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  • With dedicated practice one can expect a longer, leaner looking physique, increased energy and stamina and fewer aches and pains from the stresses of everyday life.

    Pilates has become a household word, often with creative spellings and pronunciations. No longer an exercise program reserved for the physically elite or financially flush, the Pilates Method is finding its way into people's homes, becoming a regular practice with lasting results. In the 1990s and into 2000 we have seen an incredible trend towards mind/body-based exercise. In the '80s we found our energy and power. In the '90s we learned how to harness it.

    Pilates is in no way a new approach to physical fitness. The Pilates Method of body conditioning was developed by German-born Joseph H. Pilates more than 70 years ago. Originally developed for the rehabilitation of bed-bound soldiers during WWI, the work was then adopted by the dance and performing community of New York, where Pilates immigrated to after the war. For many years Pilates training remained a well-kept secret in the world of dance and the performing arts.

    The Pilates Method is comprised of more than 500 exercises developed by Joseph Pilates. These exercises are performed on an exercise mat or by using special resistance equipment that emphasizes spring resistance. The central concept of Pilates training is strengthening the so-called "powerhouse" or core of the body-the deep abdominal muscles, buttock muscles and the muscles around the spine. A training program based on Pilates will stabilize the pelvis and shoulder girdle, stretching and strengthening the entire body with movement initiating from "the center."

    The Pilates Method is a mind/body approach to fitness and like yoga, requires concentration, focus, practice and patience. The results are well worth the commitment. As a beginner to Pilates, the learning curve can be slow moving and steep to begin with but no work is wasted. As one's mind/muscle connections are developed and the understanding of how the breath and muscle contractions work in a synergistic manner, one's body strength increases and movements that were once thought impossible become a graceful series of power-packed exercises.

    Joseph Pilates formulated six basic principles for his exercise technique:

    1. Breathing-The pattern of breathing is connected with the pattern of movement. The use of the breath in this manner plays an integral part of the work. As a beginner, the breath is often overlooked because there is so much to think about. The instructor will always bring the student back to the breath with the knowledge that breath is the key to mastering the work.
    2. Precision-The method emphasizes quality of movement over quantity. I have had clients comment time and again how the work actually becomes oddly more difficult as they get better at it. As their skill and precision increase, the truth behind "less is more" becomes evident.
    3. Centering-Centering refers to the practice of initiating and controlling movement from the center core or "powerhouse"-abs, buttocks and back muscles. This concept lies at the heart of Pilates' work.
    4. Flowing Movement-In combination the breath, the challenge of performing flowing movements while maintaining core stabilization, is where the beauty of the work really shines through as you get stronger from the center out, your movement through space becomes more graceful and filled with ease. This proves extremely beneficial whether you are a mother or an extreme athlete.
    5. Control-Control and focus are vital to this work. Momentum is kept in check at all times. Through control, we work to correct old patterns of movement that may be unhealthy or hinder you in some way. This is largely where the mind part of body/mind resides.
    6. Concentration-This is directly related to control and focus. It is through concentration that one masters the control and focus to truly benefit from the work. The mind and the bodywork together as team. Every exercise requires your full attention. Observe your body as it works; think about each stage of the movement.

    Once Joseph Pilates immigrated to the U.S. he developed the mat version of Pilates to accompany his equipment-based program. This mat variation developed into an important component of the Pilates method and is the most appropriate place to begin one's Pilates practice. The floor work introduces the body to the key movements and breath patterns that are always used for Pilates.

    These would include:

    • Neutral Pelvis-This is a position where the hipbones and pubic bone are in the same plane, which helps to correct many postural imbalances that exist today.
    • C-Curve and spinal articulation-These movements help to free up tight back muscles and poor posture patterns.
    • Back muscle engagement-By learning to contract the large back muscles, called the latissimus dorsi (otherwise known as the "lats"), and relax the shoulder muscles, you are able to counteract the common hunched or rounded shoulder posture that is so prevalent today.
    • Abdominal muscle engagement-Making this connection can be one of the hardest elements of this work. By creating the mind/muscle connection with the abs, you develop the ability to actively, and subconsciously, use your abs for better support, stabilization and power-meaning flatter tummies, less injuries and better functionality in all activities.
    • Breath-Without it we die and with it used to its full capacity, we grow-stronger, longer, leaner.

