Pilates, originally developed and named after Joseph Pilates, is a system of exercises focused on improving muscle strength and control, especially focused on working the whole of body’s stabilising muscle groups, such as the abdominal muscles (core stability), stabilisers of the pelvis, hips, knee, shoulders, neck and all other major body parts.
Pilates is about improving overall joint stability in a manner that is safe and effective, with particular concentration on building body awareness, excellent posture and easy, graceful functional movement. It is not just about moving the body or a machine back and forward, but about making the mind aware of the movement so that it becomes sub-conscious and a natural part of your normal movement and joint function.
Unlike traditional weight training which focuses on building bulky, powerful “prime mover” muscles, Pilates aims to improve the control and function of the major stabilising muscles, which produces sleeker, even and more toned muscles.
By improving general joint stability, Pilates is excellent at reducing excessive joint loads and either preventing injury and often minimising injuries causes by joint muscle imbalance, such as a large proportion of back injuries, pelvic instability, common after pregnancy, knee cap irritation and shoulder impingement to name a few, which are primarily the result of muscle imbalance.
The wonderful thing about Pilates is that a good base of Pilates exercises and muscle tone as a result of Pilates makes it easier to perform traditional weight training, so your gym program becomes much more complete and more effective.
Original Pilates and the Principles of Contrology
Joseph Pilates, developed his concept of exercise, called Contrology, explained in detail in his 1945 book, “Return to Life through Contrology”, based around 8 main principles
1) Concentration – “Concentrating on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly, thus lose all the vital benefits of their value” – J Pilates. Physical restrictions in movement are embedded in our mental movement patterns and concentration is need to alter these patterns to more normal movement
2) Centering – The “powerhouse”, refers to lumbo-sacral stability, incorporating core stability, pelvic stability and hip stability. Joseph Pilates was an innovator in this field, recognising that lumbo-sacral control was the beginning of good function of the spine and the base of all other movement. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that core stability and 2000’s that pelvic and hip stability were scientifically recognised as very important in the function of the back and everyday lifestyle activities
3) Breathing – “To breath correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to squeeze every atom of impure air from the lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop from a wet cloth” – J Pilates. Although breathing control in the strict method described by Joseph Pilates has not bean a major focus at MD Health Pilates, normal diaphragmatic breathing, focussing on the expansion of the diaphragm is important for both good breathing and posture
4) Control – “Ideally our muscles should obey our will. Reasonably our will should not be determined by the reflex actions of our muscles” – J Pilates. An extension of concentration, the way you do an exercise is just as important as the way you push or pull the Pilates reformer. You want to achieve control over the stabilisers so they can be engaged when you need them.
5) Precision – “Correctly executed and mastered to the point of subconscious reaction, these exercises will reflect grace and balance in your routine activities” – J Pilates.
6) Flowing movement – “Contrology is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace and skill that will be unmistakably reflected in (all you do )” – J Pilates. Each movement should be smooth and controlled. The way we practice the movement is important and your brain remembers and forms patterns based on how we practice. So practice of smooth, flowing movement during Pilates training results in smooth flowing, controlled movement during everyday life activities
7) Isolation – “Each muscle may co-operatively and loyally aid in the uniform development of all other muscles” – J Pilates. Each muscle should be able to work in isolation and co-ordination with each other muscle.
8) Routine – “Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavour” – J Pilates. Your brain improves muscle control and muscle tone only through practice. Regularly exercising and repeating tasks is the only way your brain learns new tasks and refines them into precise, repeatable and useful patterns
Traditional Pilates versus Modern Pilates
Traditional Pilates, taught by instructors who were taught by instructors who could trace their original training from Joseph Pilates himself generally follow the strict routines and protocols set out by Joseph Pilates.
Most modern Pilates programs have modified the original Pilates work with a variety of different influences, from physiotherapy, to dance, to aerobics and the fitness industry. Therefore the quality and influence of particular Pilates programs is widely, widely varied. At MD Health Pilates, our programs originated from the Clinical Pilates program designed by Craig Philips in Melbourne and has been further developed in the last 10 years into our current program.
We see Pilates exercises and equipment as a wonderful tool to achieve our client’s physical and clinical goals for their body. The principles described by Joseph Pilates are exactly the tools required by your brain to learn new tasks with stability and control. His exercise regimes were 70 years ahead of their time, just that modern neuroscience can now prove why.
However, specificity of choice of exercises based on good physiotherapy/exercise physiology assessment and principles is the key to a successful Pilates program. We assess, re-assess and customise each program for a reason, to make sure it work and is appropriate for each person, with good support from the scientific literature to show this is the most effective way to implement Pilates exercises