By adding light weights to traditional Pilates exercises you can increase your lean muscle mass while training your core. Celebrity trainer Juliet Kaska created a full-body Pilates workout using an exercise band, light dumbbells, and ankle weights to build metabolism-boosting muscle — exactly what we need heading into the holidays. If you don't have these props, don't worry: this workout is still effective without them. Press play and get your Pilates on.
A question that constantly pops up among fitness newbies is whether they should take yoga or Pilates. Both mind-body practices are great forms of strength training that build long, lean muscles. You might be surprised to learn that Joseph Pilates, the founder Pilates, looked to yoga for inspiration when creating his exercise method! With that said, there are some big differences between the two workouts to keep in mind.
The Spiritual Side of Things
Yoga is rooted in a spiritual, meditative practice, and many contemporary yoga classes choose to bring this element to the mat. If the idea of chanting, finding your spiritual center, or aligning your chakras sounds like something you'd be into, then yoga is the way to go! For those who'd prefer to steer clear of that stuff, you'll be pleased to know that this is not present in the Pilates method.
While you won't be asked to connect with your chakras in Pilates, you will be talking about your body and muscle groups in great detail. Pilates puts great emphasis on using the deep abs and pelvic floor while the limbs move three-dimensionally in space. While there are some aspects of yoga that relate, there's far more of an anatomical, alignment-based approach to Pilates when compared with the majority of yoga classes.
The Mechanics — or Machinery!
In yoga class, you use can specific props like blankets, blocks, or a strap to ease into poses, and Pilates mat work similarly requires no props. However, a large repertory of exercises has been created for the use of machines, like the Pilates reformer or Pilates Cadillac, which are vastly more intricate than the props used in yoga. The machines use heavy springs to create resistance and are incredibly versatile, taking the mat work to different levels — providing support to make exercises easier or adding resistance to challenge the muscles more.
How Fast Can You Flow?
In terms of pacing, yoga is considerably more static than Pilates, since yoga poses are generally held for a number of breaths, except the flowing vinyasa that connects poses in Ashtanga and other forms of yoga too. Straight-up yoga classes tend to be 75 to 90 minutes, while Pilates mat classes are generally an hour. While you're getting a little more time in at yoga, both classes are roughly the same price.
In short, asking us to choose between yoga or Pilates is like asking us to choose a favorite child. The two practices enrich each other greatly, and the more anatomically specific elements taught in Pilates enhance the more abstract images used in yoga. The only way to make an intelligent choice is to take both classes and see what you like more!
— Additional reporting by Susi May
You might have traded in your bikini for a cozy sweater, but toned abs never go out of style, so keep drawing your navel toward your spine. Here are nine great exercises for toning your midsection. Remember, the ol' Pilates trick of pulling the belly button in ensures that you're working the deepest ab muscle (known as the transverse), which helps create a sleek midriff.
The exercises are divided into three sections: upper abs, obliques, and lower abs. You can approach this workout three different ways: pick one exercise from each section and perform two to three sets, pick two exercises from each section and do one to two sets, or for the ultimate boredom buster, do one set of all nine exercises.
A new type of Burner community has been emerging in San Francisco — and it's not the folks who travel to Black Rock City every August. These Burners head to work out at Burn San Francisco, one of the best hybrid workout classes I've taken to date. In 55 minutes, you'll alternate through fast-paced intervals of Pilates, cardio, and strength training. It's a heart-pumping workout that will work your body and make you sweat. Burn might not be offered in your city — yet! — but there are three takeaways from the class that everyone can benefit from.
Push yourself — but not too far.
I spoke with Burn's founder Lisa Corsello, who explained that all clients are pushed to find their own challenge point — and hold longer than they would working out on their own! Lisa says this is how Burners gain strength and endurance over time without injury; "we like to bring you to the edge, but don't push you over it." Finding that sweet spot is a skill to work toward, and your body will know the difference between a "good" hurt and a "bad" hurt, but you must be willing to listen.
Keep things moving.
First you're moving through a challenging cardio burst in the center of your mat, and the next second you're on the ground working with the Burn Pilates springs. There's little time to break as you're hopping back and forth around the room. Lisa explains that once you're brought to your edge and you think that you can't do another rep, "Burn changes it up so you can continue working, but in a different way." I found that this was an effective method to keep the workout moving quickly, my mind engaged, and my body feeling the "Burn."
Quality over quantity.
In high-intensity, fast-paced workouts, too many times, the focus is taken off of proper alignment and placed on the sheer number of reps. This workout allows you to work at your own pace to really get the most out of every exercise. Especially as a beginner Burner, I appreciated that my teacher offered the instruction to take things at my own speed, since it forced me to slow down and bring attention to what muscles should be worked in every move. This kind of body awareness is a great lesson, regardless of the way you like to work out.
