How and why does Pilates work?


Pilates was an exercise technique that was devised by the great Joseph H Pilates. He was born a sickly child and spend  years training and developing his method which primarily centres around specific movement patterns, specific recruitment patterns, whilst breathing and also using the mind. He called this ‘contrology”.

 “It is the mind itself that shapes the body” – Joseph Pilates

Put simply – during class you have to keep the bits of your body still  and controlled that you’re asked to and move only the bits you’re asked to whilst breathing and thinking at the same time! No mean feat for some!

The method itself works on the grounding that we have should move the body as efficiently and effectively as we can so that each area moves and functions in the way it ought to. Much like the wheels in a car – if everything is aligned and running well with good balance – it will keep going. Get a slight malfunction and the tyre wears unevenly. Much the same thing happens with the body – muscles imbalances, weakness and injury cause the body to work out of balance and alignment and we work harder than we should which may lead to pain and dysfunction.

Correcting these issues is what the Pilates Method excels at – especially  if you actually do it well! It’s NOT the lets go and switch off for a hour like you can do at the gym. No, no ,no. You need to be present in the mind as well as body – you need to concentrate and think about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it – otherwise you’re just moving your body and you will get nothing out of it.

Neutral Spine

The first step – is to learn ” neutral spine” – this is where the spine and pelvis in the optimum position for load and weight bearing – all the joints are being used well and loaded evenly without any stress and strain. Most of the work is done from and to this position and you will need to know how to find it in yourself in a number of different positions as you progress. We will guide you and constantly remind you – so if you struggle – its our job to help you. This is where most fall down – where they think neutral spine is – is usually wrong. You DO need to be taught this. And you DO need to be consistently reminded and prompted. As we fatigue or try too hard we will start to overuse some muscles and “lose” our neutral posture – this is completely normal although it can be frustrating!

If you cant find neutral – you WILL struggle – but it doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause – we just need to teach you in a different way so that you do get it! It is where the spine is in its most optimum position ( good posture in pic above).

From here we will general start with getting you to explore moving either in and out of neutral spine – so flexing and extending your spine with pelvic tilting – as we generally don’t isolate these movements in day to day life – we move as one big movement and have forgotten how to move individual body parts – the pelvis being the centre key.

We can then start to move the arms and legs whilst keeping the pelvis still, and then eventually combine the two as we progress and get better – the key foundations of movement remain the same – slow and controlled is better than fast and furious any day –  we can then add more challenge as we progress.

Once we can master this lying down, we can do it lying on our sides, on our tummy, on all fours, in plank pose and of course standing – hence the different varieties of exercises, and the use of small props such as balls and rollers that can add not only variety – but mainly a challenge as we work with a unstable base.


Pilates is a minefield. Thinking you’ve ‘got it” and don’t need any correction means you will never fulfill your potential – there is always something that can be improved, something more that can be challenged – we often get groans from clients as they hear ,

                        “…great now you’ve got that can you relax your shoulders?”


                         ” …hold it just a second longer…”

                         “…don’t collapse…”

                         “…let go of the grip in those muscles…”

                         ” …give a an inch longer length…”

                         “…lengthen…reach to the end of the room…’

                         “…grow tall through the top of your head….”


This is such an effective and beautiful tool, challenging, yet gentle, strong yet graceful, low impact and best of all – fun! You are your own worst enemy – you can do a beginners class after years of practise and still WORK and challenge yourself. It would be great if we  all did a beginners class every so often just to reconnect, re engage and continue to get the most out of what we do. We learn so much about our bodies, how we move, how we cheat, why we do things the way we do, there will always be something more for us to figure out!

Keep breathing – and relax your shoulders! 


About Saree Hewlett (135 Articles)
Saree has 20 + years as a physio, training in the UK and completing her Masters in Manual Therapy in Perth, UWA. She has integrated Pilates into her practise having trained in the Polestar method and currently owns and runs two Studios in Perth's Northern Suburbs. A previous international Artistic Skater she understands the needs of sports people and also those suffering from chronic pain and reduced function - we all want the same thing - to be the best we can be! She is married with two active young boys!

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