What is Pilates - physiotherapist description

What is Pilates?

…and why is it good for you?

What is Pilates - physiotherapist description

So…what is Pilates?

The Pilates exercise technique consists of movements of the whole body that help to promote strength, mobility and flexibility.

Pilates focuses on central ‘core’ muscles that act as a centre point to aid efficient movement patterns and control. This ‘central core’ concept can then be challenged and the intensity altered by various arm and leg movements or resistance from equipment.

This concept aims to enhance normal movement patterns and create whole body alignment which creates more efficiency in daily activities and less likely to be prone to future pains or injury.

Who is Pilates for?

The principles of Pilates and many of the original exercises have now been adapted and are used to teach Pilates classes around the world. Pilates can be very flexible to suit the level and needs of each individual. Whether you are new to exercise, an elite athlete or somewhere in between the approach and the principles are the same for all.

There are so many Pilates exercises and variations that can be modified to suit a person’s individual needs or adapted and combined with equipment to add some variety.

Mind and body

Pilates also aims to connect the mind and body by allowing more awareness of breathing control and concentrating on the precision and fluidity of the body’s movement.

This focus on breathing is designed to help gain the connection between the flow of the movement and the mind. Although there have been various theories relating to what is the best breath pattern the current excepted theory is based on the idea that breathing out on the part of the movement that requires the most effort provides the spine with the greatest local muscle stability.

Pilates aims to connect mind and body
Pilates also aims to connect the mind and body.

However, this theory does not always suit everyone and the breathing should not overtake the key aim of the Pilates movement which is to perform the exercise smoothly and fluidly, with the least amount of muscle activity for that task.

…And what about core stability?

Core stability relates to the region of the body that is bounded by the abdominal wall, the pelvis, the lower back and the diaphragm and its ability to stabilise the body during movement. This can often be thought of as the body’s natural corset.

The key muscles that are involved in this include:

  • The transverse abdominus
  • The internal and external obliques
  • Quadratus lumborum and…
  • The diaphragm.

The diaghram is one of the main muscles involved in breathing and so breathing is important in providing the necessary core stability for moving and lifting.

In Pilates we use five key muscles slings groups of muscles, fascia and ligaments, that work together throughout a movement. These slings connect to certain exercises and can be used to identify areas of weakness or inefficiency in movement patterns.

In Pilates, we work to achieve movement patterns through this concept of muscles working together opposed to specifically ‘working’ or identifying one muscle.

Pilates as a programme should incorporate and engage not just the ‘central’ core but the muscles slings, arms and legs.

Dysfunction or weakness within a component of these important sling systems can create problems, pain and or injury.

Pilates bridge exercise - what is pilates
Pilates bridge exercise with leg extension

What are the muscle slings?

Part of our body’s muscular system can be grouped into anatomical slings which are made up of muscles, fascia and ligaments which work together to provide stability and mobility to our body. When a muscle contracts and produces a force, this force can spread beyond the origin of the active muscle via the fascia to other structures within their anatomical sling. The force and load can therefore be spread across the pelvis and lumbar spine. These groups of muscles making up the anatomical slings work together to help provide stability around the pelvis and lumbar spine and when working efficiently can produce more force and speed.

The five muscle slings used in Pilates are the Primary sling, the Posterior oblique sling, the Anterior oblique sling, the deep longitudinal sling and the lateral sling.

The primary sling is made up of the inner abdominal core of transverse abdominus, multifidus, diaphragm, pelvic floor and thoraco-lumbo-pelvis fascia. All exercises engage and activate the primary sling as is based on pre activation before the movement.

The posterior oblique sling is linked by latissimus dorsi muscle on one side and gluteus maximus on the opposite side. Engaging this muscle sling can help with pelvic girdle dysfunction, running and walking and improve sacroiliac joint stability. Exercises in Pilates that engage this sling include bridging, swimming and side kick movements.

The Anterior oblique sling consists of the internal and external obliques and is linked with the opposite adductor muscle via the anterior abdominal pelvic fascia. It has a key function in activities such as walking and there is an increase demand on this muscle sling on activities such as multidirectional sports. Many Pilates exercises engage this muscle sling which include one leg stretch, double leg stretch and one leg circle movements.

The deep longitudinal sling is made up of the erector spinae muscles, deep lumbo-pelvic fascia, sacro-iliac joint ligaments and biceps femoris muscle. This muscle sling helps to improve stability around the sacroiliac joint. Exercises including bridging and one leg kick activate this muscle sling.

The lateral sling consists of the deep glute muscles (glute medius and minimus), tensor fascia latae and the deep pelvic fascia linked with the opposite adductor longus. This muscle sling is key in helping to improve rotational control. Exercises which challenge the rotational control activate this muscle sling which includes clam, side kick, hip twist and one leg circle exercises.

Therefore these key muscle slings working together allow muscles to work efficiently and effectively to perform the task at hand whilst also enhancing normal movement patterns and helping to improve body alignment. Considering the connection of the core to the diaphragm, incorporating breathing in a way that gives the movement flow can help with both the engagement of these muscles and to focus the mind-body connection we strive to achieve in Pilates. Finding a routine to do Pilates practice so we are repeating the movement patterns will lead to greater skill and greater benefits. As with any form of exercise practice makes perfect!

Fancy giving Pilates a go?

Why not try some online Pilates? All classes on this site are offered for free.

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  • Lynn

    Thank you so much for the explanation of Pilates. It is the first time I have read this in all the years I continue to learn and enjoy Pilates.
    Have a wonderful day.

  • Jill

    Thank you so much I have never done Pilates previously and am loving your teaching approach, I’m still working through January’s programme but can already start to feel my core,

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