What pilates involves

The birth of pilates

After being injured in the First World War, Joseph Pilates developed a physiotherapy system. He adapted some bed springs and used them to practise strength-building exercises, thus regaining fitness. This was the first prototype of the « Cadillac » machine, one of the most commonly used machines today.

What pilates involves


During an exercise, you often tend to cut off your breath when making a big effort. So, when you go through a period of stress, your breathing becomes shorter and shallow. This is a bad reflex, which only makes these situations harder to deal with. At such times, the muscles and brain need even more oxygen to supply the energy they need and relax after tension. Pilates exercises follow the rhythm of your breath. This way, you will learn to breathe throughout the exercise, as well as combining the right movements with the breath: one move is performed as you breathe in, the next as you breathe out…

This will ensure your movements flow more smoothly, and help you manage your effort better. Being aware of your breathing Standing up straight, place the palms of your hands by your sides, just below your chest. Breathe in deeply to fill your lungs with as much air as possible, by bringing the air through the ribcage. Your ribcage will swell up, moving your hands further apart. Breathe out and gradually feel your lungs emptying, as your ribs move closer together. Coordination Pilates exercises work several muscle groups jointly. This is an advantage but does require proper coordination of the movements.

What’s more, these exercises will often put your balance to the test. This will work the stabilising muscles, which are rarely used in everyday movements. Precision When you watch a pilates demonstration, the movements flow so smoothly that they may look easy and simple to copy. Therein lies the art of pilates, when practised properly. But beware of first impressions: precision is the watchword in this discipline. For these exercises to be effective, you must have control of your body, which is achieved at a certain level of practice. This is why it is important not to skip any steps, and to go at your own pace. Only when you can perform the exercises for your level easily can you move on to the next level. Be patient, it’s worth your while and you’ll appreciate your progress, even in movements of everyday life: greater fluidity in your gestures, and a more graceful way of moving. Concentration In terms of precision and coordination of movements, breathing and muscle effort required, pilates is a demanding discipline that will make you focus all your attention on yourself. You must constantly maintain your level of concentration at its peak, which is not easy, as you will soon discover during your first sessions. But while centring is essential in pilates, it is also beneficial in everyday life.

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Preliminary exercises

During the exercises, you will often be asked to correct the curve of your spine and hollow your stomach. Before starting on the first programme, here are a few preliminary exercises to understand what it’s all about. Correcting excessive curving When you lie on your back, it has a tendency to curve, sometimes excessively. You have to be aware of this to find the right position for your pelvis. Lie on your back and bend your knees, feet flat on the ground, at natural pelvis width apart. You will notice that the lumbar vertebrae come away from the floor. Exaggerate this curve – you should be able to fit your hand between the floor and your lower back. Then tip your pelvis forwards in the opposite movement, to lift your lumbar vertebrae off the floor.

Now try to find the right position. This should be somewhere in between the previous two. To do this, relax any muscle tension in your back. Your lumbar vertebrae will only come away from the floor very slightly. Once you are familiar with this position, try the same exercise again, on all fours this time. Hollowing your stomach This exercise teaches you how to pull in your stomach to maintain abdominal tension. This is an essential concept in pilates which will help you keep or regain a flat stomach. Assume the same position as in the previous exercise, and breathe in while filling your lungs with air, without puffing out your stomach. Your ribs will move further apart. To see this, you can place your hands beneath your chest. Now, breathe out while gradually expelling air from your ribcage and hollowing your stomach. You will feel your ribs move closer to each other, as well as abdominal tension. This is what you need to maintain during the exercises, to work your deep abdominal muscles.

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