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 presentations, such as during pregnancy, during the postnatal period, or for our clients who may require rehabilitation from an injury or who maybe experiencing pain. Our studio Pilates sessions are designed with a low client to instructor ratio to ensure close supervision of individualised 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 activating the deeper trunk muscles, often referred to as the ‘core’ muscles. These muscles, which make up the trunk cylinder, are the deep abdominal muscles, deep back muscles, pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm. It is important to learn to activate these muscles correctly before progressing on 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. See our fact sheet titled ‘Pilates, Will It Help Me?’ for more information on this.
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 aspects, 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.
During a Pilates session, the aim is for a full body workout and Pilates sessions will include exercises to address:
- Muscle strength and endurance
- Muscle flexibility and joint range of movement
- Posture, body awareness and balance
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
Natural, comfortable diaphragmatic breathing is encouraged throughout the session. It is not necessary to make the breath deeper or faster or slower than what is comfortably possible, ensuring a natural rise and fall of the chest wall. During an inhale, the focus is on lateral chest wall expansion, and on the exhale, the rib cage relaxes down. Generally the pattern discussed is to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Each breath is associated with a particular movement, with the exhale usually being performed on the effort phase of the movement.
A ‘neutral’ pelvis position allows for the best activation of the muscles of the ‘core cylinder’. The neutral pelvis position is where the 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 upright positions such as sitting and standing, these three bony points would all line up vertically.
Ideally the ribs should be held naturally, avoiding any excessive tension or lift. There should be a rise and fall movement occurring with each breath cycle.
The shoulder blades should sit flat on the chest wall, while the shoulders should sit on a level plane with a feeling of opening out through the front of the chest.
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 of the deep neck muscles 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, and how your body is positioned either in space or relative to equipment being used. This involves knowing where each body part is during each exercise.
Awareness of the optimal postural alignment of the body, ensuring balance and symmetry throughout. This applies to both exercises performed in the neutral posture, and with exercises performed through range of movement.
The emphasis is on a lateral breathing pattern, which is not forced. Breath work is coordinated with movement and breath-holding should be avoided.
This refers to the conscious control of the body with a focus on the muscle or region being exercised, ensuring correct movement, and relates to body awareness.
5. Centre and Control
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 ability of moving the limbs independently of the trunk. It is the ability to maintain good postural control under increased load conditions.
6. Flowing Movements
Working smoothly and with control while ensuring there is no jarring of joints at end of range.
A focus on the quality of movement and specific muscle control with the end result being a greater efficiency of movement.
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.