The Importance of Off-Season Training

We’ve got to admit it, our outdoor sports options are (arguably) a little limited during a Cumbrian winter!

If you’re an enthusiastic cyclist happy to struggle in the rain, a water baby content to swim in all weathers or a runner that adores racing into the wind, then congratulations on being ultra committed! Hiking into the misty fells has a certain romantic ring to it but the soggy boots and blisters really don’t, so what’s a person to do when it rolls around to autumn/winter? You want to maintain fitness but you also want to remain dry!

I have one word for you: Pilates.

Now, Pilates is something you think you know a lot about but I’m willing to bet you’re a tiny bit wrong. For starters, it can be hard work! But the rewards are bountiful because Pilates helps maintain a level of fitness that will successfully act as a springboard to more intensive workouts (like your cycling, swimming, running, and hiking). A good stretch feels wonderful, right? First thing in the morning, it gets your body warmed up and limber for the day ahead. Well, Pilates is stretching 2.0. It’s the foundation to fitness!

So, what ‘is’ Pilates and who invented it?

What is Pilates?

In simple terms it’s a full body strengthening system that places emphasis on breathing and core strength to improve overall mobility and coordination. Sounds good, right? It really is! I highly recommend incorporating stretching into your daily routine and you can’t go wrong with a bout of Pilates to make body and mind feel great.

History

The man to thank is Mr. Joseph Pilates, a German personal trainer who created the movement around one hundred years ago as a ‘whole body’ health system. Why? As a frail child, he was determined to strengthen his weakened body and worked towards that by studying yoga, martial arts and meditation. Ultimately, his goal was to achieve total mind, body and spirit co-ordination. Initially, the programme was popular among dancers who successfully used it as a recovery tool but has since become a worldwide phenomenon adopted by people of all ages and abilities wishing to improve their strength and mobility.

It’s all about balance, and who doesn’t want that?

The Core

Despite Joseph having never directly referred to it, the ‘core’ is a fundamental component of modern Pilates.

The question is, what is the core?

In very simple terms your core is the set of muscles that wrap themselves around the stomach and pull it in. Just think of your centre of gravity (diaphragm), and that’s your core. Your diaphragm influences the amount of control you have over your body, it’s what aids movement and it supports your whole body. It’s pretty important to overall health and well-being!

If you can master the basics of Pilates your core (and your whole body) will thank you for it. Remember, Pilates supports body and mind so it’s pretty much the perfect holistic fitness system!

You need to consider three things in your Pilates session:

● Posture - a stronger core dramatically improves posture which in turn can reduce joint and muscle pain.

● Breathing - there’s no doubt that breathing ‘correctly’ is crucial to Pilates. Each Pilates movement has a breathing technique to accompany it. This partnership of movement and breath aids coordination and boosts energy levels. No doubt you’ve heard about the positive benefits of breathing from the diaphragm (breathing deeply as opposed to taking shallow breaths). Well, this practice is central to a successful Pilates session.

● Control - breathing from the diaphragm and maintaining good posture while practicing Pilates will give you a measure of control. Basically, it’s all about good form and taking your time to master the movements! Over time you will discover what works for you and your body.

Despite all of our talk about the core, Pilates really does a wonderful job of strengthening the whole body. By practising dynamic stretching (stretching whilst in movement) your muscles will lengthen and strengthen resulting in a real sense of physical freedom! Because the movements are low-impact you’ll find that your muscles and joints begin to work in harmony with each other and in the longer term you’ll enjoy less pain and stiffness.

Convinced? Do your own research, seek out local practitioners and start your journey to better health. Stay dry, folks!

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