Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany and raised in Britain. As a young man he earned his living through his physical skills; performing in the circus, bodybuilding, wrestling, boxing and gymnastics.

During WWII he was placed in an internment camp. This is where he developed his Pilates floor exercises using readily available objects to strengthen the Core muscles. He helped many of his fellow internees with exercises he developed. He added to these exercises by using springs and other equipment that was available to him.

Pilates developed exercises that rehabilitated his fellow internees from disease and injury. He believed that people should be equally balanced in body, mind and spirit. He believed that modern day living ,poor posture and inefficient breathing contributed to poor health. Pilates originally called his work, “Contrology,” because mind and body muscle control is required to perform Pilates exercises. His exercises were to be performed slowly and smoothly with concentration and precision.


What is Pilates?

Pilates brings the mind and body together. It focuses on core strength and muscular imbalances. When these are addressed the skeletal system is corrected, which leads to better posture and more efficient breathing. Pilates works the body dynamically using eccentric and concentric movements. It utilizes the smaller, weaker muscles, which help to balance the muscles and heal chronic back pain.

The breathing helps to being about concentration so that form and exercises are both correct. When movements are performed with Pilates breathing lung capacity is enhanced. It helps shallow breathers learn to breathe properly, increasing stamina. Quality is more important in Pilates, which is why no more than ten repetitions are usually performed. When movements are performed well, there is no need to repeat many times.

Pilates is suitable for everyone and every age group. Many people use it on completing their physical therapy and after their injuries have healed.

“In 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 sessions you will see the difference and in 30 you will have a new body.”-Joseph Pilates. This means that a person would need to do Pilates 3 to 4 times a week, not every week for 30 weeks. Pilates can be taken with an instructor, in a class or at home which makes reaching goals more realistic.  


What is the Core?

1. Transverse abdominals: These are the deepest of the stomach muscles and are also considered as the most important for a strong core. They will help with flexing and twisting at the waist and they protect our organs. They also create a strong base and link between the upper and lower body (Marked in red on the first diagram).
2. Obliques: These muscles are positioned to the sides of our waists and link all the way up to the rib cage. They will help with movements involving twisting and tilting at the waist (Marked in purple in the second diagram).
3. Rectus Abdominus: Sits on top of the other stomach muscles and down the centre from the rib cage to the pubis bone. Its main job is to keep the pelvis in line which in turn protects the spine. (Marked in red in the second diagram).
4. Erector Spinae: These are small muscles that run up your whole spine on both sides. These muscles tend to be very tight and weak outside of the normal range. If you have a weak core, these muscles tend to take the brunt of it. One of their main jobs is to keep you upright but they also help with the twisting and bending of your trunk.
5. Ilio-psoas: Also known as your hip flexor muscles. These are situated at the top front of your legs and help raise the upper leg upwards. They join in the top of the thigh and travel through your pelvis and onto your lower spine.
6. Glutius Maximus: These muscles are in your behind and play a big part in moving the legs during walking and running and are very important for good posture, which in turn is essential for a strong core. These muscles tend to be very weak on most people.
7. Glutius Medius and Minimus: These are two more muscles found in your posterior, underneath you glutius maximus. They are much smaller and again seem to be generally weak in most people. Their main job is to take your leg out to the side and to rotate the whole leg outwards.

Why is a strong core important?

The core is made up of so many different muscle groups that affect how our bodies move daily. We walk, bend forwards and sideways, rotate, sit and need balance. These are human basic and functional movements and part of the reason why Pilates was even created! When these groups are weak and not exercised properly this can cause major issues for us as we grow older and contribute to pain.

Mind Body

Pilates isn't about brute strength but about utilizing all the muscles in the same way that a smaller boxer can beat a larger one by using intelligent tactics rather than one heavy punch.

Stott Pilates®
The  Stott Pilates® method was developed in the 1980’s by Moira Merrithew and   Lindsey G. Merrithew. They have refined the Stott method with the help of physical therapists, sports medicine and fitness professionals to ensure it is aligned with current scientific and biomechanical research.
A client should be cleared for exercise by their Physician or physical therapist before training with a Stott Pilates® instructor
The Stott method® has exercises designed to restore the natural curves of the spine and rebalance muscles around the joints. More emphasis is placed on scapula stabilization.
A client should be cleared for exercise by their Physician or physical therapist before training with a Stott Pilates® instructor.

