For Erik Spoelstra, Pilates has been the answer to his back ailments and to the stress that comes from a tough day at the office, which happens to be the basketball court.
The Miami Heat head coach has done it all: running, biking, spinning, circuit training, CrossFit and yoga. A couple of years ago, however, he started reading about Pilates and hearing that more players were incorporating it into their workouts. Now, Pilates is a part of Spoelstra’s life.
“As I started getting older — with my workouts — I started developing some back issues,” said Spoelstra, 42. “I’ve done other things, but Pilates was the best thing to help relieve and strengthen my back. I’ve had incredible results from it.”
Pilates focuses on strengthening the body’s core abdomen muscles and improving flexibility. Joseph Pilates, who as a child contended with asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, spent much of his life improving his physical strength. During World War I, Pilates, a German citizen, was interned by the British in several camps, where he taught fellow internees how to stay in shape during their imprisonment.
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He emigrated to the United States in 1925 and began teaching Pilates in a New York City studio. Prominent members of the New York dance world, including choreographer George Balanchine, began training with him. Today, more than 11 million people in the United States practice Pilates, including athletes.
The Heat gym has a reformer — a spring-loaded machine used in Pilates — where more than 500 exercises can be done. There is also a certified Pilates trainer on staff.
Recently, some of the players have started doing Pilates as they’ve started gaining more knowledge of how to take care of their bodies, Spoelstra said.
“During offseason, Pilates is a way they can extend their careers and take care of their bodies in a less explosive way,” Spoelstra said. “We do it for rehab, but a lot of it is for preventative measures for injuries. Our players have found great results with it. It is not the only thing they do. It is one of the modalities our players use.”
For Spoelstra, who began doing Pilates in 2011, the workout helps both his body and soul.
“First of all, it is a great workout,” he said. “For me, mentally, it’s a great way to clear my mind. I get my mind off the stresses from work and I am able to get in shape. I’m also able to correct body movements that keep me feeling young.”
On game days, Spoelstra tries to get some Pilates in with his instructor Christa Gurka, co-owner of Pilates in the Grove and Pilates on the Beach.
Gurka studied health science and physical therapy at the University of Miami before becoming certified in Pilates. She was introduced to the exercise while working at a physical therapy center that used Pilates equipment to rehab patients.
“I just really started to see the changes I was able to make in my patients,” she said. “Then I decided I didn’t just want to do this for patients. I thought if people do this in their life, they won’t have to be patients.’’
Although Gurka likes to start people at an early age, she finds it equally beneficial for adults, including senior citizens. Her youngest client is 13; her oldest is 85.
“I work with a lot of high school kids and when I get them in here at that age I love it because I can help them understand the stuff they’re doing with their bodies,” she said. “I also like getting people that are more middle-aged and teaching them that it’s never too late to change some of the bad habits they’ve created in their bodies. You may not become Cirque de Soleil flexible, but you can always get better.”
Laura Stuzin, an attorney and mother, has been taking Pilates classes for nearly four years at Pilates on the Beach. Like Spoelstra, she says it is the best relief she has found for her back problems.
“You can go into a gym and you can lose weight and you can look absolutely great, but you may not feel great because you may be tired and in pain,” Stuzin said. “With Pilates, you’re not in pain. You’re not exhausted. You’re not tired. You feel strong, elongated and it just feels great.”
Stuzin attends the Pilates group classes two to three times a week, and has private sessions with Gurka twice a month. She says she loves the instructors and the atmosphere.
“You can’t get what you get from Pilates in any other exercise,” she said. “It is a full body experience, within the hour, where you work every part of your body. Pilates is a very high priority for me, it really is. I will make sure, no matter what, that I fit that in.”
When people ask Gurka how often they should attend Pilates, she uses Joseph Pilates’ words of wisdom: “You will feel better in 10 sessions, look better in 20 sessions, and have a completely new body in 30 sessions.”