The purpose of pilates

The Pilates method was developed by Joseph Pilates over many years, starting in the early 1900's around the first world war. In 1980 his work was published and brought to the world in the book The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning

Pilates is a mind-body intervention that focuses on strength, core stability, flexibility, muscle control, posture and breathing. Many people participate in a pilates program for the following reasons:

  • Increased flexibility.
  • Increased confidence with movement and aggravating activities. 
  • Increased body awareness.
  • Increased postural control. 
  • Provision of adjustable resistance with exercise equipment. 

It is a great way to exercise and develop strength and fitness, particularly if you are someone who lacks body awareness or has altered and maladaptive movement patterns.

At Informed Body, instructors come from many training backgrounds and walks of life. What united them is the underlying principles of using pilates exercises that include:

  • Body awareness.
  • Breathing control.
  • Control of movement
  • Patient education.
  • Individualised programs
  • Postural control.
  • Mindfulness and concentration. 

I love to use pilates to teach my clients to exercise with concentration, coordination, core stability, endurance, flexibility, balance, precision and using graded exercises to progress from low-impact to goal-orientated pilates exercise programs. 

As a new member of the team at Informed Body and coming from a background of Physical Therapy, I'd love to share some thoughts with you that help to drive my practice and teaching. 

You can improve your health more from what you delete than what you add. 

Too often we look for the quick fix and seek training methods that take less time, less money, less effort. From experience I’ve seen many people try this approach and it often leads to tissue overload, overtraining and can result in injury. 

 My advice... Train with intention. You will get out what you put in. 

 Ask yourself "What am I trying to achieve?

The answer may be flexibility, control through range, muscular strength, endurance and power, or sport specific movement patterns & skills? You can't use the same exercises and same dosage for all of these principles. Its important to have a purpose for training and as an Instructor, I need to know what your goals and daily intentions are in order to provide you with the best advice and focussed training. 

Earn stability don't isolate it.

Being strong and stable is not defined by resting muscle tone or ones ability to isolate and activate deep stabilising muscles. These deep postural muscles are controlled reflexively and subconsciously, so why try turn them into a conscious movement?

These muscles rely on accurate proprioceptive information which is gained from our mechano-receptors found in muscles, joints, and ligaments. This means that the quality of your movement will significantly impact your postural control and stability. 

The best way to earn stability is to begin with exercises that you can perform with good quality movement patterns and once mastered, progress the demands of the exercise.  

A great example of how we can earn stability through pilates is to progressively improve hip extension strength. Hip extension strength is vital for being able to walk, standing, ascend and descend stairs, and run. Without hip extension strength you will commonly overload your lumbar spine and knees. But maybe squats, dead lifts and running are too demanding? 

Through pilates my first goal is to help you to first restore hip extension range of movement, usually by stretching structures through the front of the thigh. Then begin with retraining correct motor patterns of hip extension with bridges and donkey kicks. These exercises can be progressed and resisted on the reformer under spring load. Finally we may retrain standing hip extension with lunges and scooter on the reformer. These exercises don't replicate the demands of running but focus on the movement range and quality required to run well.  

Bridges can be progressed from double leg, to single leg with a short or long level (see below) and the muscles on the front of the thigh are stretched well in a kneeling hip flexor stretch. (Thanks to my friend Ali for the beautiful pics)

Asymmetry creates compensations, substitution & limitation. 

A great example of compensations due to asymmetry is when a reduction in hip abduction strength in weight bearing leads to a shift of body weight as we walk. This is seen with a 'waddle' as the hips sway side to side. This compensation allows for body transfer and enables us to walk. However, secondary hip stabilisers such as tensor fascia latae (TFL) and quadriceps will try control this new force vector resulting in increased force being transferred through the lateral part of the hips. If this movement pattern is repeated enough or placed under high loads then tissues may become pain sensitive and result in lateral hip pain, known commonly as trochanteric bursitis. 

Pilates is a great environment to relearn optimal movement patterns. Spring resistance can either assist or resist movements to encourage motor control. As an instructor, it is more important to focus on the pattern of movement each client brings and to educate them on how to restore and optimise that pattern. The reformers, springs, and mirrors are great tools available to teach and re-train movement. 

Even if pain of previous injury has resolved, the motor control and asymmetries might not have. 

Pain leads to compensations in motor control strategies. An example of this is when knee pain causes the vastus medialis obliquus muscle (VMO) to atrophy (weaken) and develop a delayed activation pattern. Continuing to load the knee without the correct muscle control patterns can result in poor control of patella (knee cap) resulting in mal-tracking and altered patello-femoral joint loading, which is left uncorrected may result in knee pain. 

Make sure you have fully recovered from injuries and that full movement and motor control has returned. Too often pain is the only motivator to seek treatment. My advice is to continue treatment with your therapist until you have fully recovered and if you are able to return to exercise during the rehabilitation period, be sure to inform your fitness/pilates instructor so they can make appropriate adjustments to account for these altered movement and motor patterns. 

A final note to conclude with… Love your body, know your limitations, push to learn, and have gratitude for your personal commitment to fitness.