Office Pilates

Can we transfer the method to the rest of the exercising world?

Article by Gill Cummings-Bell BA (Hon’s) M.Sc. MBA. PGCE. MIfL

As an exercise teacher of 30 years, Pilates remained a mystery to me.  I couldn’t understand where the benefits were, or how to work out with intensity using the Pilates method.  I am typically the exercise teacher that wants to shout, 10 more, and drive the session hard. In my ignorance of course I would wind up my esteemed colleague, Jo Everill-Taylor, who is a national lead on Pilates and say to her  ‘I don’t get it” why does it take you so long to learn to teach 34 exercises?  Can you not learn them from a DVD? My final insulting comment is are they not just body conditioning exercises slowed down? Read on.

Jo as always remains calm! A few years ago she challenged me to take my Pilates qualification and open my eyes and my mind to its potential.  I did exactly what she asked me to do and I discovered a whole new exercising world.  Not only did I discover a whole new world, but I also couldn’t understand why the principles of Pilates are not applied in all exercise teaching. They just make sense. Thank you Joseph Pilates. The light has gone on and at last someone is at home!

As a fast mover, high intensity exerciser for want of a better word, training myself to slow down and take control felt nigh on impossible.  Once I did, I saw the benefits of working with the Pilates Method. What became a light bulb moment for me was understanding that the intense fast sort of exercise I normally taught would put people more at risk of injuries, if they didn’t have the control that is taught through the Pilates method. Now I apply the method not just in my Pilates classes, but also in all of my teaching across different modes of exercise including PT and outdoor sessions.

The Pilates Method

The method has six main principles.


Through the Pilates method we are looking to create a strong, stable foundation for movement.  We develop a ‘powerhouse’ by bringing the focus to the centre of the body between the lower ribs and the pubic bone. We use this power throughout each exercise position. The powerhouse is the deep stabilsing core

Pilates puts a special emphasis on training the deep ‘local stabilising core’ muscles which are often underdeveloped.  This includes pelvic floor, iliopsoas, multifidus, quadratus lumborum, deep erector spinae, transverse adbominus, internal oblique, and diaphragm. These muscles are all connected from the pelvic floor, vertically through to the diaphragm and laterally through TVA and obliques. You can’t leave any of them out or stabilization of the spine will be compromised.

Throughout exercise classes and PT sessions I hear the term ‘engage the core’.  We need to deepen our understanding of what that means so that we engage the stabilisers before using the mobilisers  ‘the global’ surface muscles. If you don’t the spine is at risk and that doesn’t make any sense, does it?

At this stage I go back to my first point. What can all exercise learn from Pilates?  Build stability through the stabilizing core and engage this prior to any movement to ensure the spine is protected.


This principle engages the ‘mind body’ connection.  Concentrating helps recruit the neuro-muscular pathway correctly through the kinetic chain and therefore full benefit will be gained from the exercise, posture or movement pattern. Concentrating on the precision of a movement or the correct movement pattern over time will lead our clients to really understand how to exercise and move in everyday life  i.e. I often see a squat initiated at the knee when the initiator of the movement should be a lumbar-pelvic movement referred to as lumbar pelvic rhythm. This takes concentration.  Often clients lose concentration and therefore stability the more reps they complete through a set.  Helping them concentrate to the last rep is important.


This is one of the biggest principles of Pilates. Every exercise is executed with complete muscular control.  Parts of the body that are supposed to remain still, do so as we teach full control of a movement.  This can’t be achieved without centering and concentration.  I see many an exercise executed in the gym and classes, where the control of the movement is not there, not precise and sometimes not being spotted by trainers. Again its goes back to what we can learn from Pilates


In Pilates awareness is sustained throughout every movement.  There is an appropriate placement, alignment, trajectory and muscle recruitment through the kinetic chain for every body part, relative to other body parts. What this means is that if you are executing a side lying kick (in any exercise programme), to have control and precision, only the leg will have any movement.  Often I see movement in the torso or thoracic region in an exercises like this where the momentum of moving the leg swings the torso. With precision and control this would not be the case.

Another example is the spine. Being able to articulate through the vertebrae one at a time when rolling up or rolling down is a precise movement pattern. I often see people pivot from one point rather than articulating through each vertebrae using precision.

To truly get the benefit from an exercise should not all exercises have precision. To get precision, we also need centering, concentration and control.


Breathing is needed for all exercise to avoid the Val Salva effect (blood pressure variations).  Joseph Pilates emphasised using a very full breath in all exercises.  Most Pilates exercises co-ordinate with the breath in one of two ways.  Either, inhale to prepare before a movement and exhale through the movement (used for larger movements), or inhale one way and exhale the other on shorter time movements.

To use full breath you must have centering, control and precision.  In Pilates it is referred to as lateral breathing, I like to think of it as 360 degree breathing.

To enable this, the stabilising core must be engaged (centering) as the diaphragm is part of the core. You must align the spine by elevating the sternum vertically (not flaring the ribs) and the scapula must be at home in their pockets. If the scapula is forward at all, they will lock down the two floating ribs, which will not allow the diaphragm to contract into its 360 dome.  Try it, bring your shoulders slightly forward into a relaxed posture, and take a big breath in.  Take them back home, engage the centering and take a big breath in.  See which one gives you the deeper breathing.


I love flow. I think of it as beauty and grace. Executing an exercise with fluidity, grace and ease.  This is a strong goal of all Pilates exercises.  This has really helped my teaching across all my exercise disciplines.  Instead of jerk the lift up, pause , and lower the lift.  I think of flow and lift under control using all the seconds I can through the movement, no pause at the top end, and lower with the same control, precision and flow.

I ask the question again. What can we learn from Joseph Pilates?  What I have learn’t is this.  To teach solid exercise in a way that supports good movement for life, I have to know and understand the Pilates Method.  It’s not just a case of do I want to teach Pilates or not.  Whatever I teach it makes me a better diagnostic exercise practitioner.  Consider taking on the Pilates method and you will see things differently, even outside of a Pilates session.