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Pilates: Ideal Exercise for Physical Therapy Treatment
February 26, 2016

Pilates: Ideal Exercise for Physical Therapy Treatment
By Michele Firra Ward, PT. Joseph Pilates whose name is now synonymous with the system of exercise that the creator originally named "Contrology" intended his exercise regime to give participants, "complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit." Pilates was born in Germany in 1880 to parents who undoubtedly were also health-minded; his father was a prize-winning gymnast and his mother a naturopath. Joseph Pilates was not a healthy child, however, suffering from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. He discovered greater health through exercise as a child - gymnastics, body building, Yoga and martial arts. He continued to pursue a life of physical fitness as a young adult working as a boxer, circus performer and self-defense trainer. At the turn of the century he was concerned about the stress of living in the "Modern Age" contributing to poor posture, breathing patterns and hence poor health. He began development of his system of Contrology exercises and published his first text, Your Health in 1934.

Armed with a keen appreciation of proper posture, body mechanics and breathing techniques Joseph Pilates developed multiple pieces of exercise equipment to be used in the studio for one-on-one training of his exercise clients and a series of mat exercises to be used when the clients were away and unable to attend studio sessions. Pre-empting the medical science community by decades Pilates understood the value of intrinsic muscles and stabilization exercises. Describing his technique he states, "Developing minor muscles naturally helps to strengthen major muscles. As small bricks are employed to build large buildings, so will the development of small muscles help develop large muscles." Pilates viewed the muscles of the trunk and pelvic girdle as a "powerhouse" for activity. Pilates' "powerhouse" includes the entire abdominal wall and the muscles of the spine and pelvic girdle.

Today's core strengthening or stabilization exercises pale in comparison to Pilates' total exercise regime. However, beginning Pilates' exercises are ideal for physical therapy patients that need better strength and stability of trunk, scapular and pelvic girdle regions. Pilates understood that regardless of the specific exercise activity all three of these areas needed to be engaged and properly aligned. Muscle recruitment patterns and breathing sequences were also crucial to each and every exercise. Pilates' insistence on alignment, specific muscle recruitment patterns and breathing coincide with the essentials of postural re-education. It is easy to understand why members of the performing arts world of his day sought his instruction and sent their injured dancers and gymnasts to him for rehabilitation. His exercise techniques are still relevant today and are incorporated into our exercise programs at In-Motion Physical Therapy.


Pilates J, Miller W.; Pilates' Return to Life Through Contrology. Incline Village, NV: Presentation Dynamics Inc.; 1998.
Pilates J, Miller W.; A Pilates' Primer: The Millennium Edition. Incline Village, NV: Presentation Dynamics Inc.; 2000-2005.

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