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The Pilates Institute methos

The Pilates technique has been subject to many interpretations over the years. Joseph Pilates was passionate about his work and it was his belief that only he could truly teach it. It was his wife Clara who fulfilled the role of trainer to an elite group who she trained and continued to work with when Joseph Pilates died.

Because there were no training manuals as such, every teacher who learned the technique passed the knowledge on by word of mouth and a system that required the student to serve an apprenticeship. Consequently each trainer altered the process slightly when they added their personal experiences and perception of the work.

Until very recently all the benefits claimed for the Pilates Method have been anecdotal. Research was non-existent, resulting in the medical profession dismissing the technique as 'just another exercise regime'.

The claims regarding improved posture and re-alignment were made by people who were regular practitioners of the Pilates Systems and indeed Joseph Pilates called his work a "system of corrective exercises". Part of the strength of the original repertoire was in the routine way in which the movements were performed, with a balance of strength and mobility with minimal repetitions that did not overuse or unduly fatigue muscles. The Pilates Method with the focus on continuous flowing movements that worked the body in a very systematic and balanced way achieved amazing results.

We must remember that Joseph Pilates was a very fit, strong athlete and his students were mostly dancers, who had already achieved a high level of physical ability. As recently as 1999 this still was true of the majority of people practicing the Pilates Method. However, when health clubs started to introduce group Pilates classes onto their timetable and the general public were introduced to the technique it became apparent that the client base had changed dramatically.


The Pilates Institute began training Fitness Instructors in the Pilates Method during 1999. At that time the introduction of group Pilates based matwork was becoming increasingly popular, but teachers were becoming very aware that the participants in the classes were struggling with the original repertoire as taught by Joseph Pilates.

The necessary core strength and flexibility - required by the original Pilates technique was very challenging to clients who had been training their superficial muscles for so long. Running and weight training that are excellent forms of exercise necessary to maintain a healthy body had not prepared the deep stabilising muscles required to perform the authentic Pilates exercises.

As a training company we rose to the challenge by adopting research from Australian physiotherapists to modify the classic Pilates repertoire. In 1999 Carolyn Richardson, Paul Hodges, Julie Hides and Gwendolene Jull published their research findings in relation to low back pain (updated in 2003). They focussed their attention on the deep muscles that their research and clinical studies suggested controlled the lumbar segment of the spine: the multifidus, transverses abdominis, diaphragm and pelvic floor.

They worked with a study group to exercise using a neutral spinal alignment together with a mild contraction of the postural muscles (multifidus, transversus abdominis, diaphragm and pelvic floor) - they suggested a 30% contraction at that time. Of course the exercises needed to be very controlled and not disturb the set up. After a 3 year trial period the discovery was that recurrence of low back pain in this group reduced from 80% to 30%.

The discovery that with the specific set up and controlled breathing low back pain could be alleviated, allowed us as a training company to modify the original repertoire to such a degree as to enable absolute beginners to the Pilates technique to understand the basic requirements of core strength and the importance of the correct sequencing and function of the deep stabilising muscles.

The Pilates Institute faculty examined each of the 34 original movements with a view to maintaining the set up and sequencing of neutral spine, mild engagement and diaphragmatic breathing. We were able to modify just 15 of the original movements to a sufficient level, and these 15 became our Matwork 1 course.

By applying the technique consistently the Pilates Institute Method has been extremely successful in introducing beginners of all ages and abilities to the Pilates technique. Some clients progress and eventually have the ability to effectively practice the original movements; others work within their range of ability. Everyone benefits.

The Pilates Institute approach to the Pilates technique is research and evidence based. We are proud to say that although our goal is for everyone to achieve the wonderful feeling of practicing the original 34 movements in the sequence that Joseph Pilates advocated, we are able to help those who because of injury, age or postural disadvantages have been denied the many benefits associated with regular Pilates practice.

The Pilates Institute Method is inclusive and allows teachers to offer classes and personal training to a broad spectrum of clients.