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Pilates COREterly

Fall 2010

Pilates and …

Cardiovascular Exercise and Equipment: Does it Fit in a Pilates Lifestyle?

Carrie Cohn, MBA, PMA-CPT

“Pilates is great, so why do I need to do cardio,” a client may ask. As Pilates instructors, we must encourage our clients to adopt a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle, one that includes regular cardio-vascular exercise. Whether it is a programming option within a Pilates class (many studios offer combination cardio and Pilates circuit training) or as a separate activity, it is a part of our job to urge them to adopt cardio exercise as a part of healthy way of life.

Over the past 4 decades, numerous studies and scientific reports have reached the same conclusion: People need to be doing some form of regular cardiovascular exercise. Time and time again, the benefits of cardio have been well documented, among them, regular cardiovascular exercise can :

  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Reduce body weight
  • Reduce “bad” cholesterol (LDL and total)
  • Increase “good” cholesterol (HDL)
  • Favorably affect the body’s ability to use insulin thereby reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • For heart attack patients regular cardio can reduce death rate 20 – 25%

With all exercise, moderation and variation are key. If you are working with a client who relies on a treadmill or elliptical for cardio, make sure you watch for indications of a developing injury. These injuries can develop for several reasons. Treadmills and elliptical machines manufacture movement that can be unnatural to the joints, especially knees, hips and spine. Add this to repetitive nature and the tendency to “zone out” mentally while using these machines and the result can be disastrous.

Knee injuries are usually caused by repetitive motion to which the knee cannot adapt. When running or walking on a treadmill, exercises can easily slip into a steady, monotonous rhythm. This does not happen when running outside, as stride and foot placement will vary according to ground conditions and obstacles in your path. As the belt moves under the feet during treadmill running or walking, it eliminates the natural action to push forward with the feet. Running on the same spot in a continual motion causes the exerciser to put her energy into pushing up rather than forward, which causes a larger impact on the knees with each foot fall .

(continued above)

The elliptical trainer simulates walking or running without causing pressure to the joints. Many people prefer elliptical over treadmills because they are lower-impact. But even so, they can spell disaster for individuals prone to back and spine issues. Janice Moreside, a University of Waterloo PhD candidate and physiotherapist with more than 30 years experience, works with Waterloo professor Stuart McGill whose specialty is spine research, specifically the lumbar spine or low back. They conducted a study on the impact of elliptical trainers on the lumbar spine, which concluded that while individuals don't necessarily move to and fro more while on the elliptical, they do adopt a more flexed posture. “They bend forward and kind of stay there and oscillate around a more flexed posture on the elliptical trainer than compared to walking, no matter what their hand position or stride length or speed was,” Moreside said. They also twist more on the elliptical trainer than in walking, no matter how much the other variables changed, she said. And for most conditions, they actually bent side to side less than in normal walking. “So what the elliptical does is it stops you bending side to side, but you end up twisting more and you end up being flexed forwards more,” she said, “all of these findings can adversely affect the lumbar spine or low back.”

As Pilates instructors, we have to be aware of our clients’ movement patterns caused by repetitive motions when doing cardio, but we must also encourage them to continue working out, for the positives associated with regular cardiovascular exercise far outweigh the negatives.

1) Exercise and Cardiovascular Heath, Jonathan Myers, PhD, American Heart Association Journal, 2003
2) “Podiatry Today”: Understanding Common Knee Injuries and Lower Extremity Implications in Runners; Connors, J. F. and Sanz, A. J