In 2004, Erin Kennedy got laid off from her corporate job. Seizing an opportunity to change career paths, Erin decided she would help others make significant improvements to their bodies, the same way she had a few years earlier. Within a year, she opened up her own Pilates studio, The Body Center, in Brookline, MA.
To the average person, Pilates is unfamiliar territory. The equipment, with its pulleys and springs, can look intimidating. Unless you’ve attended multiple classes or delved into the philosophy behind it all, Pilates might seem like just another after-work exercise routine.
Pilates, however, is far from just another group class at the YMCA. It has a rich history dating back to the early 1900s, when founder Joseph Pilates opened the first studio in New York. Inspired by his time as a nurse in Germany during WW1, Joseph experimented with springs on hospital beds to help otherwise immobile patients regain movement, tone muscle, and recover faster. Hugely popular with dancers and ballerinas, the Pilates movement took off with studios popping up throughout the U.S. and across seas throughout the 20th century.
“The reason a lot of athletes have adopted a Pilates practice is because it trains us to move in a way that we should move. The way our body was born to move,” says Kennedy, who trains individual clients and teaches classes for up to 8 hours daily in her studio in Brookline.
Erin has been teaching Pilates since 2003, shortly before she got laid off from her corporate job, ruptured a tendon in her calf, and decided to take a new approach to training to stay fit. The typical overachiever, she recalls a fast-paced life in the corporate world by day, and working late as a fitness instructor by night. She felt completely out of touch with the natural movement of her body. The combination of long days in the office and nightly workouts fueled by coffee caused unnecessary strain.
Erin performs a Reverse Expansion on the Pilates Reformer. The high kneeling posture opens up hip flexors and shoulders, which often tighten up from too much sitting.
As Erin searched for a solution, she decided that yoga movements were too slow, and stretching on her own was too boring. Enter Pilates. What makes Pilates different from any other exercise on the market is its ability to target the muscles that directly support your skeleton including the spine, shoulders, and hips. According to Erin, when these muscles (the smaller ones a weighted machine alone can’t isolate) get stronger, your skeleton is supported so your other muscles can do their job. As a result, your body is more efficient, you’re less injury prone, and you effectively carry less tension.
The 5 Basic Principles of Pilates are as follows:
Erin follows the Stott Pilates practice, a methodology informed by modern sports therapy and an understanding of biomechanics to improve athletic performance. More specifically, Stott is designed to restore the spine’s natural curve and create symmetrical balance surrounding the joints. Through repeated dynamic movements using the Pilates reformer (the sliding mat seen below with the spring settings), you are challenged to use your whole body to maintain balance, stabilize your core, and run through the movements in a very intentional manner.
Erin performs The Hundred. This quintessential Pilates exercise encourages deep breathing patterns and increases blood circulation while working core stability and control.
When Erin started using WHOOP, she immediately noticed how she was able to effectively track the Strain of each Pilates workout. As an instructor who teaches over 30 hours a week, it’s important for Erin to make sure she isn’t overdoing it each day, so she can have the energy to complete her own workout, and to help others.
“The longer I wear WHOOP, the more it adapts to my habits, my performance, my daily life, and it gives me the information I need to perform better,” she says.
Today, Pilates is a popular workout among elite athletes, including players in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, and among Olympians. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown cites Pilates as a crucial part of his workout routine. “It’s all about control and body position,” Brown said in an interview with STACK.
The popularity continues to grow as coaches see the importance of dynamic exercises that mimic the way the body is supposed to move. For instructors like Kennedy, being able to monitor performance with a wearable like WHOOP gives her the data to know how she can balance work and personal fitness without burning out.