4 reasons physiotherapists love pilates

Expert-backed reasons to get strengthening and lengthening with pilates. 

Few fitness movements have stood the test of time like pilates, a workout that was invented in the 1920s and still trends on today’s social media platforms. In the contrary fitness world, pilates is the thing that has stuck for workout lovers, personal trainers and even medical experts.

Most physiotherapists would agree that pilates is incredible for your body. They often recommend the practice to patients to support the work they do in clinic when helping people recover from injury. 

Pilates was actually invented for this exact reason. Formerly known as contortology, founder of the method Joseph Pilates used the practice to help injured soldiers rebuild strength after the First World War. 

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“Lots of clinicians, from doctors, physios and consultants, will recommend you try pilates for a whole range of injuries,” agrees Helen O’Leary, physiotherapist and clinical director at Complete Pilates. “This includes painful posture, back pain that won’t shift, a lack of mobility, a weak core and poor balance.”

But why exactly is it so popular with physio experts?

1. Pilates improves your form (both for gym and desk work)

Pilates is about executing poses rather than aiming for a particular set of reps, weight or speed. This is why it’s so useful for many people, says O’Leary, especially those who are injured.

“Pilates teaches you to move in the most efficient and effective way,” she says. “ It is about understanding how your body works and moves, and learning to integrate this into more global movements so you have better technique in the gym, at your desk and when you dance around or tidy the house.” 

2. It activates muscles to protect you from pain

“Muscle activation is really key for injury prevention,” explains physiotherapist Jasmine Choi in a popular TikTok video. “You’re not too likely to get injured while doing pilates simply because it’s very low impact [and] it’s typically very slow paced.”

Muscle activation is all about switching muscles ‘on’, helping you use them in the best way possible. With pilates, that’s particularly true for muscles like your core, which when activated can better stabilise your spine to prevent pain. 

3. Pilates builds full-body strength

“Pilates can be a form of partial weight bearing, balancing strengthening without intensity, so in the right hands it can be used immediately after injury to help you on your road to recovery,” says O’Leary.

It’s not just injured people who benefit from that form of low-intensity strength though. “It is perfect for gym-goers who need active recovery, or runners who need to build strength and resilience,” she adds.

4. It helps you to de-stress (far more than HIIT)

If you’re used to high-intensity sessions or spend most of your day in a stressed state, pilates can help. “Pilates is about mindfulness and breath. Unlike the adrenaline-fuelled workouts we are used to doing in the gym, it helps to calm you down and get you back into your parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with being calm,” says O’Leary.

With studies showing that we are more likely to injure ourselves by exercising when we are stressed out, pilates is a psychology-approved way of protecting your body and mind. 

4 physio-approved pilates exercises

Although O’Leary says it’s hard to pick her favourite moves, she’s shared her absolute go-tos.

Feet in straps 

“This movement feels amazing in the hips and helps improve your mobility as well as feeling supported. You can really work into the movement and because of the springs it is loaded so isn’t a simple passive stretch. It feels brilliant in the hips and I always feel better going for a run or in the gym doing legs afterwards,” she says.

If you don’t have a reformer, you can still do this move using just your body weight.

  1. Lie on your back with your feet pointed towards the sky, either in reformer straps or without any kit.
  2. Keeping your legs straight, lower your feet towards the ground.
  3. Hover an inch or two above the ground or reformer, then slowly raise back up. 

Parakeet pose

“In this move, you are pushing against resistance for an incredible decompression in your spine, which feels amazing,” says O’Leary. “Plus you get all the benefits of inversion.”

This move is traditionally done on a trapeze machine, but you can use a wall too.

  1. Lie on the floor with your toes resting about half your height up a wall.
  2. Start to peel your hips off the floor, rolling onto your shoulders.
  3. Walk your feet up the wall so your legs remain straight.
  4. Lower back down. 

Swan dive

“This gets the whole back of your body working, helps open up through the front and you get a massive sense of achievement,” explains O’Leary.

  1. Start lying face down on your mat with your hands either side of your chest.
  2. Draw the belly button into your spine and squeeze the glutes.
  3. Begin to roll up through your head and shoulders to come into an active upward dog position.
  4. Lift your arms off the mat and over head while your chest remains lifted off the floor.
  5. Lift your feet off of the ground so your body is in an arc position. Ensure you maintain the activation through your back, glutes and thigh muscles.

Roll over

“Lots of people love this as it is a bit of fun which also requires quite a lot of control and mobility,” she says.

  1. Lie flat on your back with your arms by your side.
  2. Pull your feet away from you to feel activated through the front of the body.
  3. With your legs straight, lift them up and over your head, peeling the spine off the mat.
  4. Try to get your toes to touch the floor behind your head, then lower back down with control. 

Images: Getty

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