Life: Staying Strong over 50 with Proper Pilates

The challenge of staying fit over 50

There’s a man living near me who I see running every day. He must be in his seventies, yet every day, whatever the weather, he pounds the pavements. I’m in awe. I run (sporadically); I’ve run two half marathons since taking up running at 47, so I know I can do it, but that level of fitness, at that age? I’d be scared for my knees!

I think hormones probably play a large part in my diminishing confidence in my joints. Hell, I only have to turn over in bed wrong for my shoulder to shout at me for the next three days, and that’s a recent development. I’ve just this week started on ‘the patch’ to see if correcting the pesky oestrogen levels has any impact on the muscle aches that threaten my energy levels, and see me craving a good book over a great night out.

But what I’ve noticed in the last year or so is that I have less strength. Rather than being particularly concerned about my weight, or my shape, I’ve felt an overwhelming need to build core strength, and improve my muscle tone, to help support my joints. Where once I was motivated to exercise for aesthetics, now my goal is more about long term health, and shoring up my fitness levels for a more productive day-to-day. How to accomplish this though – without risking my knees, and my neck in a gym – was beyond me, until The Pilates Pod asked if I’d like a complimentary visit to try out their new apparatus in their classical Pilates studio.

*The law requires me to declare third party partnerships at the top of any articles written in collaboration with a brand. However, I did not receive payment for this post, and all opinion, words, and imagery are my own.

The Pilates Pod, in Hitchin, has been helping people develop core strength and good posture for seven years, but owner Michelle has recently upgraded the studio to focus on the classical apparatus developed from Joseph Pilates’ original equipment. I’ve done mat-based Pilates before, but always given up, because the strain on my neck made my pain worse. Michelle (and my previous instructors) told me that was down to having weak core muscles – but how to improve those without the abs mat work that aggravates my neck?

The answer, according to Michelle, is the equipment. Pilates mat work was only ever intended as practice and upkeep to be done at home, she told me; the best workout for your core muscles is in the training afforded by the Pilates apparatus, most notably, the Reformer. I joked that the room looked more like a torture chamber than an exercise studio, and I certainly would have had no idea where to begin, were I venturing in there on my own. Michelle had offered me a private 1-2-1 session so she could show me how the equipment worked, figure out where my specific needs and weaknesses were, and suggest adaptations to support my own particular learning curve.

She quickly came to the same conclusion as me – that my neck wasn’t going to cope with the basic position on the Reformer. But where I might have just given up, she came to my rescue with a couple of additions to the machine that supported my upper back, whilst still allowing me to fully engage the core muscles that needed work. And boy did I engage them?! I squeezed my abs and pulled up my pelvic floor as much as I thought I could – and then discovered that that wasn’t enough for Michelle. I tried again, and as miniscule as the movement felt, it did the trick, and I got the praise.

We worked our way through all the equipment, using not much more than abs, the muscles in the centre sides of my back, and my inner thighs, to more my whole body, and I did things that didn’t seem possible from the instruction. By the time we’d finished, I could feel muscles that I’d never visualised before, and it made me much more aware of what was holding me for for the rest of the day. In fact, I think this is half the point of Pilates. It’s not just about exercise, and improving muscle strength; the goal is to allow you to be aware of all your core muscles, and how they support your movement and your posture, to the point where being mindful of your body eventually becomes an innate restructuring of it.

Look at that glow!

Without running on a treadmill, sweating it out on a cross-trainer, or going anywhere near a grapevine (was that just the eighties..?), I had done as much cardio as I had strength training. It was a seriously hard, but immensely satisfying full-body workout. It’s not cheap – a 1-2-1 session is £55, and I’d say I would need at least 3 of those before I could get my head round the machines. However, when you factor in the workout you’re getting, with the education about the studio and your own body, I’d say it’s worth it, if you’re looking at taking up classical Pilates over the long term. There are reduced prices for buying a package, and I’d definitely consider that, after which you can join a class that allows instructor input, but assumes you know what you’re doing with the basics. You can get a pack of 4 classes for £60, to use across a month.

In summary, I haven’t found an exercise that improves my strength without putting my joints at risk as much as this one. Ultimately, I’m told I should be able to do mat-based Pilates at some point in the future, when my core is strong enough to take the strain away from my neck, but I for now, I think apparatus-based classical Pilates is going to bring me the biggest benefit, in the shortest time. I’d be interested to know what my readers think, if you’ve tried similar sessions for longer, and seen a good result?

Disclosure: I was invited to try a 1-2-1 session at The Pilates Pod free of charge in exchange for honest review. The above is my own honest opinion, and my own images, which are subject to copyright. For more information, and to book a session, visit The Pilates Pod.

 

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