Pilates has a reputation for strengthening core muscles, promoting efficient posture, and enhancing strength with minimal increases in the size of the muscle (some people refer to this as muscle tone). Additionally, Pilates is a popular method for restoring strength to areas of the body that have been affected by an injury. How does Pilates work? What are the characteristics of Pilates exercises that stimulate the desired affects? Is it the springs or the mats? Is it the cueing? To answer these questions and to develop enhancements to this beneficial technique, I invite you to join me in an exploration of the physics and neuroscience of Pilates.
This course is open to all exercise professionals, even those who do not have a background in Pilates. While Pilates is the vehicle for our exploration of how the nervous and muscular systems orchestrate and adapt to force, the principles and strategies can be applied to a range of exercise modalities. In addition, we will study how types of cueing (descriptive, demonstrative, touch/hands-on) and stimulation (touch, transcranial direct current stimulation) influence neuromuscular function and adaptation.
In this two day course we will use leading edge technology1to observe how the nervous system responds to Pilates exercises. Then we’ll dig into the changes that occur in the muscles in response to the nervous system. With this insight, participants will collaborate in class to refine cueing, posture, and movement patterns of various Pilates exercises. New exercises and strategies will be explored, as well.
Here’s what we will cover.
Muscular participation during specific Pilates exercises – Surface electromyography will be used to observe the activity of the neuromuscular system while performing exercises. This technology allows us to see which muscles have been recruited and when. Where you feel the burn is not always the full picture. We can see how changes in body position or cueing influence muscle participation.
The motor unit, its function and behavior – “A motor unit is the smallest functional subdivision of a muscle”2. As such, the motor unit is the basis for understanding several aspects of muscle function and adaptation.
• The neurological control of muscle tension
• What happens neurologically as muscles fatigue
• How motor units and the nervous system adapt to consistent exercise
• Post-Activation Potentiation3
• Motor unit activity related to increases in strength, hypertrophy, endurance, and skill.
Rethinking the tempo of exercises – The concentric, eccentric, and isometric phases of an exercise impose different demands on the nervous system and on the energy used by the muscle. We’ll review this information so that we can rethink the tempo, range of motion, and resistance profile of an exercise to decrease the likelihood of DOMS, while increasing the strength and the amount of energy used by a muscle. Strategies to best match the needs, abilities, and goals of each client will be demonstrated.
A practical, anatomically-based exploration of the mechanics and control of breathing – We look at the control and mechanics of breathing and the influence that it has on the position, motion, and stability4 of the spine.
Passive stretching – Passive stretching has been roundly ridiculed and labeled as a useless, if not dangerous, force application. But is it, really? We will explore the structure of the Contractile Connective Tissue Continuum (CCTC)5and observe that this tissue is not uniform in its composition or function throughout the body. For example:
• The CCTC composition of the Achilles tendon and the gastrocnemius are structurally and functionally different that the CCTC of the patellar tendon and the vastus intermedius. As a result, the force applications (like passive stretching) applied to one joint may be inappropriate for another.
• The mechanics of how nerves and the spinal cord lengthen are different than for muscle. Understanding these differences will help us reconsider the causes of restricted motion and our strategies to improve it.
Variability in the architecture of the muscle, connective tissue, and the number and types sensory receptors in joints of the body. – Understanding the structural and therefore functional differences between the CCTC that surround different joints (hip vs ankle, for example) can also lead to a refinement of the design, volume, and intensity of an exercise. Therefore, exercise design, volume, and intensity can be specific to the body part, as well as to the individual.
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De Luca, C. J. (2008). A Practicum on the Use of sEMG Signals in Movement Sciences. Delsys Inc.↩
ability to withstand forces trying to flex, extend, or rotate the spine↩
The confluence of tissues that generate and transmit force from the inside of a myofiber out to (and including) a bone or aponeurosis↩