What is Pilates?
Last month, we talked about how Pilates helped me overcome back pain, hip problems, sciatica and more. This time, we’d like to help you better understand Pilates and the many ways it promotes efficient movement throughout your body. First, we’ll define it. Then, we’ll cover 10 principles that are essential to this rehabilitative exercise system.
Pilates is an exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates that helps strengthen muscles, increase flexibility and improve overall health. It focuses on engaging the mind and body together resulting in mindful movement. This type of movement improves our efficiency in all aspects of moving throughout our day as well as decreases the extra stress and fatigue that inefficient movement, breathing and alignment can cause.
Pilates Movement Principles
Joseph Pilates developed 10 key principles that are essential to developing the correct movement and alignment as we progress through the Pilates exercises. Understanding the basics of these principles will help us form a solid foundation to build upon as the exercises progress from beginner to advanced.
Breathing – Learning to breathe correctly is essential for health and wellbeing. This can decrease stress, lower or raise blood pressure, improve aerobic capacity and calm the mind and spirit. The diaphragm is the primary muscle of respiration. Pilates teaches you how to use this crucial core muscle correctly.
Lower Core Activation – “The Powerhouse” is another term for the lower core muscles and is the foundation of every exercise in Pilates and in life. Learning to use these muscles is the key to efficient, graceful and balanced movement.
Neutral Pelvis – Finding the optimum starting position is the key to all movement. Research shows that the core or “powerhouse” works best as a lumbopelvic stabilizer when the pelvis and lumbar spine are in a neutral position. This allows for a solid foundation to move from and provides a comfortable, efficient way of moving. You’ll learn how to find this neutral spine position.
Abdominal Strengthening – Abdominal strength starts with the core, but the core does not move the torso. To create movement, the remaining abdominals must be engaged. Pilates will train you how to engage these muscles for more efficient movement patterns.
Lumbopelvic Stability – Multiple body systems must work together to provide efficient, full body movement. Lumbopelvic stability is created by a combination of the lower core or Inner Unit and the larger, more global muscles. Pilates will teach you how to maintain pelvic stability while moving your limbs through functional daily tasks.
Strengthening and Mobilizing the Spine – Optimizing mobility of the torso and spine in all directions helps prevent injury and promote efficiency of movement. In Pilates, you learn how to do this correctly and efficiently to avoid injury.
Shoulder Stability and Mobility – The amount of mobility that is allowed for in the shoulder region often compromises the amount of stability we have. Optimal function of the shoulder allows for stability of the glenohumeral joint by strengthening the rotator cuff and establishing full range of motion in the scapulae and glenohumeral joint to allow the muscles to work effectively. Many Pilates exercises emphasize scapula stability to provide efficient postures and movement patterns.
Alignment and Posture – When the body lines up correctly, it uses less energy to hold itself up, which results in less pain. The movements of Pilates help your spine to naturally realign.
Release Work – To relax and release chronically tight parts of the body. These are used in conjunction with stretching and myofascial work. At Balanced Fitness & Health, manual physical therapy will often be used in combination with Pilates exercises to release fascial restrictions.
Stretching – Stretching helps speed up the body’s ability to change and to learn new movement patterns. Emphasis on lengthening the body through exercises aids muscles in learning to move and rest in these lengthened positions.
As you can see, Pilates can address nearly any aspect of pain or injury you may be experiencing. Pilates was a life changer for me in relieving me from years of back pain from scoliosis that resulted in chronic hip and back issues, disc bulges and joint degeneration. I am now able to live a pain-free lifestyle and enjoy many activities that used to cause me pain.
If you’d like to see what Pilates based rehabilitation can do for you, please call us to set up a free 20-minute introduction to Pilates. I look forward to helping you sit, stand and move in a more efficient, pain-free posture!
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Angie McCormick is a Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist for Balanced Fitness and Health in Hiawatha, Iowa. Her professional expertise and personal experience with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) enrich her work helping clients with the exercise, nutrition and life skills required to conquer pain.