You may have heard people talk about Pilates for core strength, general strength, injury prevention and rehabilitation but why is it often recommended and what makes it a suitable form of exercise for pretty much everyone?
Pilates draws on the use of breath, posture and technique to perform movement patterns and establish mind muscle connections. It is the intention to feel the connection of the breath to movement and work from the inside out. We all want a strong core, but first we need to learn core control and be able to stabilise the joints by accessing the deep muscles of the core, spine, pelvis and shoulders. In Pilates we do this by performing small and deliberate movements initially to ensure we have correct muscle activation and then progressing to the more challenging Pilates repertoire.
The Pilates method is based around 6 main principles and it’s these principles which keep the exercises specific, focused and safe. Exercise progressions and modifications make Pilates safe and effective.
Below is a summary of the 6 principles:
Centring – All movements are initiated or start with your core (your powerhouse) being switched on correctly through a specific muscle activation sequence and therefore enabling you to move with stability, control and precision. Your core includes the abdominal, lower back and the buttocks. Every exercise is initiated from your core and then flows outwards to the periphery of the body. The body is also centred by using proper alignment and form.
A large majority of Pilates exercises are done with a focus on spinal and torso stability. This means being able to prevent or resist movement is one part of the body while being able to move other parts of the body. Proper core activation stemming from the pelvic floor and deep abdominals is critical in being able to prevent movement through the spine while being able to move other parts of the body.
Concentration – Concentration in Pilates refers to bringing your attention and effort to mastering each exercise in accordance to your ability and skill level. There are specific focus points within each exercise beginning with breathing patterns and knowing which muscles are meant to be working. Concentration is needed to ensure correct alignment of the body and maintaining stabilization throughout the whole exercise.
Control – Every exercise and movement must be done with control. From the initial set up and beginning of the movement to the end of the movement. Even the transitions between exercises are done with good form and control. The participant must be in control of their muscles, speed of movement, position of the body in space and resistance against gravity and own bodyweight. Greater control is associated with fewer errors, more exact alignment, better balance, less effort through efficiency and avoiding excess muscle tension.
Precision – Precision refers to the exact manner in which an action is executed. Knowledge of human anatomy is crucial in achieving precision in movement in order to identify which muscles are working or should be working. Precision is also associated with the activation of isolated muscles and therefore being able to access the correct muscles or not, particularly in the case of smaller, deeper muscles. The precision of the movements in Pilates also incorporates the need for spacial awareness. The beginning and end positions of the exercises are extremely important as all exercises require precise positioning of the body throughout the movement. The precision of the movement is a key factor in protecting the body and getting the most from the movement and ensuring the safety of the exercise. Because each exercise has a specific purpose, the goal is to execute each exercise perfectly. Most of the exercises are therefore low repetition but done perfectly. You will notice the cueing constantly refers to control, breath, concentration, flow, centering and precision.
Breath – Breath is like the engine that fuels and drives Pilates. It’s mind, body and spirit… literally! It is common to catch yourself holding your breath while lifting heavy loads or even during less intense workouts! Proper, deep, consistent breathing is essential to flowing movement and overall health. Controlled, focused and specific breathing is just one aspect of Pilates which sets it apart from other exercise methods… and can sometimes be confusing. The primary method of breathing used is lateral or sideways breathing. To practice this, place your hands on either side of your ribcage and inhale to feel the space in between your hands expanding sideways. Breathing wide into the sides of the ribcage. As you exhale you should feel the ribcage soften again and the abdominal muscles assist in expelling all the air. Lateral breathing allows the ribs to remain stable on the spine and torso in balanced position.
Flow of movement – Flow is described as a smooth, uninterrupted continuity of movement. Pilates consists of balanced movements that flow smoothly and in turn train the body to move in an even and dynamic fashion. The flowing movements encourage flexibility, range and control. Greater flow is achieved from movement proficiency and practice.
The way in which each person integrates these principles into the practice of Pilates and life itself is individual. For example, one person may emphasize more of the physical aspects, using Pilates to enhance athletic performance, improve muscle tone or aid with recovery from injury. Another person may place greater import on the mental aspects, using Pilates to reduce stress or aid with improving focus and concentration in his or her life. What’s important is that the execution of each exercise and the practice as a whole are not just a careless imitation but continually focused on learning how the exercises are executed and applying these six principles in accordance with your current physical and mental acuity.