As a Physiotherapist I get asked this all the time.
Pilates has become the go-to for all injuries that don’t appear to be improving with Physiotherapy treatment.
Even though I do believe that Pilates has its place in re-habilitation I also feel that people are being pressured into spending a great deal of money on an exercise which may not be the answer to their pain.
I wanted to highlight my views.
To recover from an injury, it is vital to do a complete assessment and find the exact cause of the pain. The cause of pain could be weakness, instability, tightness, inflammation or neural tension. If the exact cause of your pain is not diagnosed and addressed I do not believe that your pain can be addressed.
Once we have found the source of the injury it is important to work together to correct the imbalance and return your body back to the way it was before the injury. This could mean, muscle release, strengthening, rest, movement, heat and the list goes on.
Where does pilates fit in? Pilates will significantly improve your abdominal muscular endurance, since you will spend much of a Pilates class performing abdominal, lower back and core specific exercises. If you are starting at a lower fitness level or with a weak core, you can make these areas stronger with Pilates. If you have injured your lower back or neck because of a weak core... yes, Pilates will be a great tool to improve the weak core.
However, pilates WILL NOT improve your full body strength and will not help to strengthen isolated muscles especially if you’re only doing mat workouts. This is because to get a muscle, joint or bone stronger, you must expose that area of your body to a stressful demand, like lifting overhead for stronger shoulders, pushing with your legs for stronger thighs or extending and flexing for stronger arms.
So, if you have injured your knee for example, strengthening the abdominals will help the core which is important for pelvic stability but without finding the exact cause of the knee pain, it is not the only exercise of choice. It only addresses one part of the rehabilitation requirements. It does not help for quad strength and it does not help to address isolated muscle imbalances.
As you can clearly see, Pilates does help for core strength but will not help to strengthen the body. Many patients who are injured are no longer able to do cardiovascular exercises and turn to Pilates for recovery. The cardiovascular system is not used during Pilates, but it must also not be excluded from rehabilitation during recovery. There are many other forms of exercises such as hydrotherapy or water running which need to be included.
Often weight is an important factor for many patients during rehabilitation. Weight loss is not something that is addressed during Pilates, as the heart rate is not elevated.
Pilates is good for the following:
- Centering — Bringing the focus to the center of your body, which can teach you how to use your core muscles to generate athletic or forceful movements.
- Concentration — Bringing full attention to each exercise and learning how to engage in high-quality focus.
- Control — Performing a movement with control and fluidity, which can teach you how to move more gracefully.
- Precision — Having self-awareness of your body’s tiny movements and knowing the alignment of one body part relative to other body parts and how your body is moving through space — which can help with athleticism.
- Breath — Using a very full breath in your exercises and thinking of your lungs as a bellows which strongly pump air fully in and out of your body, which you can use in other activities such as stress relief or sports.
- Flow — Performing your movements in a flowing, graceful manner, which can help you become a better dancer or athlete, or even simply improve your everyday posture.
As you can see, Pilates can help make your abs stronger or give you better muscular endurance in your core. It can also help you focus, breathe and move with more grace and flexibility. In a Reformer class, you can get stronger too. But Pilates won’t help you shed significant weight and a Pilates mat class will not make your entire body significantly stronger.
The bottom line: Pilates is great, but don’t rely on it as your primary workout, and especially don’t rely on it for strength, cardiovascular fitness, weight loss or trying to “fix” an injury that is not correctly diagnosed.
I would also like to emphasize the fact that if you are not improving from an injury and are still in pain, please do not then think that Pilates is the magic cure.
I believe that if you are not improving, it could be that the root cause of the pain has not been diagnosed correctly.
To summarise my opinion:
Pilates is a great tool to use for strengthening weak abdominals but should not be a go to when all else fails.