Mastering the Principles of Pilates

Did you know that Pilates was originally called “Contrology”?

This was the name used by Joseph Pilates when he developed the discipline. The Elixr style of Pilates is based on six Pilates principles from his original technique. Over a period of six weeks in March and April, I’ll be celebrating one principle per week during class, explaining the concept and how it is relevant to your workout and daily life. Understanding and applying these principles is critical to achieving your wellness goals as well as improving the way you move in class and beyond. Here’s a closer look at each of them.

Week 1: Concentration

The mind must be focused on the movement.

I’ll be addressing this principle first because if you aren’t concentrating, not much else matters. Sadly, our ability to focus our attention is diminishing given that we are constantly overstimulated and often stressed. Happily, however, exercise helps to improve concentration. So, leave your phone in your locker, free your mind to focus on your body, and you’ll find that your workout becomes doubly beneficial.

Week 2: Posture and Alignment

Correct posture and alignment should be adopted before commencing an exercise, and maintained throughout.

Your start position is 80% of the exercise and ideal alignment enables you to recruit the target muscles most efficiently and effectively.

Week 3: Stability and Mobility

During movement, one part of the body stabilises, while another part moves. Stability of a joint must be obtained before it is mobilised.

At the beginning of a Pilates class, you’ll often find yourself lying on your back, well supported by your carriage, for double leg press. This position makes it relatively easy to stabilise your pelvis and spine in neutral alignment while moving your legs. As the class progresses to exercises like knee stretches or kneeling arms, however, your body has less assistance from your carriage, and you’ll find you need to work harder to stabilise against the loaded movements. Alternately, while your body remains still throughout plank, the challenge lies in maintaining a stable posture against gravity.

Week 4: Centering the Core

The core muscles – the abdominals, back, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles – should be the focal point of each exercise.

The core muscles are like a box inside the body – when they’re working efficiently, they should co-contract when you move to provide a strong centre of support against an external force or load, for example the springs on the Reformer, an opponent who is tackling you, or gravity as you walk up the stairs.

Week 5: Breathing

Breathing should be natural, diaphragmatic, and efficient.

The focus here is on efficient breathing and the synchronised movement of the rib cage and abdomen, without lifting the shoulders. Inefficient breathing is common in as many as 60% of healthy adults and has been linked to poor posture, ineffective core contraction and pains around the neck, shoulders, back, and pelvis. This inefficiency can be caused by many factors, one of which is stress – another good reason to unplug more frequently, take a few deep breaths, and slow down.

Week 6: Control

Movements should be controlled and limited to a functional range.

Functional range is the range required to comfortably complete daily activities like sitting, tying shoes, or lifting children. We also need to learn to manage hypermobility, which is dysfunctional. In Reformer, where spring tension is used, it’s important to learn to command both your movement and the machine. When you apply the other five principles of Pilates – listen to the instructions to set your posture, stabilise against your load, engage your core, continue to breathe and concentrate on what you do and how it makes you feel – you’ll find that you are in control – and now Joseph’s original name ‘Contrology’ makes perfect sense!