Five basic principles

  1. Breathing
  2. Pelvic placement
  3. Ribcage placement
  4. Scapula movement
  5. Head and cervical spine placement

The Core
Pilates helps to strengthen the deep core muscles of the torso. These include the multifidus which runs along the vertebral column and extends and rotates the spine, obliques , located on the side and front of the body. The Transverse Abdominis, located under the obliques. These are the deepest muscles that wrap around the spine for stability and protection and the pelvic floor muscles. These are the foundation for the core of the body. They help stabilize the pelvis and support the lower abdominal cavity. In Pilates along with the deep muscles of the back and abdominals the pelvic floor are the main focus on developing core strength.
What is Mind body?
Joseph Pilates
“Pilates isn't about brute strength but about utilizing all the muscles in the same way that a smaller boxer can beat a larger one by using intelligent tactics rather than one heavy punch.” Joseph Pilates.
Joseph Pilates designed the Pilates exercises with the intention they would touch every aspect of a person’s life. The exercises were designed to bring about awareness in everyday life from physically moving to personal relationships. He had the idea that practicing Pilates using the mind body connection would eliminate the body of diseases and social ills. To practice Pilates means to bring about balance and increase the capability of body, mind and soul. This should improve posture, stabilization, body mechanics and physical and mental wellbeing.  Practicing Pilates should bring about mental and physical harmony.

Pilates equipment
Pilates can be done on the floor using a mat or on special equipment.

Pilates Mat
Mat exercises are the fundamentals to all Pilates exercises and it is important a person has an understanding of the Pilates principles and exercises before advancing.
Props and small equipment
Props may be used to enhance the Pilates mat exercises.  The use of Props can enhance the movements by adding resistance or be used as a tactile cue for mind body feedback.

The Flex ball is a small inflated ball that offers excellent feedback as it can be placed behind the lower back to encourage deep core awareness. It can be placed between the knees to encourage proper alignment to those with weak muscles, to stop their legs dropping open. Although the flex ball is not an original piece of Pilates equipment,  It is a great  to use  offer resistance, feedback and support.

Bands can be used for resistance and for supporting the legs during exercise.

Toning balls are weighted balls that can be held without gripping tightly. These balls add resistance to the exercises, as Pilates is about recruiting muscles as a system only light balls or weights should be used.    

Fitness or Magic Circle is a round device with padded handles. It adds resistance to Pilates exercises and encourages shoulder stability feedback.

The Foam Rollercan be used to enhance Pilates exercises on the mat. I personally prefer to see a softer roller used for improving blood flow as is used in the MELT method.

Small Arc barrelcan be used by clients to support their head and shoulders, to sit on and to support their spines during exercises when legs are in tabletop. It encourages flexibility in the spine, shoulders chest and legs. It can be used by more advanced clients to enhance Pilate’s exercises.  

Stability ballsare popular because of their instability. The core has to subconsciously work to keep a person stable, even if they are only sitting on the stability ball. A person needs to have mind body awareness through mat Pilates to do Pilates exercises with precision on the ball.
Pilates Large Equipment

The Reformer is the main piece of  equipment  used in clubs and studios. It can be used as a group class. The reformer glides forwards and backwards. It uses springs for resistance. It can be used for many exercises and positions. You can stand, sit and lay down on the reformer. As the body works in three dimensions it should be challenged three dimensionally
Using springs provides gradual resistance as the muscles contract which helps the muscles work correctly. The greatest resistance the strongest contraction of the muscles and the least resistance at the beginning and end of the movement so there is less stress on tendons and ligaments.
To add cardio and weight bearing to an exercise routine, a cardio tramp which is low impact can be attached to a reformer. A jump board can also be attached for cardio and higher impact which can increase bone density. These are new additions to modern day Pilates and shouldn’t be done in place of the Pilates repertoire so carefully designed by Joseph Pilates.


This was named because Joseph Pilates believed it had all the accessories you could possibly need and it was big and comfortable.
It does look a bit medieval and intimidating. It is usually used for Private Pilate’s sessions and can be used by the beginner and advanced client. There are many movements that all abilities can enjoy on the Pilates Cadillac. This can be used for core conditioning, mobility and to improve flexibility.

Many reformers have a tower attached to them so that many of the Cadillac exercises can be performed in group sessions.


Pilates Chair
This looks like a chair with a padded seat. It has a pedal which can often be split to two. It strengthens the core, arms and legs. Exercises can be done laying down, standing and sitting. It improves stability, strength and flexibility.