A very popular fitness regime, Pilates workouts have been invented by Joseph Pilates in 1920. Pilates is a mind-body intervention, focusing on basic balance, posture, flexibility, strength, breath and movement control. Concentrating on posture and controlling body position are the root of the reason why Pilates is excellent for improving posture and for relieving backache.

What is "good" posture?

Since we were kids, we have been encouraged to keep our back straight and keep "a good posture". Why has this always been encouraged? Partially, this will help us fight gravity. Gravity makes us lower or chin and shoulders, leading to extra tension in the neck, shoulders and back. Most often, when these muscles are tired, it results in posture-related aches, as well as headaches. 

Each of the body's muscles has an optimal relationship between length and tension. Therefore, the muscles' capacity to provide strength (tension) is influenced by their position (length). So, our postural muscles find themselves in a stronger position and can work more effectively when they are not in their total length. Here is when the term "good posture" comes into play, as it allows the ideal relationship between tension and length for postural muscles. It is often debated whether or not there is such thing as an "ideal" posture. Each person is different, with different positions and postures which could be "ideal" to them. In this context, the key lies in finding that position, and then in consolidating and keeping it.

Pilates effectiveness in correcting posture

This optimal relationship between length and tension is the one where Pilates can be effective for relieving light and moderate back pain, as well as chronic neck pain. Pilates-based exercises were chosen in order to promote changes in the usual posture, by improving the spine's flexibility, including in the scapular area and afferent articulations, as well as strengthening the shoulders, the back, and abdominal muscles. 

What do studies say about Pilates?

Some studies have shown the physically active people stand a higher chance to develop spinal kyphosis (an exaggerated forward curve of the ribcage), compared to their sedentary counterparts. Stretching exercises, as well as those involving a higher number of muscle groups might decrease the deformation or delay the spine deformation process, helping to maintain "good" posture. In this context, Pilates is very effective when it comes to consolidating the ideal patterns of movement.

Research has shown spine improvements (thoracic curve of the spine) after 10 weeks of mat-based Pilates for 34 elder adults, as well as after 12 weeks of mat-based Pilates, as well as using specific devices, for 19 healthy adults. Also, Pilates can decrease the levels of unstructured scoliosis, increases flexibility and reduces shoulder pain and headaches.

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Text: Diana Ungureanu