    There are 34 standard Pilates mat exercises created by Joseph Pilates. They are all important for various reasons, to challenge the body's musculature in different ways. As Pilates hits the mainstream and our knowledge about physiology increases, these exercises have been adapted to include different tools such as a Pilates circle, a resistance band and large fitness balls.

    What does this mean for the average Joe or Josephine on the street who wants to get stronger, increase flexibility and generally feel healthy and vital? Is Pilates something that can work for them too?

    Absolutely! More than ever Pilates is becoming increasingly accessible to the general public. At one time the only way you could get exposed to Pilates was through private one-on-one instruction. While this is ultimately still the best way to practice Pilates, there have emerged a number of affordable, less time-consuming options in the form of group mat classes such as those available through workout chains like Gold's Gym. Also semi-private sessions that range from two to four students with one instructor, using different kinds of Pilates equipment. In addition easy-to-follow videos are available that range from the most beginner to very advanced. The videos have largely helped the general fitness person make the transition into Pilates with ease and comfort, combining some of the elements of familiar fitness tools such as the fitness ball or resistance band with the key principles of Pilates.

    So what can you expect from making Pilates a regular part of your fitness regimen? A longer, leaner looking physique, increased energy and stamina and fewer aches and pains from the stresses of everyday life.

    The concepts behind Joseph Pilates' approach to physical and mental fitness can be employed for all ages, shapes and fitness levels. Once one learns these they can be incorporated into everyday activities such as walking down the street or standing at a bus stop. And for the elite athlete, the improvements to their performance are tremendously rewarding.

    Some frequently asked questions about The Pilates Method:

    1. How is Pilates different from other exercise programs?
      Each exercise engages the core abdominal muscles, and the method emphasizes the strengthening of the "powerhouse" region-abdomen, back, lower back, inner/outer thighs and buttocks. Strength is achieved through stabilization, with a focus on movement and functionality. Pilates concentrates on lengthening, strengthening and toning the body, without adding bulk to the muscles.
    2. Is Pilates done with machines only?
      No. Joseph Pilates designed the spring resistance machines in association with a matwork program, and one's complete workout includes exercises on a combination of the Reformer, Wunda Chair, High Chair, Ladder Barrel, Spine Corrector, Half Barrel, Cadillac and the mat. Now the work has expanded to include useful tools such as the fitness ball, resistance band and Pilates circle.
    3. Why are there so few repetitions of each exercise?
      Less IS more! Each Pilates exercise has only 3, 5 or 10 repetitions. The exercises were designed to work the body with precision and effectiveness, making additional repetitions unnecessary.
    4. Why is Pilates considered a mind/body-conditioning program?
      Pilates is a very intelligent form of body conditioning. One's mind is engaged throughout a specific program of exercises rather than wandering aimlessly during a workout of repetitive activity. When one focuses and concentrates on the body's movements, s/he is performing a complete mental and physical workout.
    5. How soon after beginning Pilates will I see results?
      Although individual results will vary, most people feel better in just a few sessions. With consistent practice you will gain increased strength in your "powerhouse" and be well on your way to achieving true mental and physical fitness.
    6. When I look at someone doing Pilates, it doesn't seem vigorous enough for me. Can Pilates give me a good workout?
      When most people first start Pilates, there's a lot of new information for the body to learn, so you probably won't get an aerobic workout at the beginning. Pilates can be aerobic at intermediate and advanced levels when the movement patterns become more familiar. Also, Pilates combines stretching and strengthening, using springs and your own body weight as resistance. That may appear easier than other forms of exercise, yet you actually work harder and more deeply through the muscles.
    7. I have had many injuries and physical problems during my lifetime. Can Pilates help me?
      Yes, definitely. The Pilates Method of body conditioning has a long history of helping people with old and existing injuries. Both physical therapists and chiropractors have collaborated with Pilates instructors to help heal soft tissue injuries and recover from various physical problems.
    8. How often do I want to do Pilates?
      Pilates is similar to other forms of exercise. You want to be sure you give your body enough time to recover when muscles are taxed. Twice a week when you are just starting is good, leaving at least two days between workouts. As you get stronger with consistent workouts, increase to three times a week with at least a day's rest. Remember to vary your exercises often, as the body adapts quickly.

