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The What, Who, How, and Why of Pilates from a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist: Part 1

What do you think when you hear the word “Pilates?”

In my time teaching Pilates and working with patients as a physical therapist, I have been exposed to so many different perceptions of Pilates. In fact, many of the beliefs regarding Pilates from people who have never tried it before have led me to believe that Pilates needs to hire a new PR representative. I, myself, held some of these notions before practicing Pilates and then completing my instructor training. Thoughts like:

  • “I have never heard of Pilates in my life.”

  • ”I mean, I do yoga so isn’t that like the same thing?”

  • ”My core isn’t strong enough to do Pilates.”

  • ”Oh, I can’t do Pilates because that’s only for skinny, rich, white ladies…”

  • ”Pilates isn’t a useful rehabilitation tool because patients cannot take the equipment home, so there isn’t any lasting effect.”

  • ”Pilates is only stretching and I am a weightlifter!”

  • ”Oh, I have low back pain so there is no way I can do something like Pilates.”

  • ”I’m 80 years old! That’s for young people!”

I mean, really. The public understanding of what Pilates is, who it can help, how you can access it, and why we should practice it is extremely muddy. One could even say, there is no good common understanding of these things. Each one of these responses is equally disappointing to me because I know first-hand the value that Pilates can add to so many lives. And I am not disappointed in the public, I’m disappointed in our community’s missed opportunity to help scores of people for lack of successfully conveying a more accurate representation of who we are and what we offer.

So what is Pilates, really?

Pilates was originally created by Joseph Pilates, who emigrated to the US to escape Nazi Germany. He struggled to find medical solutions to his physical ailments, like asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, and so developed a daily “maintenance” routine, which involved a series of exercises that he named “Contrology” derived from his experience with gymnastics and martial arts.

Joseph Pilates’ Return to Life Through Contrology

It then became a highly-sought rehabilitation treatment for stage performers and has since been expanded on by a number of Joseph’s students and his students’ students to encompass the diverse number of schools we see today. For example, Fletcher Pilates has a large standing mat repertoire based in dance movements and postural re-education, whereas Classical Pilates focuses on sequencing and flowing between a set routine of original exercises. At PiLadies & Gents, LLC we are Polestar Pilates trained instructors, which has more of a rehabilitation and corrective exercise focus.

So, Pilates is an exercise modality, yes, but it is more than this. It is a movement retraining system to improve function, increase efficiency, decrease pain, and enhance performance. It can be practiced with as much or as little equipment and props as you like, and it can be modified to achieve the goals of almost any client, which brings us to our next question:

Who should practice Pilates? Stay tuned for our next post to learn more…

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