Get down those stairs
By: Kerrie Murphy | 09/03/2023
We are all familiar with the proven benefits of Pilates whether it’s by our own experience of how we feel after a session, or anecdotally by friends and family who rate the method highly. Of course, we LOVE it when sports science research reinforces the benefits of Pilates.
Dr Michael Mosely, a former Medical Doctor, BBC presenter and health writer, in his book ‘Just One Thing’, explains the benefits of ‘Eccentric Exercise’. Eccentric training increases the load perceived by the muscle up to four times higher even though it uses less muscle fibres than concentric training!
Concentric exercise is when we shorten a muscle under load e.g., lifting a hand weight to your shoulder causes your Biceps muscle to contract, shorten and ‘bulge’. As you lower it back down, the muscle has to lengthen under the load to control its return. This is the eccentric phase of the exercise.
When walking up the stairs, the Quadriceps muscles (front of your thighs) shorten and contract to assist with straightening your knee and pulling you up the step. The eccentric phase of this muscle work is involved when walking down the stairs: the Quadriceps muscles are still working but lengthening in their work to control your rate of descent, so you don’t go tumbling down!
Pilates and Eccentric exercise:
Our classic Leg and Footwork series in-studio is a perfect example of this eccentric training! If we’re lying on our backs on the Reformer and we push the carriage out, there’s our concentric phase of our leg work. When we control the carriage on the return, this is our eccentric phase of the work. In fact, ALL studio spring work highlights this eccentric training.
Springs don’t like to stretch so when we do put a stretch on the spring and make them longer all they want to do is recoil and rest. Controlling it’s return to a rest position involves eccentric training of our muscles, joints and fascia thereby creating longer muscles in response to the loads and forces placed upon them.
All exercise, whether Concentric, Eccentric or Isometric (holding a still shape under load) creates microscopic damage to the muscles. The body then releases hormones to trigger the muscle cells to rebuild the muscles to be stronger than they were previously. Eccentric training increases the load perceived by the muscle up to four times higher even though it uses less muscle fibres than concentric training!
Various tests and studies have proven that people can obtain between 30-50% increase in muscle strength and 10% increase in muscle mass when utilising Eccentric forms of training.
Pilates, with its various ranges of movement, precision and control, really utilises this eccentric training at its fullest. Whether we use the dynamic spring loaded resistance on the various pieces of Pilates apparatus, hand weights – or even against gravity itself – we encourage the use of control. Not only does this protect our joints from impactful forces, but it also ensures the equipment doesn’t bang or snap back into place.
The use of breath to connect deeply to our abdominal centre also has that extra effect of helping the body to release the necessary hormones to repair and build the muscles thereby increasing flexibility, bone density, muscle strength and muscle mass.
The benefits of The Pilates Method continues to shine bright. Paul Schembri.