by Amy Butler
Have you ever wondered if there is a purpose behind all the detail and precision of your Pilates instructor’s teaching cues? No?! Fair enough… But, if you have ever wondered why your instructor is so “picky” or marveled at how she/he doesn’t “let you get away with anything,” then you might be interested to know that there really is science behind the Pilates method. That science is the reason that effective, well trained Pilates instructors teach with such purpose and exactness and the reason that we, as clients, reap the physical and mental benefits of a well taught lesson!
Joseph Pilates taught himself to understand the complex nature of the human body and movement, and the method of movement he created in the early twentieth century is still gaining popularity today. Originally called Contrology, Pilates is now taught all over the world and is beginning to accumulate a much needed body of research to support the method’s efficacy.
The scientific world has started to look at the unique way in which Pilates exercises teach core stabilization in coordination with full body movement. These investigations are confirming that all those detailed cues from your instructor to "draw your navel to your spine" and "narrow your waist" do in fact result in effective core stabilization. Through ultrasound imaging, researchers in one experiment were able to see in real time how the Pilates technique of “abdominal hollowing is effective in recruiting the TrA and internal obliques,” (1) abdominal muscles critical to core stabilization. Pilates breathing is also being investigated as an effective means of increasing trunk stabilization by activating transversus abdominis, internal obliques, and multifidi. A recent research article published in The Journal of Physical Therapy Science concludes that “Pilates breathing increased activities of the trunk stabilizer muscles. Activation of the trunk muscle indicates that practicing Pilates breathing while performing lifting tasks will reduce the risk of trunk injuries.” (2)
Within the Pilates community itself, the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) is encouraging and facilitating research, as well, through an annual Research Forum. Each year at the Research Forum, Pilates professionals from around the world share their research and findings, adding to the body of knowledge that keeps the Pilates method relevant, safe and effective. The PMA’s dedication to research and shared knowledge has resulted in a growing collection of resources available to instructors and the general public for reference. Through this research collection, instructors have organized access to a wealth of knowledge about topics ranging from Pilates for low back pain to Pilates for people with fibromyalgia. This continued exploration of the teachings of Joseph Pilates is informing instructors on the significance of their communication with their clients. Only through proper form and execution do we enjoy the full benefits of Pilates - benefits that the scientific world is evaluating and confirming!
So, isn’t it comforting to know that there is science behind Pilates and all those terribly detailed cues from your instructor? There’s a reason you’re instructed to breathe in a specific way and move in a particular order. It’s not random, folks. While continued research is absolutely necessary, there is indeed reasoning, science and intention behind those wonderfully picky Pilates cues!