Pilates Exercises Guide

The Pilates Method (sometimes simply Pilates) is a physical fitness system that was developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates.

Pilates called his method The Art of Contrology, which refers to the way the method encourages the use of the mind to control the muscles.

It is an exercise program that focuses on the core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and are essential to providing support for the spine.

In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of neutral alignment of the spine and strengthening the deep postural muscles that support this alignment, which are important to help alleviate and prevent lumbago or lower back pain. The herbal remedy Harpagophytum, also known as devils claw is said to help relieve lower back pain.

Pilates Exercises1

Important principles of his exercise program include:

  • Use of mental focus to improve movement efficiency and muscle control
  • Awareness of neutral spine alignment, or proper posture, throughout the exercises
  • Development of the deep muscles of the back and abdomen to support this posture
  • Use of breath to promote mental focusing and centering
  • Creating length, strength, and flexibility in muscles

Pilates practitioners use their own bodies as weights in training, to build strength, and flexibility. This is targeted without a focus on high-powered cardiovascular exercise. Today, Pilates is used in the rehabilitation process by many physical therapists. Pilates is an old approach to movement re-education that is becoming popular in the field of fitness and rehabilitation.

The Pilates environment can be used as an assistive environment that optimizes the acquisition of movement with a reduction of destructive forces and can be used to progress individuals through more challenging movements that represent their day-to-day activities.

It is beneficial for:

  • General fitness and body awareness
  • Injury prevention
  • Remedial and rehabilitation work
  • Improvement of technique for athletes and dancers
  • Pregnancy: Pre and post natal
  • The elderly
  • For children from 12 years-old

Pilates helps to:

  • Increase and create a balance between strength and flexibility
  • Create an awareness of and strengthen dynamic stability
  • Improve coordination
  • Release stress
  • Improve posture


The pilates equipment uses the resistance of springs to create effort. The principle piece of equipment is called the reformer and consists of a sliding platform anchored at one end of its frame with springs. The platform is moved by either pulling on ropes or pushing off from a stationary bar.

Thus, exercises include the challenge of moving the platform and maintaining balance on a moving surface (if sitting or standing). Another Pilates machine is called the cadillac and consists of a padded platform with a cage-like frame above it. From this frame various bars or straps are attached by springs.

A third piece of equipment, the wunda chair consists of a small bench-like platform with a bar attached with springs. Exercises are done by pushing on the bar while either sitting or standing on the bench, or standing or lying on the floor. (Several other pieces of equipment unique to the pilates system are also likely to be encountered at pilates studios.)

Mat exercises primarily focus on strengthening the muscles of the trunk and hip and increasing the flexibility of both the spine and hips. While the scope of the mat program is limited compared to the machines, there are many mat exercises that illustrate the pilates principles. Lately, pilates has merged with other movement techniques, such as yoga, or use of an exercise ball. This promotes creative integration of the pilates principles into a greater range of exercises in the mat class setting.

Recommendations before Starting Pilates:

Before starting any new exercise system, check with your healthcare provider. Before starting a pilates program, check that your potential instructor has received training in the exercise system, and understands any medical problems you may have. If you start pilates after physical therapy, have your therapist outline the exercise principles identified as particularly important for you.

Important movement principles are taught in some of the simplest exercises of the pilates system. Individuals with significant back or other movement problems will benefit from several one-on-one pilates sessions with a qualified instructor.

Exercises performed incorrectly can be worse for you than no exercise at all. Weekly pilates sessions may be enough, if you commit to practicing between sessions. Twice a week initially will help you learn the program more quickly.

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