Dear Barb – Shaping Up

Dear Barb:

I am a 35-year-old mother, student, and part-time worker. I am so busy that I find I don’t have any time for exercise. Do you know of anything I could do to get toned up quickly for summer? I also have to mention that I do have a history of back problems.


Thanks for your question, Krista. You have a very busy schedule, but I think you are realizing how important it is to take care of yourself. You can’t be all things to all people without some aspect of your life suffering.

With your history of back problems in mind, one of the best exercises I know of for toning up quickly is Pilates. Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, who was a circus performer and boxer. While in an internment camp during WWI he developed exercises that eventually became what we now know as Pilates mat work.

Pilates strengthens your core, which helps with back problems and also encourages good posture. Pilates can be done as a mat workout using a big ball (as well as smaller balls, adding additional weight to your workout), or it can be done in a studio using a reformer machine.

A reformer machine uses varying levels of resistance to increase your workout, yet is gentle on your joints. A combination of both mat classes and reformer is most effective.

There are many web sites, books, and videos offering instructions on how to do Pilates. However, most instructors feel it is best to start out in a gym or fitness studio since positioning is very important.

For instance, in order to do Pilates effectively you need to be able to maintain your abdominals in a position called ?pelvic neutral.? If You’re just starting out, this position is best achieved through the help of an instructor. Once you have mastered pelvic neutral, and you feel confident that you know what you are doing, you can try to do Pilates on your own with the help of a video.

Remember, though, that doing any kind of exercise in a group may prove to be more successful as far as motivating you to continue (and many Pilates studios offer childcare at a reasonable cost).

Toning your body will definitely help you look good from the outside, but don’t forget the inside. A cardiovascular workout is very important to your overall health, and walking, running, and cycling are all excellent cardio workouts that will help to burn calories and increase stamina.

Leave the kids with your husband/partner and go for a brisk walk after dinner; it will do wonders for your sense of well-being.

Good luck, Krista.

Some other sources of information about Joseph Pilates and Pilates exercises are The Pilates Association of Canada, Pilates Fitness Journal, and

Email your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality; your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.