It is no secret that physical activity has endless benefits for our health and wellbeing. As the evidence continues to stack up, the options available to us also keep coming; bootcamps, spin classes, Cross Fit, F45, yoga, pilates.. yogalates.. with so many different forms of exercise on offer it can sometimes be hard to know what we should do, or what is going to benefit us most. It is often a matter of giving lots of things a go, to work out what works best for you. At the end of the day, if you are moving, enjoying it and can understand why it is good for you, this will help keep you motivated to turn up.

Here, we are going to uncover the main concepts behind the practise of Pilates. So, if you have ever thought about giving it a go but don’t totally understand what its all about, then this will help you discover if it sounds like you.

Pilates is an exercise regime which aims to develop the deep postural ‘core’ muslces to support the spine throughout movement, enhance normal movement patterns and improve body awareness, alignment and posture. The end result is a body that is more efficient in daily activities and less prone to future injuries.

Firstly, lets stop and define what we mean by the ‘core’. It is a word that gets used a lot but lets check we are all referring to the same thing. When asking clients if they perform core exercises, a common response is, “Yes I do sit ups and prone holds.” While they are not wrong, the abdominal muscles are a component of one’s core, it is not however confined to these muscles alone. Unfortunately, a universally accepted definition of our anatomical core is somewhat lacking. However, the clinical Pilates approach is to break it down into the ‘Supportive core’ and the ‘Strength core’. The supportive core is comprised of the deep musculature including, the diaphragm, transversus abdominus, multifidus and pelvic floor muscles. The strength core comprises more superficial muscles, extending across the entire mid section of our body, these muscles include: lattisimus dorsi, serratus anterior, external and internal obliques, rectus abdominus, quadratus lumborum, gluteals and the thoracolumbar fascia. You don’t have to know exactly where all these muscles are but hopefully you can see the core is a bit more extensive than just our abs. Therefore, when we are defining the role of our ‘core’, we are referring to all muscles within both our ‘strength core’ and ‘supportive core’ working in synergy to promote functional stability during both static and dynamic movement.

So why Pilates? What are the benefits and why should someone give it a go? The most commonly understood benefits include, increasing muscular activation and strength, particularly within the core region, and improving your bodies flexibility. However, the benefits extend beyond this. Pilates also enhances your focus and concentration, breathing mechanics, posture and is a wonderful tool for stress management and relaxation.

The Pilates method is based upon 6 key principles which helps explain some of these lesser known benefits and explains how it is set apart from other forms of exercise.

Breathing- The diaphragm is our primary respiratory muscle and is an integral part of our supportive core. Afocus on moving with your breath is essential in Pilates. Pilates teaches us to exhale on movements which require the largest effort. In doing so this provides the spine with the greatest local muscle stability during the exercise. Diaphragmatic breathing in its own right is also proving to be an effective technique in triggering our bodies natural relaxation responses, which has a positive effect on both our mental and physical health in what is becoming an increasingly stressful world. A 60min pilates class essentially means 60 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing and can often explain why people walk out feeling calm and relaxed post session.

Centering- All Pilates exercises are initiated from the centre of the body. Centering refers to the activation of your deep ‘supportive core’ muscles with the aim to maintain this core activation to provide a stable base whilst performing a range of different movements.

Concentration & Precision – Pilates promotes the mind-body connection. Complete concentration and being mindful of every movement is vital to promote correct alignment and exercise performance. A mental check list of points to focus on for each exercise should include the breathing pattern, correct muscle activation and sequencing, the alignment of the body and maintaining this correct position throughout the execution of the movement. This takes a lot of focus and is ultimately what often makes Pilates so challenging.

Control – Every Pilates exercise is completed with absolute control. Conscious control and quality, rather than quantity or intensity is the focus when performing exercises correctly.

Flow- Pilates exercises are performed in an even, continuous, flowing motion, connecting movement with your breathing pattern.

Pilates is a versatile exercise regime that has numerous benefits. If this is a form of exercise which you feel would play a beneficial role in your life, head along to our Pilates page on our website to read more about what we offer at Sports Lab.

Becky Norrish is a Sports Lab Physiotherapist and Pilates Instructor. Becky is a firm believer that someone who understands their dysfunction will be ultimately successful in self-management and prevention of future recurrences. Becky is our Sports Lab “Yes Man”, always up for an adventure.