If you know how to harness your energy from your core, you will never get hurt. But if all you feel is back pain after an intense all-core workout, perhaps you’re not working out your entire core.
“It’s like a screw. If you turn it the wrong way or use it incorrectly, you get a loose thread. Use it properly, and it will firmly hold up everything in place,” said fitness expert Vivian Zapanta.
Zapanta, Stott Pilates instructor/trainer and co-owner of the Vivian Zapanta Pilates Studio, learned about the core the hard way.
The 1988 Miss Bodybuilding Philippines recalled getting peeved—and embarrassed—during her first Stott Pilates class when she couldn’t do the exercises.
Stott Pilates is a modified approach to the method pioneered by Joseph Pilates.
Its cofounders, Lindsay G. Merrithew and prima ballerina Moira Stott-Merrithew, with physical therapists, fitness and sports med professionals, spent two decades refining its exercise method and equipment. (The equipment is called Reformer. It uses spring resistance to closely resemble muscular contraction.)
By incorporating modern principles of science and spinal rehabilitation, they have created one of the safest and most effective modes of exercise. It is a mind-body, scientific, intelligent exercise approach emphasizing deep breathing and long movements.
While some Pilates methods promote a flat back or a straight spine, such as that of Joseph Pilates, Stott brings the body to neutral position, restoring the natural curves of the spine and rebalancing the muscles around the joints, with emphasis on scapular stabilization.
“With all my training, I thought I was strong. I didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time,” Zapanta said, laughing.
“That meant superficial muscles have been trained, but the inner core was neglected. Now you understand why bodybuilders have back pain. They do not know how to recruit the inner core muscles, those closest to the bones and spine.”
She earned her Stott Pilates instructor/trainer certificate in 2002, becoming Asia’s first, and has since trained hundreds of trainers in the region, from Thailand to Hong Kong and Japan.
Her studio is the first, and to date the only licensed training center in the country.
The inner core muscles, she said, is the transversus abdominis (TVA), the deepest muscle in the stomach, whose fibers run horizontally around the abdomen like a belt. Many people, including fitness buffs, do not know how to engage this significant part of the core.
Every time a limb moves, the TVA is recruited. It stabilizes the pelvis before movement. It is practically the foundation upon which your body movement depends.
A strong TVA can shield your body from movement-related injuries. Force is swiftly transferred through the muscles, so you have less aches and pains.
Ironically, the transversus abdominis can be recruited only by not moving, Zapanta said. Only through a long and controlled exhalation, exhaling at an effort of no more than 25 percent, can the TVA be recruited.
A 25-percent exhalation effort is similar to blowing candles on a birthday cake.
Breath is everything
“Recruit it through the breath. The breath is everything. If you can control your breath you can save yourself from a lot of pain. You need to understand the physiology and functional anatomy of your body in order to recruit those muscles,” Zapanta said.
Breathing is the first principle of Stott Pilates. She said contraction of the deep pelvic floor muscles aids in firing the TVA. Other principles are pelvic placement, ribcage placement, scapular movement, and head and cervical spine placement.
All these, students learn as they go along.
“Stott Pilates can change your body in nine sessions. You are molding your body to the posture that you’re not even aware of, like one that is shaped by continuously carrying heavy bags or backpacks. Stott Pilates corrects this. We can mold your body into the correct posture,” Zapanta said.
If the ribcage is forward, for instance, the abdominal muscles are long and the back is tight. It’s all back strength and zero core strength. The ribs must be aligned with the hip, Zapanta said, to restore muscle balance. And for you to be pain-free.
“Bring back the body to the neutral zone, the most efficient, stress-free and strongest position of the body. Pain sets in to signal to you, ‘Move me, please.’ That’s why when you exercise, you feel good. We kill ourselves by not moving. The body is designed for movement, so you gotta move,” she said.
Stott Pilates increases muscle strength without the bulk; strengthens core and stability; decreases impact on the joints; prevents injuries; promotes ease of movement; improves sports performance; enhances balance, improves coordination and circulation; heightens body awareness and promotes mindful movement; improves fitness levels; and promotes weight loss.
A Stott Pilates class is a series of long movements, with anatomically-based systematic, dynamic stretches.
While it is similar to the mind-body method yoga, as both emphasize deep breathing and long movements, yoga moves from one static posture to the next. Stott Pilates is fluid.
“Pilates can be very intense or mild, depending on one’s goal and fitness level. Just enjoy the movement. Without you knowing it, you are doing a dynamic stretch. Dynamic stretches lubricate the joints and elongate the muscles. A Stott body is long and lean and strong, not stocky and bulky. We tailor-fit the exercise; it’s not like one size fits all,” Zapanta said.
There are one-on-one as well as group classes of four or eight students.
Vivian Zapanta Pilates Studio, G/F-B, Tiffany Place, 156 L.P. Leviste St., Salcedo Village, Makati City; 788 Banawe Ave., QC; and 15/F Ecotower Buiding, 32nd St. cor. 9th Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. More info at www.vivianzapanta.com.