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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Contrology: What is that?

Contrology? It sounds like a cultish secret science that your boss might practice or a cosmic theory of the meaning of life, but it's actually a form of exercise that you've probably practiced at some point... 

Contrology is the term that Joseph H. Pilates called his work throughout its inception. Apparently he could've used some help in the advertising arena because although he used the term in his two books, Your Health (1934) and Return to Life Through Contrology (1945), the name never stuck and his techniques are now generally referred to as plain old Pilates.

Pilates, oops...I mean Contrology, is structured around six body elements: concentration, control, physical centering, flowing movement, precision and breathing.  These elements are used to improve strength & stability with exercises that focus on your core muscles.  Benefits of concentrating on the "powerhouse" (as the core is often referred to in Pilates), include but are not limited to: improvements in posture, better balance & coordination, strong abdominal & back muscles, strong pelvic & shoulder stabilizers, evenly developed muscles, reduced back pain, decreased risk of injury, heightened mind-body connection, and overall improved athletic performance.

I find Mr. Pilates interesting because he developed his technique out of his own physical disability.  Sick as a child, he studied all kinds of sports & health training to improve his physique.  He was imprisoned in an internment camp during WWI and used his time training the other internees and hospital patients in rehabilitation. Have you ever wondered why his exercise machines-the Reformer, the Trapeze table, and the Wunda chair-look like torture devices? It was during this time that he developed them, using springs attached to cots etc., to create the appropriate positions and resistance level for his clients.  

Many Pilates exercises very closely resemble yoga exercises.  Joseph H. Pilates didn't write about yoga as an influence for his work and never focused on the spiritual aspect of the body-mind connection.  It is interesting to note however, that his whole "powerhouse" idea directly relates to many Eastern energy practices where life force is described as prana, chi, or ki.

I incorporate Pilates style exercises into my clients' sessions, and encourage it as a supplement to your other fitness routines.

Here's a Pilates exercise to try:

  • Lie prone (on your belly) on a mat.  Lengthen your legs into the mat and draw your navel up to your spine.  Extend your arms above your head without lifting up the shoulders.
  • Exhale and lift your arms and legs to hover over the mat.  Keep the back of your neck lengthened and your pelvis neutral.
  • Swim by alternating opposite arm and leg.  Continue breathing in for 5 beats and out for 5 beats. 
  • Lower arms and legs back to mat.

*Information adapted from Pilates Mat Training by Shirley Archer

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Lazy Sunday Workout...

Today is the first day my blog is up and running, and ironically, I'm stuck in my apartment.  These unpredictable New York summer thunderstorms really make it challenging to plan an outdoor workout!  It's officially a lazy's raining, I have a long to-do list, and the chances of exercising are more than bleak.  I decide to tackle some of the to-do's and worry about the exercise later.  On a trip out to do laundry I notice the sun trying to peek through the grey sky. I'm still feeling sluggish and more inclined to watch a movie, but I know this will be my one chance to work out today.  For extra motivation I ask my sister if she wants to take a walk in the park with me.  We bring weights and resistance bands and find a flat grassy area to settle.  I create a low impact routine for us and just as we finish stretching, BOOM!, more thunder approaches. Ha! We beat the next storm and got our outdoor workout in too. 

Here's The Lazy Sunday Workout...

Warm up with Walking & Yoga Sun Salutation

5-10lb weights, repeat 2 times:
  • Squat to Overhead Press, 15 times
  • Alternating Lunge with Lateral Arm Raise, 12 times
  • Heel lift with Bicep Curl, 15 times
  • Supine Chest Fly, 15 times
  • Tricep Skull Crushers, 15 times
  • Single Arm Rows from All 4's position, 15 times
Core Strengthening 
  • Basic Crunches, 20 times
  • Bicycle Crunches, 20 times
  • Forearm Plank, hold 60 seconds
  • High Plank, hold 30 seconds
Cool Down with Stretching & Walking

So....if your exercise plans go astray don't stress, just be creative and spontaneous and you'll be able to fit it in. And grab a buddy, it's so much more fun and inspirational to workout with a friend!