History and Benefits of Pilates

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Pilates Exercises


Brief History of Pilates.

You probably already realise some of the benefits of Pilates - well, I’d like to go through a few that you may not know about. However, just before we jump into the benefits of pilates - let’s have a brief look at the history of pilates exercies to put everything into context.

Pilates was originally developed by Joseph Pilates who was of Greek extraction - born in Germany in 1883. He developed Pilates exercises in the early 20th century as a result of suffering from back pain himself. Pilates designed them to strengthen both the human mind and body.

Pilates are a series of exercises where the mind learns to consciously control the muscles of the body. Joseph truly believed that you cannot separate mental and physical health, which I definitely believe is true!

He has written two books which were in my opinion far ahead of the times that he lived in:

  1. Your Health: A corrective System of Exercising that Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education (1934).
  2. Return to Life through Contrology (1945).

Initially, Pilates was only performed in small studios by an elite few. However, gradually this has changed and now Pilates can be found in physiotherapy clinics, gyms, and other public centres. Over time ‘traditional Pilates’ has been adjusted and “contempory Pilates” has evolved, which is now the most common type taught - and is the form that I teach my physiotherapy clients and students. Let’s move onto the benefits of Pilates.

Benefits of Pilates.

There are so many benefits to performing Pilates exercises on a regular basis. In my own experience - it has simply changed my life!

Through learning and applying a series of Pilate principles your posture, movement, breathing and mindset will gradually transform and come together into a stronger, healthier body and mind.

Pilates breathing will improve your bodily function, by increasing the quality of air entry into your lungs and subsequently the quality and quantity of air getting to your bodily parts. You will feel less tired and more energetic as a result of this.

Your posture will change and you will evolve to holding yourself quite perfectly! You will look better and your clothes will hang better from your shoulders and hips. Your body will tone up, especially around your tummy! If you apply the principles of Pilates correctly you will end up with a flat strong tummy! Get going!

You will get taller! With Pilates and its postural-correction techniques, combined with the lengthening that occurs in your muscles you will actually grow! My students are measured on session one - again at the end of session one - and the height changes range from 2-4 cm! This is purely as a result of awareness and posture. Once you know where your body parts should be and do it, you will grow! However, it will not increase a further amount the week after!

Any back and neck pain that you may have will improve. I use Pilates primarily in my physiotherapy practice for the treatment and resolution of back and neck pain. However, you must be taught the correct exercises for your problem, as well as being taught the technique correctly. If you perform Pilate exercises incorrectly your back and neck pain may become worse. Similarly, if you do the wrong Pilates exercises for your particular back problem you may end up in a worsened state. Always seek a well qualified Pilate’s instructor, favourably with a Physiotherapy/Physical Therapy qualification if you have back or neck pain.

Incontinence can respond well to Pilates. However, you must have a thorough medical examination and diagnosis before you attempt Pilate’s exercises for the treatment of your incontinence. If the cause of your “weakened water works” is as a result of weak muscles in your pelvic floor, then Pilates may help greatly.

However, if you are not doing the pelvic floor component of Pilates correctly you may end up with a bigger problem. You must be taught the technique by a physio qualified in this area. Technique is everything for this problem.

Stress responds greatly to Pilates. Daily my clients inform me on how they arrived to their class highly strung and leave “floating”! Personally, I find the breathing and flowing movements of Pilates a wonderful release of any stress. The great thing is that once you are aware that you are stressed you can apply the Pilates breathing technique there and then and you will hopefully notice your stresses melting away! I definitely do!

Posture will improve. With awareness and muscle strength your sitting and standing posture will improve greatly. Good posture improves air entry as well as organ and muscle function. All in all you will look and feel better from the early stages in your Pilates career. Why are you waiting?

Mental health will improve with Pilates. Using the postural positions, exercises and breathing techniques associated with Pilates your mind will be more relaxed and overall will function better. “Everything looks and feels clearer” is a recent quote from one of my beginners. I hope you enjoy your adventures with Pilates as much as I have and continue to do with my own clients. Just remember - get the best instruction you can find.


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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