Pilates Method builds ‘focused strength’

The equipment is simple: a mat, a ball, a roll of Styrofoam, an exercise table. But when they’re used in the Pilates Studio at Second and Oak streets, their effects add up to far more than the sum of the parts.

The Pilates Studio, opened this summer by Christina Sproule, offers a full range of classes and private sessions in the Pilates Method (pronounced puh-LAH-teez).

“The biggest benefit of Pilates is core strength,” Sproule says. “The more strength you have in your core, the more flexibility and strength you have overall.”

Pilates is named after Joseph Pilates, a German born in 1880. A sickly child, Pilates became determined to overcome his ailments and spent years studying both Eastern and Western forms of exercise. He eventually developed his own philosophy of physical and mental conditioning that highlighted the connection between mind and body more than a half-century before it became a mainstream concept. He brought his technique to the U.S. in the 1920s, opening the first Pilates studio in New York City.

The Pilates Method focuses on strengthening the “powerhouse” — the abdomen, lower back and buttocks — through a series of precise exercises combined with focused breathing. In all Pilates exercises — which number in the hundreds, although a few dozen are used most — emphasis is put on body alignment and correct posture.

“The goal of Pilates is strength,” Sproule says, “but it’s more focused strength, not bulk.” Pilates has long been used by dancers both to build strength without adding unwanted muscle bulk and as a low-impact exercise program for injury recovery. More recently, it’s been “discovered” by physical therapists, orthopedists and others in the medical field as a beneficial rehabilitation method for many injuries.

At the Pilates Studio, Sproule offers hour-long “mat classes,” which are limited to five people so that she can spend time working with each individual. In a mat class, clients work through a series of exercises on the floor — some using only body movements to work the abdominal muscles, others using a Styrofoam roll or a rubber “fit ball” to add difficulty.

Sproule talks clients through the exercises, helping them concentrate on their breathing and on using their stomach and abdominal muscles to power their movements.

Sproule also teaches private “equipment” sessions, where clients use a patented apparatus equipped with movable springs that vary the resistance. As in mat work, exercises on the equipment focus on strengthening the body’s core.

Sproule’s clients range from what she calls “uber athletes” to people who haven’t exercised regularly in years and want to get back into it. She also works with several people who are recovering from injuries — mostly back problems.

“There are so many different ways you can go with Pilates,” Sproule says. “You can focus on different problems with different exercises.”

Contractor Tim Huberd recently began doing Pilates and is hooked on it.

“I’m one of those guys that has used my lower back for years for everything,” he says. He wants to build his stomach strength as a way of thwarting potential injuries. “So far it’s been great. You get to those muscles that are deep and start working them — you can really feel them.”

Sproule, who took months of intensive training in Portland to become certified to teach, says Pilates not only helps people gain strength where it can best be used, but it also makes practitioners more aware of their body and their posture.

Another benefit is that people can practice Pilates exercises on their own. Bob Thayer and Melissa Braito began doing Pilates three months ago after Thayer’s physical therapist recommended it as a way to continue rehabilitation from a back injury. The couple have a private session with Sproule once a week and do Pilates on their own at home.

“It’s the best form of exercise we’ve ever done,” Braito says.

Sproule agrees. “It even gets your brain going,” she says. “It’s good stuff.”

The Pilates Studio is located at 202 Oak Street, second floor. Stop by for a schedule of classes or call 541-490-0207.

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