What is Pilates? And what you need to know

Pilates Lennox Head

Written by Bridgid Pearse

October 13, 2020

If you are wondering “What is Pilates?” then I am excited cos I get to tell you! You may think it’s an infomercial workout or something Meagan Markel and other rich and famous people get to do. Well, Pilates is a movement system for everybody. Young, old, fat, thin, tall, short. No matter what your fitness level there is something you can do and something to challenge you just enough. Pilates was invented in the 1920’s by a guy called Joseph Pilates.


Joseph Pilates studied many other movement modalities such as yoga and martial arts before he came up with the movement system we now call Pilates. He called it Contrology – the process of mastering control of ones own body. Joseph Pilates was an asthmatic and saw many doctors to improve his breathing. At the heart of Pilates is the mechanics of the breath. Pilates as a movement system uses the mechanics of the breath to organise and strengthen the whole body.

What kind of moves are in Pilates?

Joseph Pilates originally designed the mat series. These are 36 exercises done on a mat on the floor. This series is challenging for beginners and so Joseph Pilates invented exercise equipment using springs to strengthen people to do the mat series. Teachers that studied with Joseph Pilates also came up with pre-Pilates exercises that are done on a mat to help people get stronger for the Pilates mat series.

A lot of pre-Pilates and Pilates is done lying down in a supine position (lying on your back). Having the spine on the floor provides good feedback to monitor the position of the spine and pelvis as you lift your arms and legs in specific patterns.

Pilates should be based on your own breath, so the pace of your movements should match the pace of your own breath. Your awareness and connection to your breath while doing Pilates is very important to get the most out of the practice.

There are a few specific spine shapes or positions for the spine that reoccur in many Pilates exercises. If you have spinal injuries it is best to work with a Diploma Qualified Pilates teacher to determine any modifications you may need.

What’s special about Pilates?

Pilates works the whole body, however there are some muscle groups that really get to shine in Pilates. These are:

  • Your seat – where your thighs meet your bottom
  • Your upper back – Anterior Serratis and triceps

These areas of our bodies are often forgotten by other workouts. Gym, cycling, running and even swimming can favour the hip flexors and quadriceps, the pecs and biceps. Pilates, when practiced properly aims to engage the back of the body as much as the front.

Pilates is an all body movement practice. If you learn the exercises and practice them in different sequences Pilates will deliver you the benefits listed below.

What is not Pilates?

There are a lot of things out there that are called Pilates that are not in fact Pilates. Doing lots of really hard abdominal work is not Pilates. Doing a boot camp work out with a couple of Pilates exercises thrown in is not Pilates. These things are fine to do but they will not give you the benefits that a Pilates practice will.

Benefits of Pilates

  • less tightness in the hips and shoulders
  • more support for lower back stability
  • strength and tone for deep abdominal muscles
  • mobility of the ribs and improved breathing

These benefits lead to real life, everyday wins like:

  • improving posture
  • reducing lower back pain
  • reducing neck and shoulder pain
  • improving balance
  • reducing the risk of slips, trips and falls
  • improved pelvic floor health and bladder control
  • improved core strength

I could go on and on but you get the picture. Pilates is a full body work out that aims to balance the front of the body with the back. The genius of it is Pilates, when taught properly, targets the areas of our body that suffer from our lifestyle of too much sitting and too much computer time. Building on the foundation of our own breath, Pilates holds wisdom for our bodies every time we practice.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

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