What Is Pilates and How Can It Benefit You?


Pilates. We have all properly heard of it, lots of people attend classes regularly, it has a great repetition for improving the symptoms of back pain & other injuries and its often recommended by many other health care professionals and GP’s, but it seems there is a variety of opinions of what Pilates actually is.

The usual perception of Pilates is “strengthen the core and a bit of stretching”. Whilst the “core” muscles play in important role in Pilates as does mobility (as opposed to stretching) there is a little bit more to it than that.

To understand what Pilates is, I’ll give you a very brief history of it. Back in the 1880’s Joseph Pilates had a very sick childhood. Determined to overcome these issued he mastered activities such as bodybuilding, gymnastics & diving along with martial arts. Whilst training the police force in self-defence he was placed in prison (for safety) during the First World War. Whilst training inmates, he studied yoga and the movement of animals. This is where he created his corrective exercise system known as “contrology”. He believed poor health was down to “modern life”, bad posture & inefficient breathing. He taught this method to fellow inmates and during 1918 flu pandemic not one of the inmates who were taught this method of exercise became victim to the pandemic. There is a lot more to the history but this should give you a small idea.

In my opinion in Pilates the exercises themselves are not the most important thing and I believe they should vary (when possible) from person to person depending on the needs and requirements of the individual, as we are all going to have different needs and mechanical set ups. This is why I believe Pilates is most effective in small groups (max of 8), any bigger and it can turn to a “one exercise fits all” culture.

It is the execution of each exercise; the technique’s which are going to give the main benefit to all participants. This is where the Pilates principles come in. From my experience exercises performed without the principles have little or no effect; where as exercises performed with the principles are a lot more rewarding and beneficial. In my view the principles are a real skill and do take a lot of practice to master, however when done correctly with the exercises is where I see the most benefit come from. In my opinion it’s better to do an exercise once correctly with all principles than it is to do 20 times without.

Here is a list of principles (or I call them foundations) that I believe to be key. Most of these are originals ones:

Alignment/Posture – Good posture is the state of muscle and skeletal balance which protects the structures of the body from injury. In short if we aren’t in “good” posture we risk over working some parts and under working others.

Breathing – Good diaphragmatic breathing promotes stability as it is a muscle of the “inner abdominal unit”. In my opinion probably the hardest one to master.

Connections – Having the ability to connect and recruit all muscles of the “inner abdominal unit” to provide stability from the inside.

Precision – Getting the technique of each move correct to make each move effective and beneficial.

Concentration & Control – The ability to be able to fully concentrate on each move to ensure the correct foundations are being carried out and the exercise is being carried out effectively to benefit you.

Integrated isolation – The ability to be able to isolate muscles but at the same time group them together with other muscles to make a “chain” or a “sling” of muscles.

There are a few more you may have experienced in other classes or through other reading, but in my opinion these are the key ones to adhere to.

Hopefully this should be enough to give an idea of Pilates is about. I don’t want to make these articles too big as I want to keep them short and simple to help everyone’s understanding.

And in answer to the original question this article asked “what is Pilates?” my answer would be “a corrective exercise programme helping to develop strength from the inside”.

Thanks for reading.

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