Principles of Pilates #4

The principles of Pilates (part 4)

With Pilates the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise is often far more complicated than producing a larger movement!

Joseph Pilates created 6 principles of Pilates, but over time these have been added to and there are now deemed to be 8 key principles:

  1. concentration
  2. centering
  3. breathing
  4. control
  5. precision
  6. flowing movement
  7. isolation
  8. routine

Today we’re going to look at control.


“Ideally, our muscles should obey our will. Reasonably, our will should not be dominated by the reflex actions of our muscles” J Pilates

Once the first three principles have been mastered well enough, the next principle, control, can be applied more easily.

Control is important in preventing injury and avoiding overuse of dominant muscles at the expense of smaller, weaker muscles. Control is especially important when working against gravity in mat work exercises and ensures that limbs are moved in a smooth and controlled manner, activating the muscles we want to use.

Gaining and maintaining control of every movement takes a great deal of focus and effort along with awareness of what the rest of the body is doing at the same time. Although it takes time to develop this skill, we can gradually improve our control by repeatedly practising Pilates exercises over time.

The level of control and awareness required may be the same regardless of the size of a movement – ie. a small local movement is not necessarily an easier movement to control than a larger sweeping movement.

What is important is that we move with mindfulness, whether we are performing Pilates exercises or carrying out activities of daily living. By moving mindfully, we can seek to gain more control over weaker muscles in order to improve their strength and function and thereby improve our general posture and movement patterns. An improved posture will in itself also lead to even better recruitment of the structural muscles, which will then further enhance posture and movement.

Without control, any exercise that we do becomes ineffective and potentially harmful. The more often we repeat movements without focus and control, the more deeply ingrained our poor movement patterns becomes, leading to greater muscle imbalance and postural instability.


When practising Pilates try to stay aware of what your whole body is doing but with extra focus on controlling the moving limbs. For example:

  • when we are performing a leg slide (lying supine and extending one leg along the floor away from the bottom) try to notice how your lower back, pelvis and rib cage feel in relation to the mat – the aim is that the position of the torso will be maintained (as far as possible) while you are moving the leg in a smooth and controlled fashion
  • when you change to the other leg try to notice if the pelvis rocks from side-to-side – the aim being that you control movement in the pelvic girdle whilst shifting from one leg to the other
  • if you don’t apply any control during a leg slide, you might notice:
    • your lower back and/or your rib cage arching away from the floor
    • your tummy doming (rounding upwards)
    • your pelvis tilting

The challenge is to control your movements whilst also applying concentration (a strong mind/body connection), keeping a centre (core) and breathing to activate your deeper abdominal muscles… let me know how you get on



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