The Pilates method of exercise offers a focused, well-controlled physical program for the whole body.  While aiming to improve aspects such as strength, flexibility, co-ordination and posture, emphasis is also on helping clients to learn to gain control of their body for a more balanced and efficient way of moving.  When taught by an appropriately qualified instructor, it is safe, effective and complements the medical management of many injuries.

Physiotherapy Pilates, which is taught at LifeCare centres is based on the original teachings of Joseph Pilates, however these original exercises have been modified to take into account specific client presentation.  Our studio Pilates sessions are designed with a low client to instructor ratio to ensure close supervision of individualized programs.

The Pilates Conditioning Process

Pilates is often described as a conditioning process for the body, which strengthens from the inside out.  This refers to the key feature of firstly isolating the deep postural muscles, which support the joints of the body and hold the body in good posture.  These deep postural muscles are often referred to as the 'core' muscles which comprise the muscles making up the trunk cylinder. These are the deep abdominal muscles, deep back muscles, pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm.  Activating these muscles correctly is very important before progressing to more advanced exercises.  An initial consultation involving use of the real time ultrasound allows for assessment of the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to ensure correct activation.

The outer 'movement' muscles are the muscles which often over-work to compensate for weakness in the deeper postural muscles.  Many exercise programs continue to emphasize these muscles and may exacerbate existing imbalances, which can predispose to injury and pain.  LifeCare Pilates sessions aim to activate the postural muscles in the correct pattern, gradually building up their strength and endurance. 

Pilates is about understanding how to move, not just improving the fitness components of movement and focuses on the quality of movement as opposed to quantity.  This ensures correct execution of each exercise using the appropriate muscles.  The emphasis is on creating long, lean muscles with strength and flexibility, with a focus on the functional aspect, which will carry over into the client's daily living requirements and any sports or hobby interests.

Physiologically, it takes approximately 6 weeks for functional strength to improve, when attending 2-3 sessions per week.  This applies to any strengthening program.  It is very important to consolidate the basic exercises before progressing onto more advanced repertoire to ensure the correct muscles are used in the correct way at every stage. For this reason, the initial few sessions will be spent predominantly doing mat exercises.

Pilates aims to cover all aspects of conditioning, excluding aerobic fitness.  Pilates sessions will include exercises to address:

·       Muscle strength and endurance

·       Muscle flexibility and joint range of movement

·       Posture, body awareness and balance

·       Coordination

We encourage all our clients to include an aerobic activity in their weekly exercise regime such as walking, swimming and cycling for a well-balanced fitness program.

Key Focus Areas With The Pilates Method

 1. Breathing

Natural, comfortable diaphragmatic breathing is encouraged throughout the session. Generally the pattern discussed is to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. The exhale is usually performed on the effort phase of the movement, to help maintain deep abdominal control throughout each exercise.

 2. Pelvis

A 'neutral' pelvis position allows for the best activation of the deepest abdominal layer (the transverse abdominal muscle also known as the TA), the pelvic floor muscles and the deep back muscles, known as the multifidus.  The neutral pelvis position is where your two hip bones and pubic bone form a flat triangle which stays on the same horizontal plane in lying and the natural lumbar curve is maintained.  In functional upright positions such as sitting and standing, these three bony points would all line up vertically.

     3.   Ribs

Ideally the ribs should be held naturally, avoiding any excessive tension or lift.

     4.   Shoulders

The shoulder blades ideally will feel as though they are sliding down the back in a wide 'V' shape as you slightly open the chest.  The muscles in the mid-back should feel as though they are working to pull the shoulders down in the 'V' which counteracts the very common tendency to tighten up in the upper shoulder/neck muscles.

     5.   Neck

The neck should feel a little lengthened at the base of the skull, which creates a very small nod of the chin.  This is to encourage activation and strengthening of the deep neck stabilizers whilst maintaining correct postural alignment of the head and neck.

Principles of the Pilates Method

 1. Body Awareness

Understanding how your body should feel to do each movement.  This also assists in reducing tension and strain.

  2. Alignment

Awareness of the optimal postural alignment of the body (neutral posture) ensuring balance and symmetry throughout the body along with optimal activation of the deep stability muscles.

  3. Breathing

The emphasis is on diaphragmatic breathing, with breath work coordinated with movement and avoidance of breath-holding.

  4. Concentration

This refers to the conscious control of the body with a focus on the muscle or region being exercised ensuring correct movement.

  5. Centring

The centre was originally referred to by Joseph Pilates as the powerhouse of the body. More recently it has come to refer to coordination and control over those muscles making up the truncal cylinder.  This principle focuses on the development of pelvic and scapular stabilization, and improving the endurance and quality of contraction of the stabilizers.

  6. Control

This refers to the control of all movements while maintaining background stability.  It is the ability to maintain good postural control under increased load conditions.

  7. Flowing Movements

Working smoothly and with control while ensuring there is no jarring of joints at end of range.

  8. Precision

A focus on the quality of movement and specific muscle control with the end result being a greater efficiency of movement.

 Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1880.  He became very sick as a child and vowed to overcome this illness through commitment to a disciplined and healthy lifestyle and to stay fit, strong and healthy throughout his life.  As his health improved, Joseph became involved in many physical activities including boxing, diving, gymnastics, yoga, martial arts instruction and also circus performing.

Through his pursuits, Joseph recognized that the training for each sport was specific and could lead to a pattern of muscle imbalance and injury.  He therefore aimed to create a unified and consistent system of exercise, which encompassed the best of both Eastern and Western approaches to physical and mental conditioning and which specifically addressed the development of core stability.  He aimed to facilitate awareness of the self to bring body and mind together into a single, dynamic and well-functioning entity.

When World War 1 started, Joseph was working in England and was interned with other German nationals to the Isle of Man.  It was here that he began creating exercises to rehabilitate the injured men in hospital, many of whom were confined to bed, by attaching springs and using small weights. He utilized this time to develop and refine his ideas on health, fitness, core stability and bodybuilding and achieved excellent results with soldiers.

After the war, Joseph was employed by the German Army as a Physical Trainer, however he soon tired of the confinement and rigidity of this position.  He decided to move to New York, and met his wife, Clara, on the boat to the US.  Joseph set up an exclusive conditioning studio in Manhattan and developed an extensive mat-work and equipment based repertoire.  His work grew in popularity and was much sought after by professional dancers, athletes and entertainers.  Joseph designed approximately 18 different pieces of exercise equipment during his lifetime.  About 7-8 pieces of his equipment are still in use today.

Joseph's original principles of developing core stability and muscular balance still remain as the underlying strength and uniqueness of his work.  The work has effectively progressed and developed alongside current research, following his death in 1967.  Pilates was introduced to Australia in the1980s and has steadily grown in popularity.

Pilates is now recognized throughout the world as an extremely effective programme for physical conditioning and rehabilitation.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION see your local LifeCare Pilates Physiotherapist.