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What is Pilates?

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates who was born in Germany in 1880. Naturally frail, he studied every kind of exercise which would build his body – boxing, skiing, gymnastics, fencing, swimming, diving, callisthenics. By the time he was 14 his body was so well sculpted that he posed for anatomical drawings. His methods, which were radically different from other exercise pioneers, were based on the theory that instead of doing repetitive weightlifting to build up muscle, a holistic approach based on toning the body, correct posture and concentration on movements would produce better results.

He designed the system of exercise later known as Pilates during the First World War as a rehabilitation program for soldiers using the springs from hospital beds to act as weight resistance so patients could begin their recovery while still flat on their backs.

Joseph Pilates believed that mental and physical health are inter-related. He recommended a few precise movements emphasising control and form to condition the entire body: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.

How Pilates Work

The aim is to perform the movement in a controlled manner and develop the relationship between your brain and the muscles. There is a focus on relaxed breathing and core control (using your abdominals to stabilise your middle while allowing the arms/legs to move). This focus can then incorporate exercising in standing, using balance automatically while you are using your arms in an exercise. There are many bed or mat exercises that can be used to improve hip and knee control, and arm movement and range whilst maintaining core control. It is easier to work on the equipment than carry out a mat programme for many people because there is not as much changing position or getting up and down.

Your balance can also be enhanced through exercises using different surfaces such as the bosu (half ball) moving from a safe area with a bar into a more open space and then carrying out standing Pilates exercises on challenging surfaces. Pilates equipment also works on your balance and the specific muscles involved in balance.


Pilates & MS

Pilates can strengthen your weakened muscles through specialised exercise equipment (Pilates) and fitness equipment – and target particular muscles which need work. Here are examples of goals from other clients with MS and other neurological conditions:

  • Improve your balance and confidence in busy places, stairs, crossing roads, changing direction when walking and rising from a chair;
  • Decrease the snapping back of the knee when walking
  • Walk without limping, with confidence, on my own in a straight line without veering
  • Improve hand function
  • Wash the dishes without breaking anything
  • Strengthen the ankle muscles to reduce tripping and toe-scuffing
  • Increase your ability to reach up
  • Use stretches and exercises to manage muscle stiffness and weakness and enable you to perform more of the exercises on offer
  • Transfer safely
  • Improve your fitness so that you can tolerate activity better, reduce fatigue and feel good about yourself
  • Improve your EDSS scores

Pilates can help achieve these goals because the equipment uses springs of different strengths. These can be used to provide assistance to achieve a movement or to provide resistance/feedback to a given movement. There are a range of exercises with the specialised equipment that can be performed in lying, sitting and standing, depending upon a person’s ability.


Further info:

Pilates: A Good Therapy for MS?

Pilates for MS?

Helping MSers with balance, body awareness, stress reduction, flexibility, and strength

Pilates in the Grove