  • While virtually everyone is aware of the benefits of aerobic exercise, there still seems to be a lot of confusion about the subject of weight training and its place in an overall wellness program. Maybe it’s some residual confusion left over from the “Pumping Iron” days when weight training was something done only by bodybuilders and the Muscle Beach crowd. Who knows. Whatever the reason, it’s time to put some of the myths about weight training to rest.

    We now know that weight training, far from being just a vanity pursuit, is a critical part of health and wellness and that it can benefit anyone, regardless of sex or age. Weight training may be one of the most effective strategies you can take to prevent osteoporosis, and that’s equally true if you’re a man or a woman. Weight training increases bone mineral density, it improves glucose metabolism, it’s one of the most effective things you can do to increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol), it raises your metabolism (making it easier to lose fat) and it improves your ability to function in the world independently as you get older. All that, and it makes you look good in the bargain!

    Dr. William Evans, director of the Nutrition, Exercise and Metabolism Laboratory at the Center of Aging at University of Arkansas Medical School has shown that the capacity to respond to strength training exercises is preserved into very late life. Dr. Evans studied nursing home residents over the age of 80 and found that with ten weeks of strength training exercises it was possible to triple and quadruple muscle strength and improve walking speed and balance. His subjects had a renewed ability to climb stairs, giving them much more mobility and independence, and they showed an increased interest in other activities. His oldest subject was 98! These studies led to community based training programs in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to initiate exercise programs for older people.

    With younger people, the goal of a strength training program is to create or preserve enough muscle to prevent the metabolism from slowing down, to strengthen the bones, and to give the body shape and tone. With an elderly population, one of the main goals is to develop sufficient muscular strength and endurance to allow for a more complete and independent life.

    There are psychological benefits from strength training as well as physical. Many people report having a wonderful sense of mastery when they begin to feel their physical strength improve. And a good weight workout can trigger feel-good neurochemicals called endorphins which can help boost mood and self-esteem and make you feel a lot more balanced.

    It’s not hard to start a strength training program. You don’t even need any equipment, although it’s nice to have. You can begin with a few homebased exercises like push-ups and squats, lunges and crunches. Detailed descriptions of how to perform these exercises are very easy to find in books like “Weight Training For Dummies” by Liz Neperonet, and on the Internet at sites like i-Village. You can also do some basic weight training exercises at home with a simple set of dumbbells. And if you do have access to a gym, so much the better, as there will be an endless variety of machines and equipment to choose from.

    Remember that weight training is not necessarily about building “big” muscles. And the idea that it will make women’s muscles huge and bulky is a complete myth. For one thing, muscle mass is highly dependent on levels of testosterone, and men have a good 20–30 times the amount that women do, making it much harder for women to build big muscles despite what we see on the covers of the bodybuilding magazines. Two to three reasonably challenging workouts a week will not make anyone’s muscles huge, regardless of gender. What it will do is produce noticeable and measurable health benefits, and in the bargain make you look a lot better as well.

    Beginners should start with light weights and higher repetitions (say anywhere from 12–20 per movement). Pick a few movements (exercises) to start with and limit your workout to these three or four. I suggest only one set per exercise movement in the beginning though after a few weeks of getting used to it, you can certainly increase to two sets of each exercise. Always warm up with something that gets your circulation going, like walking or light stretching or just moving around to your favorite music—after that, even a full body routine needn’t take more than a half hour. Most people will notice a nice little progression in strength and ability to do the exercises after as little as three or four weeks.

    There is sometimes a little bit of muscle soreness the day after a workout, especially in the very beginning. Not to worry. This is usually attributed to lactic acid, but is most likely due to a number of other muscular “waste products” as well. Be sure to drink plenty of water to flush all the metabolic byproducts out of the system, and make sure to give your body what it needs to tone, repair and rebuild in the form of real food and pure water.

    The soreness is usually temporary. The benefits of strength training to your health—and to your mood and your sense of well-being—are not.