Even if you don't live in SF, you can purchase a Burn SF DVD ($20) to work out with at home! All you need are a mat and a couple of weights.
The name may be a little odd, but the multitasking Pilates move Saw Off Your Baby Toe is a great move for strengthening the abs and increasing flexibility in the lower back and hamstrings. Since this is a twisting exercise, you'll also increase side-to-side spinal mobility.
- Sit on the floor with your legs open slightly wider than your hips, feet flexed. Extend your arms out to the sides.
- Inhale to lengthen the spine, twist your ribs over to the right, and lean your belly over your right leg, reaching your left fingers just past your baby toe.
- Exhale to sit up, pulling the abdominals deeply to the spine, coming back to the starting position. Repeat on the left side.
- This counts as one rep. Complete three sets of eight to 10 reps. Here's a video showing this Pilates move in action.
Are foot cramps cramping your style? A reader asked for help in figuring out the mystery behind her own foot cramps. To answer this question, we turned to a board certified physician for information and advice.
What’s the deal with foot cramps? I never got them when I was younger, but lately, I’ve been getting them frequently — especially when I’m lying in bed or trying to point my toes in Pilates class. My foot will sort of seize up and cramp into a weird position, and no massaging seems to make it go away. It seems to happen more on days when I wear heels, but not always. Do you have any idea what causes foot cramps and how I can prevent them?
— Cramped Style
As a fellow sufferer of muscle and foot cramps, I am so glad you asked this question. Muscle cramps (including the foot) are extremely common; in fact, according to MedicineNet.com, it is estimated that 95 percent of people experience a muscle cramp at some time in their life! There are many causes and treatments of muscle cramps, so if you are interested in learning more, keep reading!
Julie Erickson of Endurance Pilates and Yoga might be a pro, but she's no workout purist. While she's been a Pilates teacher for many years, she's still a big believer in the power of cross-training. With 11 marathons and one ultramarathon under her belt, Julie shared five Pilates moves that help keep runners injury-free and in tip-top shape.
Regardless of how you choose to sweat, core strength is essential. If you're not sure how strong your midsection really is, Pilates teacher Julie Erickson of Endurance Pilates and Yoga has a tried-and-true test.
Known as Boat Pose in yoga, this ab exercise is a perfect indicator of your core power. Julie explains, "If you're able to properly engage the muscles of your core, you should be able to hold it for minutes. . . . I would say for a runner who hasn't been thinking about it constantly, holding it for 30 seconds would be a good test. If they can't hold it for that long, I would say that their core strength needs a little bit of help."
Once you're ready to test yourself, here's how to perform the exercise properly.
- Begin sitting on your mat. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor, balancing on your butt.
- Keep the spine long, and straighten the legs as much as you can without rounding the back.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds, and remember to keep breathing!
Tell me how long you held it in the comments!
If you suffer from sliding around on a mat during Pilates or yoga or prefer not to be barefoot during a barre class, then Nike's Studio Wrap Pack ($110) may be your answer to this problem.
The Studio Wrap Pack consists of three parts: the wrap portion that fits around the foot and ribbons (both pictured above) and a pair of slip-on flats that can be worn with or without the other parts of the Studio Wrap system. While it was a little confusing at first to wrap the ribbon correctly, once I managed to put them on, the sock-like wrap portion was quite comfortable. The stretchy fabric and open design offered a full range of flexibility for my feet and ankles. The ribbons were designed to give support to both the ankle and arch of the foot, but I didn't necessarily feel like they did this in a particularly effective way. But they did spark a lot of questions from admirers, both at the gym and at the yoga studio.
As someone who loves to go barefoot whenever possible, I found the wraps to be a little cumbersome during the yoga and aerobic dance classes I tested them out in. The wraps certainly provided traction when it came to floor choreography off the mat, but they moved around my feet during the more active parts of a mat workout.
While some yoga newbies swear by socks with grips, I worry that they won't learn about building up the foot strength that comes naturally with a well-designed yoga practice. When it came to dance class, I had a full range of motion and was able to move across the floor without any worry. But since the wraps didn't offer a great deal of cushion for the soles of my feet, they just felt a little unnecessary the whole time. My favorite part of the pack might just be the elegant studio flats; these simple, cozy ballet slippers held up on the streets during my city commute, and they were comfortable enough to run errands in after class.
I appreciate that the Nike Studio Wraps offer an open, breathable design; even with the extra coverage and support, your toes are exposed and easily able to connect with the mat. The socks aren't supportive enough for a class that calls for traditional sneakers or running shoes, but as for the "better-than-barefoot" and "flattering foot" experience they promise, the Nike Studio Wraps deliver.