Cover Stories

The Power of Pilates

Do what Martha Stewart does to stay in shape

By Margaret McCormick

Valerie Patrick, owner of Core Pilates & Yoga, Cicero, demonstrates the Pilates Cadillac. The apparatus has bars and cables that allow students to do core-strengthening Pilates exercises while suspended. Photo by Margaret McCormick

Martha Stewart made headlines and history in May, when she was featured on the cover of the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, wearing a white one-piece suit with a plunging neckline and a poufy, peach-colored cover-up. “To be on the cover at my age was a challenge,’’ Stewart, 81, said on NBC’s “Today’’ show. “And I think I met the challenge.”

To rise to the challenge of being the oldest cover model to ever grace the magazine, the cookbook author, media entrepreneur and lifestyle maven turned her attention to diet and fitness — and not a fad diet or the latest exercise craze. Stewart limited carbs like pasta and bread and took Pilates classes a couple times a week. “I went to Pilates every other day and that was great,’’ Stewart noted, adding: “I’m still going to Pilates every other day ‘cause it’s so great.’’

Stewart isn’t the only celebrity fan of the low-impact, mind-body exercise. Actors like Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington have said they fit Pilates into their fitness routines, and athletes like Tiger Woods have embraced Pilates to strengthen their bodies and, hopefully, their game.

Pilates isn’t new, and it wasn’t developed to get people swimsuit-ready for magazines. The method takes its name from German-born Joseph Pilates, who developed his system of exercise and body conditioning, combined with attention to breathing, more than a century ago.

In 1912, Pilates left Germany for England. He was interned by the British as a German enemy alien at the onset of World War I and made productive use of his time in prison: Pilates went to work in a hospital ward and attached springs to hospital beds so bedridden patients could condition and tone their muscles. That was the humble beginning of the apparatus known as the Pilates Reformer, which is still in use today.

Martha Stewart, who appeared on a recent cover of Sports Illustrator, said one of the ways she stays in shape is with Pilates classes.

Pilates moved to this country in 1923 and settled in New York City, where he opened an exercise studio with his wife, Clara. Early students included dancers George Balanchine and Martha Graham, who turned to Pilates exercises to help recover from injuries. Pilates called his method of movements and breathing “Contrology,’’ because it involves both mental and physical focus. “It is the mind itself which builds the body,’’ he liked to say.

Today, you can find Pilates reels and videos on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and on apps like the 28-Day Challenge. But it’s a good idea, for beginners especially, to take classes with a certified instructor. That way, you’ll learn how to execute each exercise properly and understand how that exercise can help your body. It’s also a good idea to consult your physician before beginning a new program.

Valerie Patrick, owner of Cicero-based Core Pilates & Yoga, says Pilates and yoga are often grouped together, but there are differences between the two exercises. Both modalities offer stretch and strength, she says, but Pilates focuses more on strengthening the deep core muscles that attach to the back. It’s a full-body workout that takes aim at the small muscle groups that are often neglected during weight training.

Like yoga, Pilates can be done on a mat. But it also can be done using specialized equipment like the Pilates Chair, Tower, Reformer and Cadillac.

“Pilates can be more of a workout than yoga, depending on the instructor and type of yoga,’’ Patrick says. “It’s very core based, focused on the abdominals, glutes, back and hips. It tones your midsection very well. A lot of doctors recommend Pilates for people who have back issues.’’

Valerie Patrick, owner of Cicero-based Core Pilates & Yoga, Patrick taught classes at Syracuse University, Crouse Hospital and at area businesses as part of their health and wellness programs for employees. In 2005, she opened her own studio offering Pilates and yoga classes.

Patrick, 66, danced and was a dance instructor for years. “I lived on Advil,’’ she recalls. Once she took Pilates and discovered how much it helped her body and her health, she was sold. Before long, she started doing the comprehensive course work to become a certified Pilates instructor. At the same time, she became certified to teach yoga.

Patrick taught classes at Syracuse University, Crouse Hospital and at area businesses as part of their health and wellness programs for employees. In 2005, she opened her own studio offering Pilates and yoga classes. She closed that space in 2020 and made the transition to online classes and private classes in her home.

Her husband keeps asking her when she plans to retire, but Patrick remains committed to Pilates and helping her students achieve their goals. “I’ve worked so hard to hone my craft,’’ she says. “I’m passionate about Pilates. I think people see that.’’

Kelly Meyers, a doctor of physical therapy (and certified Pilates rehabilitation instructor) at the Upstate Bone and Joint Center in East Syracuse, says Pilates as therapy can be beneficial to people recovering from a variety of problems, including spine, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle injuries.

“It is an effective form of exercise therapy for patients who have had surgery as well as non-surgical injuries,’’ Meyers says. “Pilates helps with flexibility, strength, motor control and overall whole-body conditioning because this approach looks at the entire person and how everything is interconnected.’’

All five of the Upstate University Hospital outpatient physical therapy offices in Central New York have equipment like the Pilates Reformer, Trapeze Table and Combo Chair, with staff trained in their use.

Valerie Patrick demonstrates the Pilates Reformer machine at her home-based studio, Core Pilates & Yoga, in Cicero. The Reformer has a sliding carriage and allows a full-body workout designed to strengthen the core and increase flexibility. Photo by Margaret McCormick

“It’s great for all ages and fitness levels,’’ Meyers says of Pilates equipment. “You can sit on it, stand on it and lie on it. You can make exercises easier or harder and work the muscle groups in a slightly different way. It’s highly useful and versatile equipment.’’

Patients leave the office with Pilates exercises to do on a mat at home. And some patients, Meyers says, find Pilates-based movements to be so beneficial they continue by taking classes at a Pilates studio (and sometimes purchasing equipment for home use) when their therapy has ended.

Kathleen Frizzi, an independent Pilates and yoga instructor who leads classes at several studios in Central New York, notes that Pilates has many benefits for those in the “55 plus’’ age demographic. As we age, Frizzi says, the ability to move easily “can go downhill fast’’ – and that, unfortunately, can lead to falls.

That’s where Pilates comes in. Pilates exercises, whether on equipment or on a mat, promote a strong core. And a strong core promotes flexibility, strength, mobility and balance – things that influence almost everything we do: Bathing, dressing, putting on shoes, picking up a package on the doorstep, reaching up in a cupboard, sweeping the kitchen floor, walking up or down a flight of stairs, navigating uneven terrain – even standing in place.

“Your arms and legs work better when your core is more stable,’’ Frizzi says. “Chores around the house become easier and movement improves in general. Stabilization of the core and abs makes living life easier.’’

Pilates: Where to Go to Take Lessons

Some places to take Pilates in Central New YorK include:

Core Pilates & Yoga, Cicero: Virtual Pilates and yoga group classes, as well as semi-private and private Pilates and yoga sessions and private sessions using Pilates apparatus. Information: 315-480-9727,

• Metro Pilates, downtown Syracuse: Pilates mat and Pilates Reformer sessions in a variety of formats. Information: 315-426-8917,

Elevate Fitness, DeWitt and Liverpool: Pilates mat classes and small group and private classes using Pilates apparatus. Information:

Precision Pilates, Fayetteville: Classes in a range of formats and sizes, including mat and Pilates equipment. Private sessions available. Information: 315-409-5542,

Vyana Yoga, Manlius: In addition to yoga, the studio offers Pilates mat classes for all levels. Information: 315-692-4471,

Sky Yoga Studios, Syracuse and Skaneateles: Mostly yoga, with some Pilates classes offered as well. Information:

This list is not intended to be comprehensive.