When I teach, my most often used quote is: “If the resistance applied to the extremities is greater than the ability to maintain proper breathing and alignment, then the resistance is too heavy.” Yes, I said it! It’s not about strength. It’s about balanced and coordinated movement. In addition to lifting functional loads, one of the most overlooked aspects of strength is flexibility. If a rubber band is inflexible and can’t be fully stretched, it won’t have the force to generate power. Athletic Pilates is similar to other forms of strength training, but is devoid of excessive and compressive spine loading. The most notable difference is that the emphasis is on core control, breathing, and alignment—and on sharing the vertical and horizontal loads. Don’t get me wrong. I want you to gain muscle mass—if that’s your goal. But I want you to do it well. I also want you to develop balanced muscle mass while adhering to the basic principles Joseph Pilates set out to teach in the 1920s.
Weightlifting has been a part of my life since age 18 and has contributed to many injuries, including damage to my spine and shoulders. The dilemma with traditional weightlifting is that any time you load the spine while standing upright (vertical loading), you essentially compress the spine. When a heavy load is constantly held or placed above the hips, slowly, over time, this compresses the spine—and in my case, caused damage. Most all traditional gym exercises are vertically loaded and place excessive pressure on the entire body, including the spine. This pressure is compounded by improper body mechanics, poor posture, lack of flexibility, and simply lifting more than your body can handle. I often speak of functional training as regards daily life and the required loads placed on your body. Weightlifting is no longer functional when you lift more than required in your everyday activities. As I discovered, lifting for years, and loading more and more over the years, my spine finally said “Enough is enough!” After two shoulder injuries, three disc herniations, and chronic knee pain, I quit!
Years after learning the Pilates method and reversing much of the damage to my body, I began to discover new ways to exercise while using the Reformer and without vertical load to my spine. I also realized this balanced approach to building muscle restored my spine length and allowed me to rebuild lost muscle mass without compromising my spine integrity. This discovery led me to introduce this athletic Pilates approach in a group class format, my workshops, and my workbooks.