Pilates is a discipline that has a strong foundation in core strength and pelvic floor conditioning. This blog is an interview of Catherine Byron, Pilates trainer and owner of CB Performance Pilates (www.CBPerformancePilates.com). This material is excerpted from my forthcoming book: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health.
Dr. Siegel: What is Pilates?
Catherine Byron: Pilates is a system of exercises designed to strengthen the core. Pilates pays particular attention to spinal alignment and muscle balance. There are many ways to strengthen the core, but what makes Pilates exercises unique are the movement patterns through the spine, specifically articulating one vertebra at a time. As a result, the exercises are not only done with fine control and detail but also serve to strengthen the body evenly: they work both the front and back sides of the spine and, most importantly, include the pelvic floor. A regular gym approach to the core often targets the superficial (outer) muscles of the core while Pilates will target the spinal stabilizers (deepest layer), which attach to the vertebrae of the spine. In Pilates, a great deal of emphasis is placed on a person’s alignment, posture, and movement patterns.
Dr. Siegel: In your opinion, what constitutes the core?
Catherine Byron: The core is the trunk of the body—cut off the arms, legs, and head and what you have left is the core. The “foundation” or “primary core” is the area around the hips—the lumbar pelvic region.
Dr. Siegel: What does Pilates have to do with the male pelvic floor?
Catherine Byron: Pilates activates the pelvic floor muscles and the surrounding muscles that provide additional support for male pelvic function. In order to maximally benefit this area, the muscles have to be treated as a “team.” Similar to developing a sports team, you would never concentrate on only one player. Instead, you would focus on building the entire team. In much the same way with the human body, you never isolate and train individual muscles. If you can think of the complexity of the pelvic floor as a hammock that comes together to lift, you are going to engage that hammock and build up the endurance of the pelvic floor muscles. With Pilates, this area of the body is a specific target and, of course, because the nether parts are so intimately connected, this area is improved as well.
Dr. Siegel: Are Pilates exercises meaningful for male pelvic health?
Catherine Byron: As a certified trainer, fitness advocate, and owner of a Pilates studio, I can attest that no other core strengthening system compares with the conditioning program established by Joseph Pilates. For the very specific needs of the musculo-skeletal system of the male pelvis, these exercises are not merely a direct hit or even a home run, but a grand slam!
Dr. Siegel: Is Pilates good for sex?
Catherine Byron: I don’t think there is any other form of exercise that so directly targets the muscles used in sex. Pilates strengthens the exact muscles that are discussed in this book. During sex, there is a lot of pelvic movement. Moving the hips back and forth repeatedly requires more stamina than strength. Pilates-style exercises develop those muscles that function to stabilize and hold, the ones that provide endurance. Sex demands staying power of the backside of the pelvis, that is, the lower back region. In many exercise routines, there is way too much emphasis on the abdominals, developing the front side of the pelvis—the muscles that assist in the “pushing forward” phase. But the truth is, the more vital requirement is for the endurance of the lower back muscles that assist in the “pulling back” phase. It is the pulling back—the winding up so to speak—that is key to enable pushing forward. Also, muscle balance is an important prerequisite to proper movement and function. Balanced training of the entire pelvic region—the front, back, outside and inside—are essential for improved sexual performance. The 10-step program laid out at the end of this chapter will largely target these muscle groups.
Dr. Siegel: What are the key principles of Pilates?
Catherine Byron: Pilates principles are based on spinal alignment, muscle balance and core strength. Pilates emphasizes spinal alignment—properly positioning one’s hips, ribs, shoulders and head in their anatomically neutral positions. Pilates is a mind-body exercise—all movements are executed with control and strongly linked to breath. Pilates will develop a balanced body, meaning all muscle groups, on all sides of the body, are evenly developed. Core strength is stressed and the deep stabilizers of the spine are focused upon. Practicing these exercises will improve balance, stability, strength, and enhance flexibility through detailed articulation of all movements.
Dr. Siegel: As a Pilates instructor, what is your take on the human body?
Catherine Byron: As a fitness professional, I have 25 years of experience in observing the musculo-skeletal system of the human body in both its static (still) and functional (motion) states. I have always marveled at the human body and its well-conceived design. Nothing is happenstance as every bone, muscle, organ and system is perfectly engineered to harmonize with its counterparts. When this harmonious balance is disrupted, the body “speaks” by producing symptoms. It is through the understanding of these “symptoms” that we gain insight into not only our bodies but also ourselves.
Dr. Siegel: What symptoms occur when there is lack of balance or harmony?
Catherine Byron: Usually a stress point occurs, causing inflammatory conditions. Pain is a “shout out” by the body for attention. Many of the disorders described in this book can easily arise when the pelvic floor muscles and surrounding core area are not holding or functioning properly. When there is a lack of balance to the system or any kind of disruption occurs, “dis-ease” occurs.
Dr. Siegel: So how do we strive to achieve this balance?
Catherine Byron: Finding balance in our lives can be just as great a challenge as creating it in our bodies. The art of doing so comes with great discernment and requires the courage to be honest with ourselves as we determine what areas are in our power to change and what areas are not. It’s that age-old adage: we must accept what we cannot change and change what we can. You have clearly delineated the importance of recognizing what it is that we cannot change about our anatomy. Learning to accept what nature has given us is the first step towards the achievement of harmony with respect to our bodies and ourselves. The second step is identifying what changes can be made in order to improve one’s pelvic fitness as well as overall health and lifestyle.
Dr. Siegel: What can we change and what can’t we change?
Catherine Byron: You cannot change genetics. Your size, strength and even your flexibility to some degree are all dictated by hereditary factors. However, the specifics of your anatomy and how to properly use it can be taught and developed. By working with a professional trainer you can learn to retrain movement and function. My goal is to address those areas that can be changed through a 10-step Pilates-based program. The exercises are specially designed to empower you by improving pelvic health, strength and stability
Dr. Siegel: Before getting into the specifics of Pilates exercises, can you say a few words on general health and wellness?
Catherine Byron: Attitude and personal philosophy have a profound influence on our health. Before discussing the Pilates exercise program, there must first be a consideration of two major areas, lifestyle and mind-body connection. As a foundation for improving one’s health, it is imperative to be aware of our lifestyle habits. These include diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, attitude, etc. As you have acknowledged, it is important that diet and lifestyle be recognized as key players. When a physical disorder is traced back to its root cause, much of the time lifestyle and diet are implicated. In the quest towards health and fitness, introspection about one’s diet and lifestyle is a monumental step in the process of change and progress. If you want to improve, you must first be aware. Self-awareness is a fundamental prerequisite to self-improvement. Developing and refining the mind-body connection can be transformational and is capable of boosting an amateur athlete towards far greater levels if he has the right attitude and is willing to put in the time and effort.
To be continued next week.
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Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; in press and available in e-book and paperback formats in late April 2014.
Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com
Available on Amazon in Kindle edition
Author of Finding Your Own Fountain of Youth: The Essential Guide For Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness & Longevity (free electronic download) www.findyourfountainofyouth.com
For more info on Dr. Siegel: http://about.me/asiegel913
Tags: alignment, Andrew Siegel MD, balance, Catherine Byron, core strength, lifestyle, male pelvic fitness, male pelvic health, mind-body connection, movement, muscle balance, pelvic floor conditioning, Pilates, posture, spinal alignment