Most of us have heard of, or experienced Pilates before, but our understandings of what Pilates actually is and what is involved in Pilates classes is quite varied from person to person. A lot depends on what we are hoping to achieve from Pilates, the instructor of the class and location of the class (is it in a gym, private class, healthcare centre etc).
The idea of this article is to give you an idea of what you can expect in my Pilates class, and also will give those of you who already attend the thoughts behind what I do in my Pilates classes.
Start up session
For most people (especially those new to Pilates & those attending for anything pain related) the first point of call is the 1-1 start up session. In this session we start with a case history and biomechanics screening. The biomechanics screen highlights any imbalances or any underlying issues in body which could be causing pain or restricting our performance, and we can use the findings from this to give the most effective exercises and/or treatment (if we are also attending Sports Massage Therapy sessions). A common example would be someone suffering with back pain. Instead of simply guessing that a bit of core strength work is needed, we can asses what could be causing the back pain, which ‘core’ muscles are weak & need strengthening and which are other muscles are too ‘tight’ & need releasing. Also in this session we cover the main principles of Pilates to help you get a head start on them, so it all makes more sense when participating in the Pilates classes.
Its mistakenly thought that specific exercises, such as the hundred, roll down etc are what makes a class a ‘Pilates’ class, but it’s not. The exercises themselves shouldn’t just be what is taught on a course or read from a book, they should be exercises that are relevant to the people taking part in the class, so they get most benefit.
What does make a Pilates class, is the principles of Pilates which we apply to each exercise, this then makes the class more than just a standard exercise class. These principles and the reasons we do them are listed below:
Think of this, many people attend Pilates class to improve ‘posture’ (they believe their body is not in good alignment) so when we are doing Pilates, we want to be strengthening our body in the correct position (otherwise we could be strengthening our body in the ‘bad posture’ which could then have an adverse effect). Initially, learning your correct alignment may feel strange and new, just ensure it is not painful and we are not forcing our body into a position. Once we have found that correct position (it will be deferent for everyone), then the exercises will have more of a positive impact for you.
Weak core muscles, it is a common belief for many people and generally we believe the best way to strengthen those muscles as through exercises such as sit ups, planks, crunches etc, however we know it’s not. We must first work on our ‘inner core muscles’ to build strength from inside out. This is often neglected by most. The inner core muscles are: Transverse abdominals, Pelvis Floor & diaphragm. In Pilates we will learn how to ‘activate’ these muscles, to make the ‘outer core’ muscles work more effectively, we find people have never been taught or find people are ‘activating’ them in a which isn’t effective. It’s worth mentioning this isn’t something that is picked up straight, like any new skill it takes time, consistency and patience to get right, but everyone can get it right.
Correct breathing technique
This is Pilates principles that is always expected to be the easiest one, and yet probably the hardest. It’s wrongly assumed because we breathe all day, everyday and for the most of us without any trouble, that our breathing is fine. Out of everything in Pilates this is the one area where I almost always have to correct and teach everyone to do properly. It is quite a detailed subject but to keep things simple just remember this piece of information, In the section above where we talked our ‘inner core muscles’ we mentioned the diaphragm, and this, I would say is probably the most important one out of all. What’s the most effective (probably only) way to work our diaphragm? The breathing technique called diaphragmatic breathing. This for most people is completely new and feels like learning a foreign language. Again it takes repetition, time and patience to learn, but I have seen it make a massive difference, especially to those with lower back pain, as well those with ‘stiff’ neck/shoulder muscles.
Don’t worry if you don’t get these straight away, the exercises will still give benefit
So these should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect and also why they are important. As mentioned a couple of times the principles are the hardest part to pick up and learn, so don’t worry if you don’t get them straight, you will still get benefit from the exercises and movements in the class, adding the principles in above will just make everything more beneficial.
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About the author
I am a Manual Therapist covering a range of different disciplines including massage & Biomechanics. I also run small specialist Pilates classes around Corfe Mullen, Broadstone, Wareham, Wimborne & Poole. Instead of just purely rubbing the pain, I always look to see if I can find a potential cause (or causes of the pain) and then work on treating this
Pilates Instructor & Therapist, helping you understand why we do what we do!