The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning is a complete system of exercises specifically designed to strengthen and stretch the body at the same time.
Joe Pilates called this concept “Contrology” because it demands focus and teaches awareness as well as total control of your mind over your body.
He believed that the mind should have the ability to control the body. He focused his method around six key principles:
By practicing the Pilates method with these six principles in mind, you will develop strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, control, energy, alignment and awareness.
The exercises all initiate from the muscles in the abdominals, hips, buttocks, inner thighs, and lower back.
Because these muscles generate so much power, Joseph Pilates called them the “powerhouse”. When the limbs connect to the powerhouse as a foundation of strength, they are capable of much more strength.
HOWEVER, STRENGTH IS ONLY THE FOUNDATION.
TO BALANCE THE STRENGTH ONE MUST ALSO BE FLEXIBLE.
Joe Pilates used to say….
“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
Here’s why the spine is so important: it encases the spinal cord, and dictates how we move. In order to be healthy and functional, the spine itself needs to be strong at times, but also flexible at others. When the limbs are working, the spine needs to stabilize and be strong.
But the spine is also designed to move.
In order to move the torso freely, breathe deeply, or twist, some flexibility is necessary as well. For a very basic example: in order to pick up something heavy off the floor such as a big box, you would need the spine to be straight and the strength would come from the hips and legs. But in order to do a movement like twisting to grab something from the back seat of the car from the driver’s seat – would require flexibility. The demands of the movements of sports and other activities would require even more of this resilience. If the spine is not balanced with both strength and flexibility, the risk of injury is there.
Speaking of flexibility, as a trainer I see a lot of emphasis on stretching. Which is great, we all have tight muscles in need of a good stretch.
But it’s HOW you stretch that makes a difference. In order for the body to be balanced there needs to be enough strength to balance the flexibility in a particular joint and vice versa.
“In order to stretch a muscle, you have to have a muscle.” – Guy Voyer
So for a real stretch to actually happen, the muscles on the opposite side of a given joint need to be strong enough to support the body’s ability to create that stretch. This means sometimes you need to do some strengthening for flexibility.
“Pilates is strengthening and stretching with control.” – Romana Kryzanowska
The Pilates method requires that you move in this way. It has a specific sequence of exercises done in a certain order to allow for stretching and strengthening of the muscles in a balanced way. This practice of working for flexibility and strength simultaneously develops the concentration and focus that carries over to other movements and helps maintain a healthy happy body.
By the end of a Pilates sequence, there are very few muscles that have been left unexercised and over time you will find the entire body transformed.
I work with many clients with pain who find that Pilates helps them to strengthen, stretch, and stabilize their spine. This gives them a whole new awareness about what it means to stand tall against gravity and aging, use their joints correctly and move with freedom, often pain free.