Updated: Mar 17, 2021
Joseph Pilates famously claimed ‘You will feel better in 10 sessions, look better in 20 & have a completely new body in 30 sessions’. Joseph was the German-born creator of Pilates who developed his unique exercise & rehabilitation techniques during internment in World War 1. He went on to hone & progress his methods in New York, working with dancers & performers.
Whilst admittedly this is quite a claim from the creator of Pilates, clinical research certainly backs the benefits of regular Pilates sessions:
Pilates exercises have been shown to be more effective long-term in treating first episodes of low back pain than medical management or normal activity alone (Hides et al. 2001).
Pilates exercises are effective in reducing pain and disability in short and long term neck pain and headaches (Jul et al. 2002).
Pilates in conjunction with physiotherapy is more effective in reducing pelvic pain than physiotherapy alone (Stuge et al. 2004).
Treatment of low back pain with Pilates is more effective than usual back care treatments in those with chronic, unresolved low back pain (Rydeard et al. 2006).
A 6-week Pilates course significantly improves functional movement in recreational runners, and may lead to a reduction in injuries (Laws et al. 2017) - more on this coming soon...
From increased strength, improved balance, injury prevention, reduced pain & better flexibility the benefits of Pilates are far reaching. Read on to discover what Pilates could do for you.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a form of exercise which aims to strengthen the whole body, with a particular focus on starting with the core muscles (the primary sling / centre - more on this below).
Pilates can be modified to sort all bodies, of all ages & a little Pilates can do a lot to support individuals with pain & injury.
A concise definition of Pilates is “dynamic stabilisation retraining which reconditions the body from the core (primary sling) to prevent occurrence of & to treat a range of postural & musculoskeletal conditions”
What is the core?
The core is the primary sling of muscles forming a deep corset of support around the pelvis & trunk. It is made up of:
The muscles, ligaments & fascia of the pelvic floor - forming the bottom part (or floor) of the core. The pelvic floor is a big sling of muscle & fascia that connects & provides support left to right between the 2 greater trochanters (bony portions of the femurs / thigh bones) & front to back between the pubic bone & the coccyx (the tailbone).
The diaphragm - forming the top part of the core. The diaphragm is the primary muscle used in respiration (breathing), it is a big sheet of skeletal muscle which lifts as we exhale out of our lungs, decreasing thoracic pressure & increasing abdominal pressure / support.
The transverses abdominis - a broad paired sheet of deep muscles running from the ribs 7-12, the iliac crests of the pelvis & thoracolumbar fascia to the linea alba (the front of the abdominal wall). This forms the front & sides of the cylinder of the core.
Multifidus - a group of short, triangular deep muscles either side of the entire length of the vertebral (spinal) column. This group of muscles form the back of the cylinder of the core.
Think of the core / primary sling of muscles as as a crucial part of scaffolding or support between the legs & the spine.
By optimising stability of the pelvis, hips & spine we:
▫️Control & maintain optimal joint position allowing us to distribute load appropriately & access required mobility for given tasks. For example: ensuring the ball of the hip is in the optimal place within the socket of the pelvis when we heel strike during walking / running.
▫️Control posture so there is optimal alignment between the legs / pelvis / lumbar spine / thoracic spine for given tasks.
▫️Maintain postural equilibrium, so there is no excessive stress on any of the joints during given tasks. For example: maintaining optimal hip position during running so the knee doesn’t have to absorb excessive load. (Returning to the scaffolding analogy: if the core is a weak link within the scaffolding, other areas will have to compensate. This can lead to over-use injury & musculoskeletal pain & injury).
▫️Simultaneously support breathing & continence during various tasks & loads.
The core works optimally in a neutral spine & pelvis position, so often Pilates exercise will start here… however Pilates will teach you to engage your core effectively in a variety of positions to ensure you have full & functional strength.
Is Pilates just about the core?
Whilst it is scientifically & clinically true that all efficient movement begin with core stabilisation, it is also important to train the external / global muscles to provide an effective synergy between the core & the rest of our bodies. So in short… no!
An effective Pilates workout will ensure functional stability of the core & also provide additional challenge to global muscles with carefully cued movements & positions.
Is Pilates alone enough?
No - consider the clinically recommended (department of health) exercise guidelines for adults:
At least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of intensive aerobic cardiovascular exercise each week (walking, running, cycling - anything to increase your heart rate). Ideally individuals should be aiming for at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day.
Strength training for the whole body at least twice a week.
This is why we have devised both long (45-60 minute) & short (15-30 minute) Pilates Focus & Fix classes. Our aim is to provide you with the resources to incorporate Pilates into your daily / weekly life.
Our MyPilatesLife March Pilates Fix challenge provides an ideal resource for this - join us to get your Pilates Fix every day for a week, alongside your usual exercise routine. You will feel stronger, energised & invigorated with our carefully curated classes.