What Is Pilates?

“develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit” JOSEPH PILATES

Pilates is a set of mat-work exercises, developed by Joseph Pilates (1883-1967), designed to target deep postural muscles, improving physical and mental health.

Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 near Düsseldorf in Germany. As a child he suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. To improve his health he developed his own exercise regime and trained in a number of sports including; diving, gymnastics, skiing, boxing, self-defence, karate, yoga and zen meditation. He used his knowledge and passion for exercise to propel his career and in 1912 was employed as a self-defence instructor for Scotland Yard, London. It was during this time that Joseph began to devise and refine specific exercises as a form of rehabilitation for those injured or bedbound during the 1st World War. This original method of exercise was named ‘Contrology’. Joseph then went on to attach springs to hospital beds in order to create resistance and improve strength. This concept is known today as ‘Pilates Equipment’ and commonly involves classes with small equipment, the Cadillac or the Reformer. After his death in 1967 (aged 87) Josephs method of exercise and rehabilitation became widely known as the ‘Pilates method’. Joseph didn’t try to formally establish his training programme but did go on to publish a book, ‘Return to Life through Contrology’. In this he outlines his original repertoire which consist of 34 exercises. These exercises are still used today by many Pilates teachers, although many have been modified from the original set.

 There are 8 fundamental principles which underpin the Pilates technique:

Pilates promotes lateral, thoracic breathing which requires clients to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. This encourages a wide and full breath, where the back and side of the ribs move upwards and outwards during inhalation. Clients are encouraged to work at their own rate and pace of breath, coordinating it to the exercises. The use of thoracic breathing promotes a greater lung capacity whilst the core stabilizing muscles are activated.

“To breathe correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to “squeeze” every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner as you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth” Joseph Pilates1

“True heart control follows correct breathing which simultaneously reduces heart strain, purifies the blood and develops the lungs”  Joseph Pilates1

Pilates requires all movements to be performed in a smooth, slow and controlled manner. Control also refers to the ability to consciously switch off/relax the muscles not required during the exercises and turn on the muscles you wish to work. This ensures muscles fire in the correct order, therefore maximising the benefit of the exercise.

“Contrology begins with mind control over muscles” Joseph Pilates1

“Through proper repetition of its exercises you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities” Joseph Pilates1

Pilates refers to centring as the conscious activation of the core muscles. This means contracting the lower abdominal and pelvic floor muscles (Transverse Abdominus, Multifidus and Diaphragm) to create a stable base prior to movement. Pilates requires clients to establish a neutral alignment followed by activation of the core muscles, at around 30% of their maximal effort, during inhalation. The contraction is then maintained throughout the Pilates exercise.

Pilates encourages clients to be free from distraction during exercise. This enables clients to be able to focus on the exercises, bring about a greater awareness of the body and rectify any imbalances. Pilates promotes relaxation which enables clients to feel released from their everyday routine, relieving any stress and allowing thoughts to be solely focused on the body.

“Always keep your mind wholly concentrated on the purpose of the exercises as you perform them” Joseph Pilates1

”Concentrate on the correct movements EACH TIME YOU EXERCISE, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value“ Joseph Pilates1

It is important that all movements are set up and executed correctly in order to achieve maximal gain. Each exercise should be practiced precisely at the basic level and clients should only be progressed once they are able to fully perform the movement correctly.

”The benefits of Contrology depends solely upon your performing the exercises exactly according to instructions“ Joseph Pilates1

”Each succeeding exercise should be mastered before proceeding progressively with the following exercises. Make a close study of each exercise and do not attempt any other exercise until you have mastered the current one“ Joseph Pilates1

All Pilates movements should be continuous, smooth and flowing. It is essential that there is a flow from one exercise to another and that exercises are equally paced. Stretches are often incorporated in between exercises to aid relaxation and flexibility. Clients should work at their own pace, aided by their breathing avoiding the use of momentum and jerky, stiff movements.

”Contrology is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace, and skill that will unmistakably be reflected in the way you walk, in the way you play, and in the way you work“ Joseph Pilates1

Our bodies and muscles have adapted through occupation, lifestyle, environment, stress and injuries. Pilates exercises aim to recognise and correct muscular imbalances and restore good posture. Throughout the day our muscles become compressed and tight and Pilates aims to restore the length and strength to function effectively in everyday exercises, allowing for a greater range of mobility and flexibility.

”Developing minor muscles naturally helps strengthen major muscles“ Joseph Pilates1

Pilates believed that his exercise method (originally called Contrology) should be considered as one part of an exercise regime, alongside other activities. Pilates provides a good foundation for exercise, offering a holistic approach to bring about a balanced mind and body. It is not to be considered a substitute for cardio-vascular work and should be practiced as part of a routine to realise the benefits.

”It would be a grave error to assume that even Contrology exercises alone will remake a man or woman into an entirely physically fit person“ Joseph Pilates1