Part One: What is Pilates?

by | 24 Mar 2017

“(The Pilates Method) teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy.” ~ Joseph Pilates

Pilates is a system of exercises developed by German-born Joseph Pilates (born 1883) over a period of 60 years. It incorporates mat work, as well as work on apparatus’ such as the Reformer, the Cadillac & the Low Chair.

Starting from a young age, Pilates dedicated his life to improving his physical fitness. He studied gymnastics, martial arts & boxing. He moved to England in 1912 and earned his living as a professional circus performer and boxer. During World War I he was interned with other German Nationals on the Isle of Man. He used this time to develop his method of exercises, which he called Contrology. He often worked with those who were injured in the war, and his makeshift equipment (such as attaching bed springs to an anchor point for resistance rehabilitation) inspired what we now know as the Cadillac and the Reformer.

Following the war, Joe returned to Germany where he continued to work on his method, and then emigrated to the United States in the 1920s. He opened a studio in New York City with his wife Clara, teaching students his method, and gaining a strong following from the dance community.

Change happens through movement and movement heals.” ~ Joseph Pilates


Pilates believed that mental health and physical health were related. He believed the power of the mind lead to whole-body health. Pilates exercises promote mindfulness and flowing movement, and encourage heightened body awareness and coordination.

After his death in 1967, Contrology became known as the Pilates Method.

“Breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Our very life depends on it.” ~Joseph Pilates


Pilates teaches an awareness of breath. Joseph believed that inefficient breathing was a cause of poor health. He taught his students to inhale deeply, and exhale fully, to rid the lungs of stale air and promote the cycle of oxygen through the body.

The Pilates Method promotes core and muscular strength. It relies on low-impact exercises and endurance movements to improve flexibility, body & spine alignment, muscle balance, and posture, and stretch and strengthen the musculoskeletal system.


In recent years, Pilates has been increasingly adopted by physiotherapists and other practitioners as a complementary treatment to traditional manual approaches. It has earned acceptance particularly in the sports medicine and spinal medicine fields.


Clinical Pilates was founded by Craig Phillips in 1988 after he saw positive connections between Pilates and spinal stability research. He had previously noticed that many patients were progressing from physiotherapy to gym workouts which were then aggravating the original problems. Pilates was an option that seemed to better fit the needs of his clients, particularly the retraining and recruitment of deep stabilising muscles to better treat low back pain.


Clinical Pilates involves the use of therapeutic exercise, individualised to a patient’s specific needs; an approach to healing that is patient-centred and found in the moving body. It encourages patients to take an active role in their recovery and learn to listen to their body’s cues. There is a strong focus on maintenance and injury prevention. Rather than treating only an injury or symptom, Clinical Pilates involves treating the whole person.


Physiotherapists identify problematic movement patterns or postural issues and then use a combination of manual therapy work (such as joint mobilisation or soft tissue manipulation) with Pilates exercises that have been modified to better suit the physiotherapy setting. Phillips found that many of the Pilates exercises were too ‘high- level’ and had a high proportion of flexion-based work. Progressing to a greater range of exercises based on the originals has seen a shift towards more mid-range movements and control. These can then be used and modified for a greater number of patients.

Clinical Pilates is now also being used as an at-home ongoing treatment tool. Physiotherapists will often construct programs for their patients to continue once manual therapy treatment is no longer needed. This has proven to be an effective way to prevent re-injury.

Next Week: Part 2: Benefits of Pilates…

Make an Appointment