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Recovery Tip

Did you know that your core muscles, which are the deepest layer of your tummy muscles, should work at all times to brace and protect your back? These muscles switch off due to pain and it takes 50,000 repetitions before they work automatically again to protect your back!

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The Pilates method has become a more and more popular form of exercise in recent years, but it actually is more than a hundred years old.



Joseph Pilates was born in 1880, and was a very sick child. According to reports, he had a fascination with exercise and making himself stronger to avoid illness. In World War I he was involved with rehabilitating prisoners, and eventually became involved with several private clients, including dancers. Joseph moved to New York, just before WWII, to open a studio and work with elite dancers to improve their trade and rehabilitate injuries. During this time, Pilates devised a number of machines and contraptions to help his clients train.

Joseph worked in peak physical condition until an injury in a studio fire severely affected his health at the age of 87, in 1967. His wife Clara continued to teach his work for another decade, and then his students continued to teach his method after her death a decade later.

In modern times, there are two streams of the Pilates method. The Traditional Pilates method is based on Joseph’s teachings as they stood in the early 20th century. Many of his ‘contraptions’ remain unchanged, and are based on the prisoner hospital beds and trapezes that his clients came into contact with on a regular basis.

Contemporary Pilates has combined the principles of Joseph’s method and modern-day anatomical and functional research and knowledge. It is what is taught in most group classes, and focuses on ‘core stability’.



Relaxation is incredibly important for those practicing Pilates for a number of reasons. It allows participants to fully engage their minds in the present activity, and for their bodies to retrain effective and efficient movement patterns. Relaxation of non-key muscle groups during exercise allows for increased mobility, and control over the body. Holding unnecessary tension is a common cause of pain.

Concentration ties in closely with relaxation. Body awareness is crucial to being able to re-calibrate your nervous system’s map of your body’s movement through space, which is important for improving movement patterning in everyday life. This process can be difficult when learning the Pilates method, but eventually becomes easier and then automated, like any new skill.

Alignment is important for avoiding injury during exercise. However alignment is not a static concept – it adapts as your body moves through different positions and reacts to different forces acting on it. Alteration of one element (eg. Moving a limb) affects other elements in the system (your body), so the maintenance of good alignment has to constantly adapt to those changes.

Centring is the concept that the physical centre of your body is where you draw all the power to move your body from. Joseph Pilates referred to this as his ‘Powerhouse’, referring to his abdomen, lower back and buttocks. In Contemporary Pilates, we know that the ‘Powerhouse’ or ‘core stability’ is drawn from specific muscles deep in the abdominal cavity, including transversus abdominus, multifidus and the pelvic floor.

Breathing during Pilates exercises focuses on the most efficient form of drawing breath, called bibasal breathing. This is where the ribs expanding does most of the work to suck in air (opposed to letting the belly rise and fall, called abdominal breathing). This frees up the abdominal muscles to focus on movement and improves their efficiency. The most important thing is keeping air moving – don’t hold your breath. Then, working on breathing efficiently like described.

Coordination and flowing movements are one of the trickiest things about practicing Pilates, once the basic principles are learnt. It entails combining all the previous principles at once, and applying them to specific movements and postures. These are principles that come with practice.

Lastly, Stamina is the ability to perform the exercises through a progression of increasingly difficult conditions. Once a sufficient level of control over a movement is achieved consistently, your Pilates instructor may choose to improve your stamina by adding a resistive force (like an elastic resistance band) to your movements.

 What is ‘Core Stability’?

Put simply, core stability is the ability for an individual to maintain a low-level contraction of deepest stabilising muscles (deep tummy, deep back and pelvic floor muscles) of their abdominal cavity during activities. This also means being able to isolate these deep muscles from the superficial (shallow) ‘mover’ muscles of the abdomen. These mover muscles should only be recruited for movement – not stability.

All Pilates exercises should begin with a mindfulness of the core’s stabilising muscles, and maintenance of their activation throughout the movement. Foundation level exercises focus on training to ablity to ‘layer-on’ and ‘layer off’ the superficial mover muscles over the deep stabilising muscles.

Your Pilates instructor will talk to you about your core, and maintaining neutral spinal alignment during exercise to give your stabilisers the best chance of activation.


Would you like to know more about Pilates? Our physiotherapist Isabelle is qualified as a matwork instructor. She is available for individual Pilates consultations, and is working towards setting up regular, small group Pilates classes. Watch this space!


To book your consult with Isabelle today, click the ‘Book Online’ button at the top of the page.