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By Ivon Dahl

Understanding the ETIOLOGY of Pilates
Knowing the origin of a Pilates movement is helpful, and sometimes confusing in understanding it. Our movement vocabulary stems from a variety of physical arts. Yet, we seldom use the original terminology as not to activate the mind set of that discipline (except for dance); EXAMPLE- 1) All Pilates styles use Yoga asanas, but don't use their names because we don't want clients to hold positions as in traditional Yoga. 2) Fitness Based Pilates exercises focus on engaging extrinsic muscles simular to Bodybuilding, Weight Training, Calisthenics and Acrobatic. 3) Traditional Pilates movements concentrate on activating intrinsic muscles as in Dance (Ballet, Modern, Jazz) and other Pilates influences like Gymnastics, Swimming, Skating, Surfing, Equestrian, Martial Arts, Fencing, Boxing, Somatic Therapy Kinesiology, Physical Therapy and Feldenkrais. We do incorporate similar and sometimes identical Initial Fundementals and Concepts in all 3 of the above, but the Pilates Principles distinguish Pilates from all other Physical Arts!

There is a considerable difference between working HARD versus working INTENSELY
Working hard encourages exhalation on the effort and extrinsic muscle recruitment, which is considered to be a Fitness Based Pilates strength training modality.
Working intensely encourages inhalation with torso extension and intrinsic muscle activation and is a hallmark of the Danced Based Pilates technique.
Working from inside encourages an emotional expression of the body and is considered to be the Authentic Movement Method originally expressed by the Francois Delsarte in 1865.

Is Pilates more focused on the stabilization or the movements
Pilates’ exercises require stabilization for part of the body as other muscles perform the action. Both the stabilizers and the primary muscle movers may be strengthened (the stabilizers which use isometric contractions and the prime movers through the isotonic activity). Pilates may appear as 'not much' to someone when they don't understand the focus or purpose of an exercise; it is often not about 'what's moving' but 'what is not moving'. Pilates focuses on the stabilization and flowing movements.

Pilates Movement Parameters

Work your Body NOT the Machine
The Fitness based Pilates modality adjusts intensity with heavy spring load resistance and/or increased repetitions.
The cliché "No pain, no gain" is often misunderstood and therefore abuse to vulnerable tissue may occur.
In order to develop strength, the muscles need to be exercised to near fatigue, but once fatigued, if the client continues in order to finish the required repetitions, the person begins substituting or compensating with auxiliary muscles and therefore can strain a poorly stabilized core or develop an overuse syndrome.
Strain may occur if the stabilizers or the primary movers are too weak to perform the actions.
If straining occurs, the activity is either too difficult to begin with or the muscles involved are fatigued and can no longer do the function properly.
The Dance based Pilates modality uses light spring loads and increase intensity safely with physics; we apply the architectural disadvantage (levers, adjusting the center of gravity, increasing the moment arm) and reciprocal enervation (asking the client to apply their own resistance by activating the antagonist muscle).
NOTE: Clients often remark that it seems impossible to perform more than three to five repetitions with good form and concentration.

  1. Design a 'NEEDS BASED' Pilates programs; If you use a pre-scripted workout, with set spring loads and repetitions, be prepared to adapt to the clients' abilities.
  2. Begin at a moderate intensity level to insure functional efficiency.
  3. Allow intrinsic muscle activation without over engaging extrinsic muscles.
  4. Increase intensity safely with physics.
  5. Teach the client how to apply their own resistance.
  6. Instruct the Pilates client to work within their COMFORT ZONE.
    WARNING; working in a stabilized neutral position for an hour may be contraindicative

Use Physics to increase resistance
It is the Pilates instructors' challenge to facilitate intensity safely
1) Move the axis of motion further away from the center by lengthening the lever arm of the moving body part; performing a biceps curl on the Reformer with arms extended from a flexed shoulder places more demands on the core stabilizers and makes performing the biceps curl more difficult without increasing resistance.
2) Changing the angle of the body with respect to gravity; adjust the client's hips off center of the hump (away from the ladder) to make 'Leg Lifts' more difficult.
3) Turn a 1st class lever into a less efficient 2nd class lever; press the perch away with plantar flexion and bent knee as in 'Prancing' rather than lifting the heel with an extended knee in 'Running'.
4) Ask the client to engage alternative muscles to perform an exercise; use hip extension to pull the Reformer carriage outward instead of using quadriceps to extend the knees to pushing it out.
5) If the client can perform more than three repetitions with good form, ask him to engage the opposing muscle throughout the movement, which increases intensity of the working muscle without placing additional stress on the affected joints.
6) Activate as many intrinsic core muscles when ever possible; engaging the leg adductors to activate the pelvic wall, use pull-up to initiate the pelvic floor, stabilize a neutral pelvic position with interspinalis, intertransverse, mutifidus and transversus abdominis (always keep the tummy in by engaging the transversus abdominis), maintain a neutral pelvic-spine alignment when flexing a hip with the psoas major, avoid joint compression with opposition elongation, etc.

Balance is a hallmark of a well-designed Pilates program
Balancing the MIND-BODY-SPIRIT has always been a focus of the Pilates Method. Exercise Physiologists also demand another type of Balance; flexion exercises should be balanced with extension exercises. A well-designed Pilates program balances flexion exercises with extension exercises for the same body part. Adapt Pilates’ programs that primarily consist of flexion exercises with extension exercises or a concious muscle release, like; curling the trunk, flexing the hips, flexing the shoulders with scapula depression, without including a comparable number of exercises, repetitions and intensity to extend the trunk, hips, and shoulders and release the scapulae. EXAMPLE; Roll-ups > Swan, Scapula retraction >Shoulder release, Hip flexion >Hip extension.

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