Try adding Pilates to your strength training routine. Pilates is a gentle mind-body exercise that emphasizes strength, core stability, flexibility, muscle control, posture, and breathing.
Pilates and the Cancer Patient
Pilates moves through gentle exercises and can be performed while lying on the back. This position is ideal for the cancer patient, as it slowly reintroduces movement to the body in a relaxed position.
Cancer patients often experience muscle weakness, pain, and decreased range-of-motion, and practicing Pilates movements may help alleviate some of these problems [i]. Pilates exercise has been associated with the rehabilitation of breast cancer survivors, since it is thought to improve range of motion and shoulder dexterity after surgery.
The great thing about Pilates is that it can be individualized to meet your own needs and recovery stage. There are simpler and more challenging modifications for every pose.
The Different Types
Exercises can be mat-based or can involve the use of specialized equipment such as a reformer. Mat Pilates is approachable for a wide range of people, as it is very adaptable to different body types and conditions. Plus, all you need is a cushy mat and your own body.
A reformer is a device with various cables, pulleys, springs, and sliding bards attached. The machine allows a person to use his or her own body weight as resistance, and to progress through a series of range-of-motion exercises [ii] [iii].
In a Pilates class, you will frequently hear the words “neutral” and “imprint” in reference to the way your spine curves while you are laying on the mat. When you lay on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-distance apart, hands by your side, there should be a natural space between your pelvis and your spine. This position is called neutral spine. To imprint the spine, get into the same position, but tilt your pelvis so that there is no space and your spine and tailbone are completely touching the floor or mat below you.
Another important concept in Pilates technique is the placement of the ribcage. Pilates is all about centering the core and breathing, and the ribcage should move with the breath, but not open out or expand forward too much. You might hear your instructor tell you to “close your ribcage” or “pull your ribs in.” You can achieve this by gently trying to tighten your abdominal muscles.
You can practice Pilates at a studio or on your living room floor. Wherever you decide to practice, Pilates exercise is a great way to feel strong without having to lift heavy weights.
Be sure to speak with your physician and health care team before starting any new exercise regimen or making changes to your current routine.
[i] Camp J. Cancer Survivors: Pilates and an Improved Quality of Life. Balanced Body Website. Winter, 2008. http://www.pilates.com/BBAPP/V/pilates/library/articles/cancer-survivors.html Accessed August 8, 2015.
[ii] Fit Facts: Pilates Primer. ACE Fitness Website. http://www.acefitness.org/fitness-fact-article/2657/pilates-primer/ Accessed August 8, 2015.
[iii] Wells C, Kolt GS, Bialocerkowski A. Defining Pilates exercise: a systematic review. Complement Ther Med. 2012 Aug;20(4):253-62. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2012.02.005. Epub 2012 Mar 13.