Pilates master-class

Like all health and fitness regimes, there’s a right and a wrong way to perform Pilates. Andy Adamson of Birmingham’s Coolpilates Studios reveals all…

Pilates is a system of exercise for mind and body devised by Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1883-1967). Pilates registered the first patents for his innovative exercise apparatus as long ago as the 1920’s and by the 1940’s his studio in New York was the go-to place for dancers, actors, athletes and just about anyone who wanted to improve the way their body worked and looked.

Since the 1990’s it has evolved to become a popular form of exercise to change the way we look, feel and function. However, in its popularisation many of the underlying principles have become diluted with exercises becoming simplified and sanitised in order to be safe enough to deliver in large groups, often in the form known simply as Mat-work.

The true home of Pilates is in a studio equipped with both large and small apparatus, the inventions of Joseph Pilates. These include the Reformer, Cadillac, Ladder Barrel, Spine Corrector, Tower, Electric Chair, Armchair, Wunda Chair, Pedipul and numerous smaller devices such as the Neck Stretcher, the Breath-a-ciser, and Foot Corrector. Much of this apparatus uses springs of varying size and tension attached to poles, handles and bars at varying heights and angles.

Ideally Pilates should be studied one-to-one. There is often close interaction between student and teacher with assisted stretches and additional resistance. The teacher’s guidance will include touch and precise verbal cues to help each student get the best out of themselves. In group classes numbers should be small (no more than six), or be supervised by more than one teacher.

A typical one-to-one session or group apparatus class falls into three parts. Students will expect to get a workout on (a) the Reformer and (b) on the Mat. In part (c) particular attention is paid to the body’s needs and imbalances. Here the teacher can select specialised exercises and the most appropriate pieces of apparatus to help rehabilitate or re-educate the body.


Mind-Body Connection

Through regular Pilates practice you gain a heightened awareness of what is happening to your body as you move. You learn to improve your breathing and to integrate breath patterns with everything you do. You learn about improved postural alignment and how to incorporate these improvements in your everyday life.

Strength and Flexibility

Getting the balance right between stretching and strengthening is where many exercise programmes fail. With Pilates you will be stretching almost as much as you are strengthening. A Pilates workout is intelligently thorough, working right through all the muscle systems. The result, a body which is lengthened as well as strengthened.

Back Problems

People with low back problems can benefit from a Pilates regime that helps build strong deep abdominals. In a 1-1 or small group class you will practise an individually tailored programme which may also involve strengthening the paraspinal muscles, gluteal muscles and inner thighs, together with a series of stretches appropriate to your particular needs.

Body Conditioning and Injury Prevention

If you are a sports or dance enthusiast, then a Pilates programme will boost your current regime ensuring the whole of your body is trained in a balanced and efficient manner. It is often the case that whilst exercising we over recruit muscles to undertake even simple tasks, resulting in injuries; in Pilates we try to find the appropriate effort for the task at hand.


Pilates is the perfect, gentle way to keep your body in shape during rehabilitation following an injury. It is also a safe way to strengthen and prevent re-injury until your doctor or therapist gives you the all clear. Pilates can also help those with MS or Parkinson’s Disease as the retraining of neuro-muscular pathways is at the centre of Pilates work.

Stress Management

Deep relaxing breathing as well as flow and concentration are at the heart of Pilates philosophy. You learn to be mindful of the moment and immerse yourself in the movement you are making.

Pilates in Pregnancy

For someone experienced in Pilates continuing to attend a Pilates studio is perfectly safe. The apparatus provides support for your body and the baby while you continue to get a workout. Someone new to Pilates should wait until the 16th week of pregnancy before joining a studio.


Be bold – check out your teacher’s credentials. They should have trained full-time for a year or more and, through CPD, be maintaining high standards of professional practice. Having chosen your studio book a 1-1 before signing up for a block of classes – this will enable you to determine if you like the studio environment and are satisfied with the teacher.

Andy Adamson is creator of Coolpilates Studios with studios in central Birmingham and Barnt Green. Coolpilates, Newhall Place, 16-18 Newhall Hill, Birmingham, B1 3JH. Tel: 0800 2061911 www.coolpilates.co.uk