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History of Pilates:
Joseph Pilates (1880 – 1967) was apparently a sickly child.  By experimenting with different exercise regimes he was able to overcome his health problems, living to the ripe old age of 87.  He took what he considered to be the most effect parts of yoga, gymnastics, circus training, boxing, weight lifting and other exercise programs and came up with a system that he called Contrology and that we now call Pilates.  This system consisted of a series of 34 exercise moves and several principles (alignment, breathing, core connection, concentration, control, precision, isolation, fluidity and routine).  Many of these moves are still taught today (over 60 years after he published his exercises in his book “Return to Life Through Contrology”) indicating their worth - though modern research has refined them a little. 
Joseph Pilates’  34 Moves:
1.    The Hundred
2.    The Roll Up
3.    The Roll-Over with Legs Spread
4.    The One Leg Circle
5.    Rolling Back (like a ball)
6.    The One Leg Stretch
7.    The Double Leg Stretch
8.    The Spine Stretch
9.    Rocker with Open Legs
10.  The Corkscrew – modified to Double Leg Circle
11.  The Saw
12.  The Swan Dive – modified
13.  The One Leg Kick
14.  The Double Kick
15.  The Neck Pull
16.  The Scissors – modified to pond dips
17.  The Bicycle – modified to pond dips 
18.  The Shoulder Bridge
19.  The Spine Twist
20.  The Jack Knife
21.  The Side Kick
22.  The Teaser
23.  The Hip Twist with Stretched Arms
24.  Swimming
25.  The Leg-Pull (prone)
26.  The Leg-Pull (back)
27.  The Side Kick Kneeling
28.  The Side Bend
29.  The Boomerang
30.  The Seal
31.  The Crab
32.  The Rocking – modified to prone quad stretch
33.  The Control and Balance
34.  The Push Up 

Joseph Pilates’  Principles:

Alignment:                  Ideal posture for optimal functioning of the body.

Breathing:                  Slow, steady, calming breath.

Core connection:       Engaging the muscles that support the back (transversus abdominis and pelvic floor).

Concentration:           Focussing the mind.

Control:                       Performing each move safely within your limits.

Precision:                   Performing each move to the best of your ability.

Isolation:                     Working smaller, often neglected muscles whilst switching off larger global muscles.

Fluidity:                       Linking movements together.

Routine:                      Incorporating Pilates into daily life.


Alignment:  Ideal posture for optimal functioning of the body.

  • Stand with the feet hips width apart, with the weight even between both feet.
  • Keep the knees soft.
  • Extend up through the top of the crown, lengthening the spine.
  • Draw the chin in slightly to line the ears over the shoulders, hips and ankles.
  • Slide the shoulders away from the ears.
  • Relax the arms by the sides.
  • Level off the pelvis as if it were a bowl of water, leaving the natural curves in the spine.
 Breathing:  Slow, steady, calming breath.
  • Breathe into the lower rib region, feeling the ribs expand to the back and sides as well as the front.  The breath is slow, steady and flows.  Try not to rush or force the breath.
 Core Connection:  Engaging the muscles that support the back (transversus abdominis and pelvic floor).
  • The core is made of 2 girdles – the pelvic girdle and the shoulder girdle.
  • The pelvic girdle is made of muscles to the front (transversus abdominis), back (multifidus), sides (obliques) and the pelvic floor underneath.
  • Activating the pelvic girdle to 30% gently increases the pressure inside your abdomen, supporting, stabilising and protecting your spine.
  • The pelvic girdle can be fired up in one of 2 ways:

THE BELT METHOD – Imagine wearing a belt with 10 notches.  Do the belt up to the 3rd notch (30%) as you scoop navel to spine.  Keep the breath flowing and the bottom relaxed.

THE ELEVATOR METHOD – Imagine a lift shaft between your pubic bone and belly button with 10 floors.  Activate your pelvic floor by taking the lift to the 3rd floor (30%).  Keep the breath flowing and the bottom relaxed.


Pelvic Floor Exercises:

Locating the pelvic floor muscles:

The pelvic floor muscles are a hammock of muscles deep inside (not on the surface of the body) that run from the pubic bone to the tail bone.  Their function is to support the bladder, bowel and reproductive organs in the right position and help regulate continence (they are the muscles you use to stop mid-wee when the phone rings or when trying to stop passing wind).  There are 2 types of fibres in the muscle, one is more involved in supporting the pelvic organs in the right position (to prevent constant dribbling) and the other more involved in resisting a sudden increase in internal pressure (to prevent leaks when you sneeze or cough), so there are 2 different exercises to do.  Both are important!


Slow Pelvic Floor Exercises:

Find a comfortable position, perhaps sitting or lying on your back or side.  Sit nice and tall and try to relax the legs and bottom.  Become aware of your breathing and slow it down as you relax.   Breathe in to prepare and as you breathe out draw your sitting bones together and then lift upwards deep inside of you (imagine sucking up spaghetti!).  Take a slow breath in at the top and as you breathe out, very gently and as slowly as you can, lower back down.  Check the bottom and legs stay relaxed throughout, keep breathing.  Repeat this 4 times.  If this feels ok, increase the length of time held at the top by breathing in and out slowly before lowering back down with an out breath.  Try to build it up gradually to 4 slow breaths at the top.  If you have nothing left to let back down, you’ve held it too long.


Fast Pelvic Floor Exercises:

Just like the slow ones, find your comfy position.  Relax the legs and bum.  Breathe in to prepare, then as you breathe out draw inwards and upwards in one swift movement, hold it here and breathe in, then really slowly lower back down as you breathe out.  Again, check that the legs and bottom aren’t squeezing as you lift.  Repeat 4 times but relax fully between each time.


Try to do 4 slow, 4 fast, 4 slow, 4 fast, 3 times per day!   I know it sounds a lot, but once you have the hang of them, do them as you brush your teeth or watch TV.  Do a fast one each time you turn on a light switch.  Every time someone asks “Why…?” do a slow one before answering (especially good if you are around children!).  Maybe have coloured stickers that you can put everywhere – each time you see an orange sticker do a fast one, use a different coloured sticker for slow ones.   If you do have problems, please don’t be afraid to go to your doctor or health visitor to be referred to a women’s health physiotherapist who can probably help you. 


This is a problem that can be fixed, don’t be one of the women who lives with it, be one of the women who deals with it!


You may wish to read more about Pelvic Floor exercises at NHS direct.

ABC Pilates | Woodley, Reading, Berks, UK | Tel:  07970 188816 | natasha@abc-pilates.co.uk