Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, a man who was inspired by his poor health as a child to study anatomy, yoga, Zen and the exercises of the Greeks and Romans. By the time he was 14, Pilates had developed such an impressive body that he modeled for anatomy charts. His later jobs included boxer, circus performer and fitness trainer.
Based on his studies and his personal experience, Pilates developed a system of exercises that he called Controlology, which is now called Pilates. The principles of Pilates are mind over matter, breathing, centering, concentration, control and precision. The exercises, which can be performed on a mat or machines, aim to teach correct postural alignment of the spine and strengthen the deep torso muscles (core muscles).
Physical therapy and Pilates share many concepts, and many physical therapists are integrating Pilates into their rehabilitation programs. Physical therapy is the science of preventing, diagnosing and treating movement dysfunctions. Physical therapy exercises focus mainly on muscle balance, postural alignment and, most importantly, function.
The Pilates machines are great for many patients because the system of ropes, pulleys, and springs can resist or assist movement in positions that decrease loads on the spine. This is safer and less painful than some other forms of exercise.
Pilates movement patterns can adapt to a variety of diagnoses, but they aren’t recommended for everyone. Pregnant women should only do Pilates under the supervision of an instructor with training in using Pilates during pregnancy. Some women experience separation of the abdominal muscles (diastesis) during pregnancy, and should avoid Pilates. Patients with an acute disc injury of the spine should complete core stabilization exercises first and then transition to Pilates exercises. While Pilates can help strengthen the back, if you’re being treated for a back injury, it’s best to consult with your doctor and physical therapist before starting a Pilates program.