by Mike Blackwell (Director & Head Physio at Fix Physio)
“I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.”
These were the wise words of Joseph Hubertus Pilates – the creator of Pilates exercises, speaking back in 1965, aged 86.
Joseph Pilates was a Physical Trainer (PT) and he first taught his revolutionary method of exercise to wounded English soldiers during World War I, using springs he had removed from their hospital beds to assist them to increase their range of motion. Later in the 1920’s, he introduced Pilates into America as a way to help injured athletes and dancers safely return to exercise and maintain their fitness.
Forty years after his death, the system of exercises developed by Pilates has never been more popular with pilates studios opening all over the world and an ever increasing number of physiotherapists using his methods to assist their patients recover from injury.
So what exactly is Pilates?
Pilates is a series of approximately 500 exercises inspired by gymnastic type exercises (calisthenics), yoga and ballet. It improves flexibility, strength, balance, posture and body awareness.
Each exercise is performed with attention to proper breathing technique and muscle control. To gain the maximum benefit, you should do Pilates at least one to two times per week. After only 8-10 sessions, you should notice postural improvements.
Types of Pilates
There are two basic forms of Pilates:
1. Floor-based Pilates
Performed on the floor on a Pilates mat using gravity, your own body weight, a foam roller,
resistance bands, weights (such as dumbbells) and exercise balls amongst other
equipment to improve stability and provide a challenge to your balance.
2. Equipment-based Pilates
This includes specific equipment that works against spring-loaded resistance, including the ‘Reformer’ (a moveable carriage that you push and pull along its tracks), the Trapeze Table and the Wunder chair.
Health benefits of Pilates
The health benefits of Pilates are numerous and include:
1. Rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances
Modern life dictates that a lot of us sit for the majority of our working week. First we
commute to work in the car or on the bus or train. Then we sit in front of our computer
for 8-9 hours per day before getting back in the car, bus or train to get home and
sit on the sofa for the rest of the night, watching TV.
Alternatively, we may go to the gym and exercise our extremities rather than our core
in classes such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or Body Pump/ Attack where
we do everything quickly and often without concern for posture or the activation of
correct postural muscles.
The result of this prolonged sitting followed by high intensity or high impact exercise is
that injuries often occur. Adding regular Pilates into this regime helps to counteract the effects of all this sitting that is commonplace in today’s society.
2. Increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your lower abdominal
lower back and hip muscles (the ‘core muscles’ of your body)
Everyone has 2 different types of muscles in their body- movement muscles and
stability muscles. Movement muscles are more superficial in the body, switch on when
they are needed and switch off when they are not needed. They are also
predominantly Fast twitch in nature ie they are responsible for more explosive/ quick
movements. Good examples of movement muscles are your biceps in your arms and
your hamstrings in your legs.
Stability muscles are deeper within the body and surround our joints. They should
be working constantly with our breathing at a subconscious level to stabilise our joints
and assist in good posture. They are predominantly slow twitch in nature ie they
stabilise our joints so that the movement muscles can move our trunk and limbs safely. However, these stability muscles are the first to be inhibited when we are experiencing pain as a result of trauma, overuse (too much too soon) or repetitive poor movement.
This inhibition sets up a vicious cycle where by the movement muscles have to act as
stabilisers but they are not designed for endurance and ultimately fatigue and go into a spasmed state.
Pilates assists in increasing the strength of your stability muscles which in turn
improves your posture and body awareness and therefore reduces the likelihood of
injury. These good postural habits are translated to everyday life to combat our
3. Improved flexibility
More conventional or traditional workouts are weight bearing and tend to build short,
bulky muscles – the type of muscles most prone to injury. Pilates elongates and
strengthens, improving muscle elasticity and joint mobility. A body with balanced
strength and flexibility is less likely to be injured. That’s why so many people use
pilates as a critical part of their training regime.
4. Stress management, relaxation & improved concentration
Stress is one of the biggest negative factors of modern life, affecting your physical and mental wellbeing just as much as disease does. Frequent exercise is one of the best remedies for stress and has many benefits. Pilates focuses on mindful, deep
breathing throughout – this instantly enhances feelings of calm in the body and mind.
A sense of calm and wellbeing is encouraged by the relaxation of tense muscles
It has also been shown to releases endorphins, which naturally cause the body and
mind to feel more relaxed and positive. Endorphins also have pain-killing (analgesic)
properties. Your sleep will improve with regular Pilates, which will greatly reduce any
fatigue and stress. You will feel energized and invigorated, because Pilates forces you
to focus on the present moment and the movement you are performing, to the
exclusion of your everyday preoccupations and stresses.
5. Pre, during & post pregnancy strengthening
A specific pilates program can be great pre, during and post-pregnancy in counteracting the ever changing muscle imbalances of the pregnant body. Furthermore, during pregnancy, pelvic ligaments become more relaxed and the Pubis Symphysis (joint at the front of the pelvis) softens due to the hormone Relaxin being released. This hormone is helpful in some ways but also decreases support around the pelvis and lower back which results in increased likelihood of injury to these areas. This relaxed state of ligaments and the Pubic Symphysis can also extend into post pregnancy when new tasks such as breastfeeding and constant picking up and carrying of the baby increases the load that the new mother has to manage on a daily basis.
Pilates is based on slow and controlled movement as well as being low impact in
nature. Specific attention can be directed during pilates sessions towards
strengthening particular common movements that mothers do on a regular basis such
as picking up a baby from the floor, with an emphasis on training the correct
There is a lot of uncertainty in the general public with regards to what exercise is safe
during pregnancy but Pilates has been shown to be a safe option when your aim is to
get strong, stay mobile and move well as your body is changing shape!
But don’t take our word for it, check out the link below to the Sydney Morning Herald article on pilates:
Book in now to see one of our Physio’s for your pilates screening and set up to see what all the fuss is about!
Call: 02 9231 0420 or book online at www.fixphysio.com.au
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