Principles of Pilates #7

The principles of Pilates (part 7)

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 isolation.


“Each muscle may cooperatively and loyally aid in the uniform development of all our muscles” J Pilates

Isolating a muscle means that you are specifically targeting the muscle you are supposed to be working, rather than using other more dominant muscles near-by.

Concentration alone is not always enough to fire up the receptors to engage a faulty/weak muscle. You may first need to spend time identifying the muscle you are trying to work. If you cannot visualise where you should feel a movement, try this tip from Allan Menezes (founder of the Pilates Institute of Australia):

Press your fingers into the relaxed muscle to create a mental connection.

For example, when performing single leg circles [lying on your back with one leg extended vertically], press your fingers into the inner thigh, close to the groin so that you identify your inner thigh (adductor) muscles. Keep pressing the fingers into the inner thigh as you take your leg out to the side and then press the muscle against your fingers when bringing your leg back to the centre.

This will give your mind a better connection to the muscle you want to activate (the adductors) rather than the muscles you want to relax (the quadriceps), which might otherwise control the movement.

When trying this technique, an increased pressure can be more effective in provoking the correct response.

Don’t worry if it takes several attempts before you master this technique – just keep trying until you get the muscle to respond. Routine and repetition will gradually help you to recognise and feel incorrect movement patterns/muscle recruitment so that you can gradually learn to isolate and recruit the correct muscles in the correct order.

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It’s worth mentioning that a muscle does not need to feel sore the next day for you to know that it is working. If the muscle you are targeting feels firm to the touch when you are doing the exercise that is a good indication that it is working well. Conversely the muscle you are trying to relax should feel soft to the touch and this is an indication that it is not taking over the workload.

Over time, once you have gained control of the weaker muscles you may not need to rely on this type of kinaesthetic feedback to ‘feel’ that the muscle is working, but it is always a good way to check-in with what is happening in your body.

Successful isolation of working muscles will lead to greater flexibility in the muscles and joints. If you can isolate a part of the body and allow it to move independently you will also be better able to coordinate movements using different muscle groups.



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