  • Less than 25 percent of adults exercise on a regular basis, thus, children - and adults - are spending more time performing sedentary tasks, such as surfing the Internet, playing video games, and watching television. This lack of exercise increases insulin resistance, hormone dysfunction, and inevitable weight gain. So, what can we do to keep fit and how do we fit exercise into our busy schedules?

    Exercise Timing

    One of the questions I am asked most often is: “Should I work out in the morning or the evening?” To enhance fat burning, the best time to work out is in the morning. Once you do 10 minutes of this fun program and eat protein for breakfast, you will rev up your fat-burning furnace by 25 to 40 percent and it will last for 12 or more hours throughout the day. Also, often after a hard day at home or the office, we don’t feel like exercising and we don’t want to rev up our metabolism a few hours before we go to sleep.

    So, set your alarm 10 minutes earlier, have fun with this exercise regimen and you will be rewarded with a tighter, stronger body. Consistency is the key. Get out of bed, put on a T-shirt and shorts, get your water bottle and towel, and get started. Exercise, then hit the shower, and eat breakfast. Start Day 1 on Monday so that Day 6 and Day 7 will be Saturday and Sunday, which are usually the days we do more outdoor or family-oriented aerobic activities.

    Fitness Fun 10 minutes a Day

    Warm-up before you begin. Stretch your arms to the ceiling. Breathe deeply. Then reach towards the floor. Breathe deeply. Jog gently in place for 30 to 60 seconds. Drink water before you begin and remember to drink more water between the two sets of exercises. Dehydration can make you feel weak and dizzy.

    The goal is to work up to three sets of each exercise with successively heavier weights. Start with the lighter weight and increase the weight slowly. Depending on your level of fitness, you may increase weight and repetitions more quickly. Whatever your level of fitness, build on your previous day’s success; if on Day 1 you lifted a light weight only three times, try to lift four times on Day 2. Then move on to a heavier weight and so on until you finally reach the goal of three sets of repetitions using successively heavier weights. The fact that you are trying is success. And remember, no matter what your age or fitness level, you will be able to do these exercises, so just have fun.

    Day 1

    Shapely arms:

    Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms down the side of your body. With a light dumbbell in each hand, take a couple of deep breaths, exhale and curl both arms to a 90-degree angle. Make sure your elbows are at your sides and not bending outward. Hold for two seconds. Inhale as you lower the weight. If you are pushing your stomach out and bending backward, the weight is too heavy. Make sure you are standing straight and strong. Exhale and repeat the exercise 10 times. Do not pause between curls. Pick the medium weight and repeat 10 curls. Then choose the heaviest weight and repeat more 10 curls. If you find that you cannot complete the last set of 10 curls, then use the medium weight for both the second and third set of repetitions It is best to do the required 30 curls even if you have to use the smallest weight initially. This exercise also improves neck muscles and tightens sagging chins.

    Arms without wings:

    This is the exercise that makes the backs of your arms beautiful while also toning your abdominal muscles. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Hold the lightest dumbbell by your ears with your elbows pointing up to the ceiling. Exhale as you raise the weight from your ears toward the ceiling. Your arms should be straight up now. Hold for two seconds and inhale as you lower the weight. Repeat 10 times. Do not pause between curls. Next, choose the medium weight and repeat 10 curls. Then use the heaviest weight and repeat 10 curls. To really get the benefit of this exercise, hold your abdominal muscles tight and push your lower back toward the floor after you inhale. Focus on your breathing. If you can’t complete all three sets with successively heavier weights, just use the lowest weight at the beginning and within a couple of weeks you will be able to progress to the heavier weight.

    Day 2

    Sexy calves:

    Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the lightest dumbbells in each hand with your arms at your side. Keep your shoulders back but relaxed, not pulled up toward your ears. Exhale as you raise your heels. You should now be up on the bottom of the front of your feet, but not so high that you end up on your tiptoes. Hold for two seconds. Inhale as you slowly lower your heels. Repeat for 10 lifts. Next, pick your medium weight and repeat. Then use the heaviest weight and repeat for 10 more lifts. Beautiful calves are the end result of this exercise. Once this exercise becomes effortless, instead of moving to heavier weights, add ankle weights while holding the dumbbells for increased results.

