Sport & Exercise

Introduction to Pilates

We asked the team at the University’s sport and medicine clinic FASIC for a short introduction to the six key principles of Pilates.

Developed in the early 20th Century by German-born Joseph Pilates, who believed mental and physical health were closely connected. Pilates aims to strengthen and move the body in an even way, with particular emphasis on core strength to improve general fitness and wellbeing. (1)

The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning is complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.

Joseph Pilates
Video: Introduction to Pilates
An introduction to Pilates

Pilates has 6 overarching principles

  • Breathing
  • Control
  • Concentration
  • Centring
  • Flow
  • Precision



For each Pilates exercise there is a specific breathing pattern that is designed to help the movement and muscle activation of each exercise. Pilates believed that breathing was an integral part of exercise and that people should learn the art of deep breathing.

Practicing breathing

In this exercise you are aiming to practice the breathing technique used in Pilates exercises. 

  • Whilst sitting, standing or lying wrap a resistance band, towel or scarf around the back, side and front of your ribcage with enough tension that you can feel if your ribcage is moving or not
  • Breath in through the nose, aiming for your ribcage to move sideways and backwards
  • Breath out through the mouth, aiming to draw in with the ribs and relax
  • Repeat
Video: Introduction to Pilates - Breathing
An introduction to the principle of breathing in Pilates


Within Pilates, the aim is achieve complete muscular control. Every movement should be deliberate and “controlled”

Practicing control

In this exercise, you are aiming to keep your spine still and use the leverage of your leg moving as the control element. 

  • Lie flat on your back on a mat or towel
  • Raise both legs into a table top position
  • Slowly extend each leg 1 at a time as low as you can maintaining the spine stillness
Video: Introduction to Pilates - Control
An introduction to the principle of control in Pilates


During each exercise, it’s important to “concentrate” and mentally focus on each of the movements.

Practicing concentration

In this exercise, you are aiming to balance a ball, cushion or rolled up towel on the small of you back whilst slowly extending your leg or arm. 

  • Position yourself on your hands and knees on a towel or mat
  • Place the ball, cushion or rolled up towel in the small of your back
  • Slowly raise and extend one leg and then the other, concentrating on keeping the ball/cushion/towel and spine still
  • Once you have mastered that, try extending and raising one leg and the opposite arm at the same time
Video: Introduction to Pilates - Concentration
An introduction to the principle of concentration in Pilates


Centring is the principle of bringing focus to the centre of the body during Pilates exercises

Practicing centring – the “hundred”

The whole concept of this exercise is to keep our middle and centre engaged and by using long levers, arm movements or leg movements to challenge the centre of our body. 

  • Lie down, clasp your hands behind your head and come into a curl up position – lifting the head, flexing the neck and flexing the mid back.
  • In the curl up position reach your arms away and move them up and down in a beating movement
  • To make the exercise more challenging lift both legs, with knees and feet together (in a table top position)
  • To add a further level of difficulty lengthen the legs away and continue the arm beats making sure the “centre” stays still and strong
Video: Introduction to Pilates - Centring
An introduction to the principle of Centring in Pilates


The next principle is the idea that all Pilates exercises are done in a flowing manner, the exercise connects all the different elements together.

Practicing flow

In this exercise you are looking to add all of the elements together, breathing, centre, control and concentration but also adding some dynamic pace to the movement. This exercise is a spine curl with an arm movement designed to keep you moving with a set pattern of breathing. 

  • Start by taking a breath in and as you breath out flatten your back into the mat
  • Roll up the spine by opening the hips but without pushing into your neck and shoulders
  • As you breath in, pick up the arms and float them overhead
  • Keep them overhead and then as you breath out roll the spine down bone by bone, pelvis last to return to the floor
  • Breath in and bring the arms down.
  • Aim to fit the movement into the length of the breath.
Video: Introduction to Pilates - Flow
An introduction to the principle of flow in Pilates


The final principle is precision. Each exercise requires you to move in a very precise way, with certain shapes and movement patterns formed.

Practicing Precision

In this exercise, you are looking to focus on the movement of your ankles and knees. For this exercise you’ll need a tennis ball or something similar. 

  • In a standing position place the tennis ball in between the ankle bones, stand tall and try not to roll in or out with the knees – keep the tennis ball in place throughout.
  • Rise up onto your toes then slowly bring the heels down and then bend the knees without changing the alignment of the legs or spine and return to standing.
  • If it helps your balance and range of lift then work side on to a wall with support.
Video: Introduction to Pilates - Precision
An introduction to the principle of Precision in Pilates

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