How Pilates works

Filed under: Pilates Info — Wayne on June 14, 2013

Pilates is big news at the moment; you can hardly go a day without one celebrity or another singing its praises. It is true that a regular Pilates practice can tone the body, aid weight loss and foster a general sense of wellbeing, but how exactly does Pilates work?

Controlled movement

Pilates is a body conditioning exercise system which was developed by Joseph Pilates. The Pilates technique can most easily be described as a system of controlled movements which use dynamic tension to tone and condition the body.

Dynamic tension is basically the act of using your own bodyweight and muscles against each other. The phrase was made popular by the first ever Mr Universe and fitness fanatic, Charles Atlas, but it is the perfect way to describe the mechanics of Pilates too.

By using dynamic tension, Pilates allows movements to flow together, working a range of muscles in every workout.

Strong and flexible

When Joseph Pilates set out to create a new type of exercise, his main aims were to increase strength and flexibility. After studying various Eastern practices, however, he also realised that exercise techniques could help the practitioner to have a healthy mind too. With that thought, he ensured that all Pilates movements were able to elongate muscles, tone the body, build strength and clear the mind.

As Pilates incorporates stretching and dynamic tension, it builds long lean muscles rather than adding bulk, which is why it is popular with women, dancers and gymnastics. Since the practitioner must focus on precise, fluid movements, it requires total concentration – which helps to clear and focus the mind too.

Practicing Pilates

Practicing Pilates is a great way to increase strength and flexibility whilst controlling the mind. Dynamic tension will strengthen the muscles, so that practitioners are stronger and have more stamina. It will also elongate the muscles, which helps to make practitioners more flexible and ensures their muscles can be used in a functional way. Bodybuilders may be strong, but sometimes their bulky, short muscles are not ideal for a range of fluid, flexible movements like dancing, twisting or turning. The shape and tone of the body produced by Pilates, however, can be used for a range of functions, which makes Pilates a functional exercise.


Every Pilates movement requires complete concentration. The practitioner must focus on the part of the body they are working and the feeling it evokes. This helps to increase body awareness and minimize injury. The slow, fluid movements also help to ensure muscles are fully engaged and used in a useful way.

Many muscles

Pilates movements also tend to work a number of muscles at once – unlike some weightlifting exercises where only one muscle is worked at a time. Practitioners are able to work on conditioning their whole body in a quick Pilates class, which makes it a very efficient form of exercise to undertake.

Sometimes, a machine called a reformer is used to help practitioners carry out certain movements more effectively. This, combined with the precise Pilates movements invented by Joseph Pilates, makes for a fantastic overall body conditioning workout, which explains why so many people love Pilates.

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Charlotte Hopkinson