Seven Benefits of Pilates: A Look at the Research
Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s and is practiced today worldwide by millions of people. It is well known for improving posture, core strength, and flexibility, just to name a few. I have been practicing Pilates myself for four years and teaching now for almost two years. I have noticed significant improvements in myself and in my clients, including improvements in posture and postural awareness, core strength, breathing, decreased muscular imbalances, increased flexibility, and decreased musculoskeletal pain. In Physical therapy, which is my full-time job, we use evidence-based practice (using the research as a guide) to treat our patients in order to give them the best quality of care and to maximize outcomes. This mindset made me curious about current research regarding the benefits of Pilates. Below, I will discuss seven benefits of Pilates and the research that supports these benefits.
Having good posture takes the stress off of our joints and ligaments and helps us to use our muscles efficiently, thus, preventing injury and pain. Good posture can also make us feel confident and this in turn allows us to reflect confidence and openness to others. Twelve weeks of Pilates training decreased thoracic kyphosis (the curve in our upper back) in sitting (Emery et al., 2010). This same study found decreased postural compensations in the shoulder blades and spine with reaching the arms above the head. Ferreira et al. (2013) found improved sagittal plane alignment (looking at someone from the side) of the head and pelvis after 6 months of Mat Pilates. Lastly, 10 weeks of Pilates training decreased cervical cranial vertebral angle (decreased forward head posture) and increased cervical spine range of motion (Lee et al., 2009).
Psychosocial health includes our mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. There is a lot of research done on the psychosocial benefits of Pilates. Twenty two participants with chronic musculoskeletal conditions performed Pilates on the Reformer for 12 weeks, the majority reported decreased stress, relaxation, improved confidence, and increased social activities (Gaskell & Williams, 2018). Mokhtari et al. (2013) found that elderly females reported decreased depression using the Geriatric Depression Scale after practicing Mat Pilates for 12 weeks. Pilates helped to increase the positive affect (positivity in relationships and surroundings) by 22.5% and decrease the negative affect (negativity in relationships and surroundings) by 12.2% in nine out of ten one hour sessions, in previously sedentary young females (Tolnai et al., 2016).
Achieving and maintaining good balance should be an integral part of our fitness routines. Most of the research done regarding Pilates and balance inc
ludes elderly participants, due to falls being prevalent in this population. There is a decline with age in all three of our sensory systems that control balance, these include our vision, vestibular system (inner ear), and proprioception (joint position sense). Joseph et al. (2016) found that 12 weeks of Pilates training improved balance and balance confidence in older adults. Improvements in postural sway and dynamic balance was achieved after 5 weeks of Pilates training in older adults, and these improvements were maintained for one year (Bird & Fell, 2014). Finally, Mokhtari et al. (2013) found improved static and dynamic balance in thirty elderly women who performed Mat Pilates for 12 weeks, thus, reducing participants’ risk for falls.
Improved Strength and Endurance
Having good strength helps us to perform our daily functional activities, including work and recreational activities, without fatigue or injury. Santos et al. (2017) found increased strength in the scapular stabilizer muscles (middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, and serratus anterior) and lumbar extensors (erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and multifidi) after 12 sessions on the Reformer in 24 young inactive females. Another study, found increased concentric (muscle shortening) and eccentric (muscle lengthening) peak torque in the knee flexors, hip flexors, and hip extensors of 14 elderly women following 12 weeks of Mat Pilates (Bertoli et al., 2018). Kloubec (2010) found increased abdominal and upper body muscular endurance following 12 weeks of Mat Pilates in middle-aged men and women.
Flexibility allows our joints to move through greater range of motion, can improve posture, reduce pain, and prevent injury. Twenty-two young female dancers participated in Pilates twice a week, once a week using Mat Pilates and once a week using the equipment, for 14 weeks (Ahearn et al., 2018). This study found improvements in hamstring flexibility measured by the straight leg raise test. Geremia et al. (2015) found improvements in cervical, thoracolumbar, shoulder, hip, and knee range of motion following 10 weeks of Pilates training in older adults. Lastly, Phrompaet et al. (2010) looked at the effects of Pilates training on lumbo-pelvic stability and flexibility. Participants performed Mat Pilates for 8 weeks, sit and reach mean measurements from Pilates group improved from 27.69 centimeters to 34.89 centimeters.
Improved Lumbo-Pelvic Stability
Stability in our spine is achieved with the activation of our deep trunk muscles at the proper time during movement. The deep trunk muscles include the transverse abdominis (TA), multifidi, internal and external obliques, and the pelvic floor muscles. Many studies have shown increased EMG (measures the electrical activity of skeletal muscles) activity in these deep trunk muscles with Pilates exercises. The centering principle of Pilates focuses on the activation of the deep trunk muscles or “powerhouse” during movements of the upper and or lower extremities. Phrompaet et al. (2010) found that after 8 weeks of Mat Pilates, 85% of participants passed a lumbo-pelvic stability test using a pressure biofeedback unit. Herrington & Davies (2005) looked at the participant’s ability to isolate the TA muscle as well as lumbo-pelvic stability using a pressure biofeedback unit again. The Pilates group could isolate the TA and had better lumbo-pelvic stability compared to the other groups in this study.