    Tight thighs and cellulite reducer:

    This is my favourite exercise as it gives the fastest results. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders, with your arms at your sides. Keep your back straight. Exhale as you squat down to about 90 degrees with your butt out, as if you were going to sit down. Your knees should be in line with your toes. Hold for one or two seconds. Inhale as you straighten up. This is called a squat. Do 10 squats, then rest for a count of 10. Do 10 more squats. Soon you will be able to do an additional 10 squats for a full 30 squats. This exercise sculpts great legs, and helps tighten the skin on your upper thighs and butt to reduce cellulite. Once you get very good at this exercise, add wrist weights.

    Day 3

    Chest and breast press:

    Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Hold your lightest dumbbell in each hand with your arms out from your body like a cross. Bend your arms at the elbows toward the ceiling. Exhale as you push the weight up toward the ceiling. Hold for a count of two and inhale as you bring the weight back to the starting position. Repeat for 10 presses. Then change to your medium weight and repeat for 10 presses. Finally, choose your heavier weight and repeat. This exercise makes for strong arms and builds chest muscles. It also tightens sagging breasts in women.

    Tight abdomen:

    We all want tight abdominals. You may be able to do only a few of these exercises at the beginning. Start slowly and add a few more repetitions every time you do this exercise, but try to do as many as you can, up to 10 in each set.

    Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest. Exhale as you curl up toward your knees. If you can raise yourself only a few inches off the floor, don’t worry - it will get easier. Make sure your lower back is not arched upward. Repeat as many as you can. Remember, the more you do this exercise, the tighter your abdominals will become and the inches will fall off soon. You can do it.

    Day 4

    Butt lift:

    Kneel on a rug or mat on all fours. You should have your hands and feet positioned so that you feel steady. While keeping your head up (do not look at the floor), exhale and raise your right leg until your thigh is even with your back and push toward the ceiling. Hold for one second and inhale as you return your knee to the original position. Do 10 repetitions for the right leg, and then repeat for the left leg. This exercise gives you the greatest butt lift. As you get better at this exercise, increase the number of repetitions to 15, and then 20 per leg.

    Even better butt lift:

    Pick a sturdy chair and lie on the floor on your back with the chair at your feet. Place your palms flat on the floor with your arms at your sides. Lift your legs and put your heels firmly on the chair. Exhale as you contract the backs of your thighs and lift your butt toward the ceiling. Hold for two seconds. Inhale as you slowly lower your body back to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions. Stop, rest for 10 seconds, do 10 more repetitions, and then the last 10 repetitions. Once you feel strong doing 10 repetitions, add another five, and so on.

    Day 5

    Shoulder lift:

    Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your back straight, and your arms at your sides. Grip a light dumbbell in each hand then raise your arms out from your sides with your palms facing upward, until your arms are level with your shoulders. When you raise your arms to shoulder height, turn your palms down and hold for one second. Inhale as you lower the weight. Repeat 10 times. With the medium weight, repeat 10 times. Finally, do 10 more with your heavy weight. If you push out your stomach or arch your back, you are using too heavy a weight. Either use a lighter weight or reduce the number of repetitions.

    No more back fat:

    Sit in an armless chair. Pick up a dumbbell in each hand. Lean forward with your arms at the side of the chair and exhale as you point your elbows toward the ceiling. Stop when your hands are at the height of your thighs. Hold for two seconds and inhale as you lower your arms. Do this 10 times. Next, repeat 10 times with a medium weight. Finally, repeat with the heavier weight. This exercise gets rid of the flab that women accumulate on their back around their bra strap and strengthens back muscles.

    Day 6 and Day 7

    Move your body:

    Go for a walk in the park, bicycle with your kids, swim, golf, play tennis, garden, or go dancing. Do anything that requires you to move your body. Add some exercise variety today and tomorrow. You have done fabulously and should be proud of yourself. Even after five days most people feel stronger and want to exercise. It is so easy to fit 10 minutes of exercise into your day. If you miss a day because you slept through your alarm, just remember to do your exercises the next day. Repeat these exercises as recommended and in a few weeks your body will reward you with tight muscles and a slimmer, sexier you.