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What is Pilates? A Guide to This Popular Exercise

Pilates is a mind body exercise technique, involving the deep postural muscles, promoting core stability. Good core stability is important for maintaining good posture, hence why so many partake in this form of exercise. Our Chartered Physiotherapist and Pilates Instructor Catriona Newham outlines the  history of Pilates and also how the activity is of benefit to our health.

Pilates is named after Joseph Pilates who is born in Germany in 1880. Joseph had rickets and asthma which plagued his childhood buthe was determined to overcome his ill health. Joseph studied many approaches to exercise and picked out the best aspects to achieve good alignment with a balance between strength and flexibility.


Eventually Joseph began to teach what he had discovered and opened a studio in New York, which became very popular with dancers and subsequently spread to sports people and rehabilitation injuries.

These initial devotees were highly trained individuals so the original mat work exercises have been carefully modified to make them safer for a wider population, who are interested in achieving better posture.

What Pilates Does

When young children play their bodies move easily with grace, flexibility and speed. Adults tend to lose this freedom though repetitive movements, lack of exercise and too much sitting.

The brain remembers patterns of movement so repeated activity in poor postural positions sets up faulty movement patterns. This leads to imbalances in timing and recruitment of muscles. When muscles work in the wrong way, their structure changes so that they become short and tight which then makes injury more likely.

Pilates works to rebalance the body: strengthening the weak muscles while relaxing and lengthening the tight muscles. It aims to improve the stability of your back, pelvis and shoulder girdle – your core or centre, to give you a strong base to work from.

The muscles that are important for this are the Transverses Abdominus – a deep muscle which wraps around the trunk like a corset and pelvic floor

Setting Centre…

You switch on your core muscles as you do your exercises to stabilise the spine- this is called setting your centre and is at the very heart of Pilates. The core muscles are postural muscles which means they are endurance muscles not power muscles. Therefore you train how long you can hold these muscles rather than training how hard you can squeeze them. You can set centre by working through the pelvic floor or the tummy muscles. Your Charted Physiotherapist will be able to assist you with locating these muscles and learning how to activate them. Once you have achieved this, you will be able to progress through further drills of varying difficulty to enhance their endurance.

Benefit of Pilates

  • Stronger, more flexible spine
  • Improved strength, stamina and flexibility
  • Reduction of tension and stress
  • Improved body awareness
  • Promoting recovery from injury
  • Improved postureImproved pelvic floor tone
  • Restoring muscle control ante and post natal
  • Improved breathing control

The Physio Company has Pilates classes in  Dublin at various times of throughout the year. If you are interested in partaking in our Pilates classes, please contact our patient services team to check for when the next set of classes start and to their availability. If you would like to be treated for physiotherapy by Catriona, who works from our Barrow Street clinic, be sure to mention her name when booking !

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