The Joint Ventures' Blog

Pilates: What's All The Fuss About?

Monday, April 01, 2019

Many of us have been at our gyms, in our homes, or at a doctor’s office and seen advertisements for Pilates classes or private sessions. We have heard of its health benefits on television shows like Good Morning America (1) and in magazines like Time (2). Pilates seems to be everywhere…but why?

Let’s start with a brief history of its beginnings. Joseph H. Pilates was born in Germany in 1883 and was an unhealthy child. He had diseases such as asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, making him too frail to keep up with other children his age. Both of his parents believed in natural remedies to heal the body, which stimulated Joseph Pilates' interest in anatomy and sports such as yoga, gymnastics, skiing, diving, boxing, and martial arts.

Because of these influences, Joseph began to design a series of intensive exercises to help improve many aspects of his own body's movements and health, including balance, posture, breathing, coordination, flexibility, and strength. He then built a mechanical bed to complete the exercises on. These machines were the precursors to what we know today as the "Pilates Universal" and "Cadillac Reformer". He continued to work toward his life goal of improving others’ physical health by creating a new exercise system that was rumored to help soldiers overcome the flu during the flu epidemic of 1918. Future generations of professional dancers and choreographers propelled his exercise program into what we know today as the modern Pilates method (3).

Pilates (the method) is defined as a functional form of exercise for people of all ages and abilities that focuses on three primary areas: 1) core stabilization; 2) breathing; and 3) postural alignment and control. It focuses on a mind-body connection, where concentration on each precise movement is key to allow for improved postural awareness and correct alignment (4). Practitioners work to translate the Pilates movements to daily functional activities and decrease your risk of injury during running, dancing, walking, squatting, lifting, and jumping.

As physical therapists, we see people of all ages, who could benefit from learning the basic elements of Pilates. There are continuing education courses that teach Pilates principles to physical therapists to help them learn how to better cue people during exercise and prescribe more specific exercises to optimize performance, which in turn should decrease the risk of injury and pain.

More specifically, the Pilates method teaches physical therapists ways to improve spine position by engaging the core, decreasing rib flaring, improving shoulder blade placement, and adjusting head and neck position. The goal of these basic tenants to the Pilates method is to help people decrease strain on their bodies during their daily activities, e.g. sitting for long periods at a computer or while driving; or lifting and carrying children or heavy equipment. Also, these basic cues are integrated into strength, power, balance, and endurance exercises to improve and maintain strong muscles so you can return to your normal activities pain-free (4, 5, 6).

If you are interested in learning more about the Pilates method and how a physical therapist might be able to help you, please reach out to us at Joint Ventures Physical Therapy at 617-536-1161, or email me Courtney Chaulk, at


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