Reduced Lower Back Pain
The World Health Organization states that the lifetime prevalence of non-specific lower back pain in individuals is estimated at 60-70%. Given all the research we have already looked at, it is reasonable to suggest that if Pilates improves posture, psychosocial health, balance, strength, flexibility, and lumbo-pelvic stability that it could also help to reduce lower back pain, which effects many of us. I chose a systematic review with meta-analysis (summary of multiple studies) due to there being a lot of research on Pilates and lower back pain. Reduced lower back pain with Pilates training was noted in six of seven trials when comparing Pilates to other interventions (Choon Wynn Lim et al., 2011).
Want to learn more about Pilates and how it will benefit you? Call the studio and schedule your sessions today! When Kerri isn’t working with us as a Pilates instructor she is a Physical Therapist in Naples. https://go2beyondmotion.com/about/kerri
Ahearn, E.L., Greene, A., Lasner, A. (2018). Some effects of supplemental Pilates training on the posture, strength, and flexibility of dancers 17 to 22 years of age. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 22 (4), 192-202.
Bertoli, J., Dal Pupo, J., Vaz, M. A., Detanico, D., Biduski, G.M., Rocha Freitas, C. (2018). Effects of Mat Pilates on hip and knee isokinetic torque parameters in elderly woman. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 22 (3), 798-804.
Bird, M.L., & Fell, J. (2014). Positive long-term effect of Pilates exercise on the aged-related decline in balance and strength in older, community-dwelling men and women. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 22 (3), 342-347.
Choon Wyn Lim, E., Choo Poh, R. L., Ying Low, A., and Pong Wong, W. (2011). Effects of Pilates-Based Exercises on Pain and Disability in Individuals with Persistent Nonspecific Low Back Pain: a Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 41 (2), 70-80.
Cruz-Ferreira, A., Fernandes, J., Kuo, Y. L., Bernardo, L. M., Fernandes, O., Laranjo, L., and Silva, A. (2013). Does Pilates-based exercise improve postural alignment in adult women. Women Health, 53 (6), 597-611.
Dos Santos, N. T., Raimundo, K. C., Da Silva, S. A., Souza L. A., Ferreira, K. C., Borges Santo Urbano, Z. F., Gasparini, A. L., Bertoncello, D. Increased strength of the scapular stabilizer and lumbar muscles after twelve weeks of Pilates training using the Reformer machine: A pilot study. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 21 (1), 74-80.
Emery, K., De Serres, S. J., McMillan, A., and Cote, J. N. (2010). The Effect of a Pilates training program on arm-trunk posture and movement. Clinical Biomechanics, 25 (2), 124-130.
Gaskell, L., and Williams, A. E. (2018). A qualitative study of the experiences and perceptions of adults with chronic musculoskeletal conditions following a 12-week Pilates exercise programme. Musculoskeletal Care, 17, 54-62.
Geremia, J. M., Iskiewicz, M. M., Marschner, R. A., Lehnen, T. E., Lehnen, A. M. (2015). Effect of physical training program using the Pilates method on flexibility in elderly subjects. Age, 37 (6), 119.
Herrington, L., Davies, R. (2005). The influence of Pilates training on the ability to contract the transversus abdominis muscle in asymptomatic individuals. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 9 (1), 52-57.
Josephs, S., Pratt, M. L., Meadows, E. C., Thurmond, S., Wagner, A. (2016). The effectiveness of Pilates on balance and falls in community-dwelling older adults. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 20 (4), 815-823.
Kloubec, J. A. (2010). Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24 (3), 661-670.
Lee, S. M., Lee, C. H., O’Sullivan, D., Jung, J. H., Park, J. J. (2016). Clinical effectiveness of a Pilates treatment for forward head posture. The Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 28, 2009-2013.
Mokhtari, M., Nezakatalhossaini, M., Fahimeh, E. (2013). The effect of 12-week Pilates exercises on depression and balance associated with falling in the elderly. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 70, 1714-1723.
Phrompaet, S., Paungmali, A., Pirunsan, U, Sitilertpisan, P. (2011). Effect of Pilates training on lumbo-pelvic stability and flexibility. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 2 (1).
Tolnai, N., Szabo, Z., Koteles, F., Szabo, A. (2016). Physical and psychological benefits of a once-a-week Pilates exercises in young sedentary women: A 10-week longitudinal study. Physiology & Behavior, 163(1), 211-218.