Book reviews

Book Review: Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates

Title : The Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates
Author: Brooke Siler and the Editors of Women’s Health
Publisher: Rodale
Year: 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 426
Availability: Widely available on amazon, etc.
Description and Review:
Brooke Siler is the founder of the extremely successful studio, re:AB Pilates, in New York City, a bestselling author (The Pilates Body, The Pilates Body Kit, Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge and her most recent book, The Pilates Health Big Book of Pilates). She has also created several pilates dvds. Before I review her most recent book, I feel that I should admit to being a little biased. My interest in pilates was first sparked after reading an article about pilates in Vogue Magazine in the 80’s that featured Brooke and actress/model Michelle Hicks. The Pilates Body was my first pilates book purchase, long before I had ever taken a pilates class. I also have Brooke’s other books. Because I have something of a pilates and wellness book obsession, I logically bought The Big Book of Pilates as soon as it became available. I was skeptical however, that it could possibly contain anything new. After all, there are now thousands of pilates books on the market (an amazon search yields 6,858 results ; while some of those may be repeats, that is still a lot of books). Well, I was wrong. I was excited to find new inspiration, particularly for my home workouts. Sometimes, however, life gets in the way, even of pilates. Last year, I bought a house, sold a house and moved my family of six and all our stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. More stuff than a family of six and possibly a developing country should have, including a hell of a lot of books. And so my home workouts suffered and my library was in a state of disarray. But now that things have settled down and that I been able to go through the book in greater detail. I am once again excited about it.
This book is called the Big Book of Pilates with reason. Not so imposing in size, it its 426 pages are absolutely crammed with information, a surprising amount of information. There are over 263 exercises in the book, at least according the cover. Now I confess that I did not go count them all individually (you are welcome to do so ), but I am willing to believe it. The first few chapters are devoted to a description of pilates, a brief biography of Joseph Pilates, an explanation of pilates terms, safety considerations, a question and answer section (Brooke answers the question that every pilates teacher inevitably gets asked – “what is the difference between pilates and yoga,” as well as others, such as whether pregnant or injured people do pilates, what to wear, etc.). I even learned that Joseph Pilates’ niece, Mary Pilates, pronounces the name “Pilates” differently than what I thought to be the correct pronunciation. The book contains photos of the large and small pilates apparatuses (Gratz) and a section on the piIates “elders”, as they have come to be known, with the ones that everyone knows, Romana, Carola, Kathy Grant, Ron Fletcher, Jay Grimes, Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen and Mary Pilates, but also Bruce King and Bob Seed. It also includes a ten page section on nutrition entitled Pilates for Your Plate. The writing style is informal and motivating. The format is also designed to motivate, nice glossy pages, hundreds of beautiful color photos, detailed instructions, with diagrams and arrows and other comments accompanying the photos
The mat series is divided into three levels, not the classic three levels that we may be used to seeing, but instead something rather similar to how a teacher would structure a class. Each level has a starter section, a main section and suggested endings, including work on the wall, standing exercises, arm weights exercises. Included are also instructions on transitions and some fresh takes on the classic exercises, such as squat thrusts, jump through to the hundred transition, up-stretch combo. There is even a special section on pushups and planks, which includes a lot of fun variations, such as spider planks, plank jacks, and elephant planks. Each level ends with a page showing the entire sequence for quick reference. The pushup section is followed by a section entitled archival starters and endings and includes some standing and balance work.
Chapter 7 of the book brings us to the home studio section of the book. This part shows us how we can use props to create a complete and inexpensive home studio. The props include the magic circle, arm weights, toe corrector, elastic bands, ankle straps, handles, steps, large ball and medium ball. There is also a homemade toe corrector and something interesting called a tensatoner, (which I have, unfortunately been unable to locate on the internet). Elastic bands and a door stopper, can, for example, be used to replicate many of the reformer and cadillac based exercises, including the arm series, rowing, kneeling arm springs, swakate and many, many others. Following the band section is the ball section. Lest the purists start to grumble, Brooke clearly states that the balls are not part of the classical pilates system; in fact, her exact words are “let me say loud and clear that there was never such a thing as a Pilates ball.” However, as she demonstrates, there are many fun ways to integrate the balls into an at-home pilates workout if one doesn’t have a reformer or Cadillac, chairs or barrels on hand. All of the exercises shown are takes on the classical exercises, including the push-through and the rollback from the cadillac, the saw from the mat, the swan from the ladder barrel and the swimming from the spine corrector, as well as several others. The triad ball stands in for the small barrel in several exercises, such as the helicopter and the bicycle. Stackable steps are used in place of the chairs for exercises such as footwork, going up and pushups. The aforementioned tensatoner is used in place of a foot corrector, can also stand in for a magic circle and is also used with the steps in the wunda-chair-like exercises. Finally, there is also a section devoted to the magic circle.
Following the props section is a chapter called Pilates by Posture that briefly summarizes the most common postural problems (i.e. flatback, Kyphotic-lordotic posture, swayback and scoliosis) and recommends exercises to correct them. Next, the book includes a chapter, Pin-Point Pilates which targets particular areas of the body, abs, back, , glutes, arms, thighs, legs, and feet. Following Pin-Point Pilates is Pilates by Purpose, where the reader takes a quick test to choose a fitness goal, cardio, and calorie burn, breathing and endurance, flexibility and mobility and strength and stability. Each goal has a suggested workout plan. The subsequent chapter is entitled Pilates by Pursuit, and includes the exercises most appropriate for running, swimming and cycling. The last chapter, Pilates RX, suggests exercises to ease chronic aches in the back, neck, knees and shoulders. Finally, there are two pages devoted to resources: continuing education, online classes, clothing, books, dvds and accessories.
To borrow or to buy: definitely buy. As I mentioned above, I bought this book because I loved Brooke Siler’s previous books. I was certain, however, that, with the multitude of pilates books now available, this would be a rehash of the same old information. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong, a rare thing (just kidding. It is only rare for me to admit to being wrong). Not only would I recommend The Big Book of Pilates to my students who cannot come in more than once a week or who are off on vacation for months at a time (as the French are known to do in the summer), but I would also recommend it to teachers for their own at-home workouts, for newbie teachers to help them structure their classes and even to veteran teachers to freshen and spice up their work. The book has so much information that there really is something for everyone.