by this assessment. “No, I’m not,” I said, but the seed was planted and from that day on I was on a mission. I was not going to be fat. I was going to be skinny if it killed me, and it almost did.
Growing up, I was a talented dancer, straight-A student and pretty girl, but I still spent my young years consumed with being thin. I visited the scale first thing in the morning and last thing before I went to bed. I punished myself for not being thin enough and slowly eliminated food from my diet. I started by counting calories, eliminating meat, bread, oil, cheese. By the time I was 19, I ate almost nothing but fruit, cereal, lollipops and rainbow gumballs. I was 90 lbs at 5’5″. I smoked cigarettes and abused laxatives and measured lettuce but I had made my goal. Hooray. I was skinny. Waify. Size Zero. People would describe me as “that really skinny girl.” I had made it. Thin I was, and happy and confident I was not.
As with any addiction, anorexia becomes harder and harder to control and eventually I had to go to a hospital and relearn to eat. Or die. I chose the path to recovery and agreed to follow a nutritionist’s plan and get healthier.
I was lucky enough to find pilates in my early 20s. The exercises were so difficult at first because I had lost so much strength from my lack of nutrition. Pilates was about lengthening and toning and stretching and getting strong, but also becoming more connected to my body. I liked the new feeling. Little by little the waify body I desired was no longer as interesting.
Fast forward 10 years. A lot has happened. My body has changed. I’ve put on 30 lbs since my anorexic days. I got married to a man who does not care if I am skinny. I have been pregnant and given birth to twins and had a C-section. I’ve become a Pilates instructor and opened my own business. There is more to life.
The self-loathing is getting old. I am going to try very hard to accept what I have. I was blessed with long thin legs and I have a bit of a harder time with my mid secton — especially after having twins. I feel good when I eat clean and healthy. I love exercise and feel good when I work hard in my workouts. I don’t feel too good when I don’t do those things but I have learned to forgive myself when I eat a cookie or skip a workout.
I have a confession to make.
I almost gave up teaching Pilates.
About 7 years into my teaching career, Contrology, which was once my passion and purpose and the one thing I could never live without, lost its aura.
At the time, I was teaching a lot–almost 40 hours a week and repeating the same cues over and over again. I was on auto pilot. I was burnt out. Stale . It got to a point where I could not stomach telling someone to do another Roll Up or Single Leg Circle or remind another person to lift their powerhouse in and up.
I was frustrated. I could state the obvious but I didn’t know how to challenge my clients beyond a certain level. I was bored and because I was bored I was certain that I was BORING. I took tons of workshops and continuing education courses to learn variations on exercises or different spins on Pilates workouts and that would fuel my teaching- but just for a very short time.
I thought about switching careers. I thought about going to culinary school or nursing school. I even thought about going back to school to become a physician’s assistant which would have taken me several years to complete. My very practical minded husband encouraged me to stick with Pilates . “After all this time you spent with Pilates you are going to give it up?,” he said. “That would be such a waste.”
About 3 years ago, just by chance or by fate I received an email from Shari Berkowitz. She was surveying Pilates instructors and asking what they needed and what they felt was lacking from their continuing education. I replied to her survey and after emailing back and forth a bit, I decided to schedule a private session with her at Real Pilates in NYC.
In that first hour with Shari, I learned more than i had in several years. There were no new exercises- we did a traditional intermediate reformer- but there was so much emphasis on what my spine was doing in each movement that the exercises felt completely different in my body.
I began to take lessons with Shari more regularly, attending her workshops, and following her blog . Since then, I have learned so much about biomechanics, the art of teaching, the purpose of each exercise, and most importantly how to think more critically on my own two feet. My clients are more challenged, they never get bored because they are constantly learning. And there is so much to learn for a lifetime of Pilates.
Shari Berkowitz will be presenting three workshops at The Pilates Project on October 20, 2013:
Spine Corrector Workout (9:30-10:30/ $40) Transform your Spine Corrector into one of the most useful pieces of apparatus in your studio! In this class you will do an entire flowing workout/session on the Spine Corrector. With over 40 exercises, there’s a lot to work on and discover.
Pilates with the Small Ball (10:45-1:45/ $135/ 3 PMA approved CECS) This is more than a bouncing toy. It is a valuable tool! No Reformer? No Cadillac? No Studio? No Problem! You can use the small ball in nearly any space that can fit a person. Its versatility is remarkable as a bio-feedback tool for your clients, working sometimes like a magic circle, other times like a small barrel and even like a teacher’s hand. Learn how to make this piece of equipment focus,, deepen and enlighten your practice. Too often our props are just that – toys, distraction, fluff. Learn how to bring your students to a new threshold in their practice using this light, portable and economical tool!
Secrets of the Apparatus (2:30-6:30/ $180/ 4 PMA Approved CECS) All day long you work with Reformers, Cadillacs, chairs, Springs, pulleys, levers. What are the mechanics that make the exercises work? How do they really work within our method of Pilates? Does it matter? Yes, yes it does! The more you understand the more effective a teacher you are…and the more positive changes your client makes. This workshop is absolutely accessible. No mumbo-jumbo that you don’t understand…you will leave understanding more than you can imagine! You will see each apparatus in an utterly new way!