The Relationship Between Physical Therapy and Pilates (Including Fundamental Home-based Pilates Exercises)

By guest blogger Eugenie Lamprecht

Most individuals think of Pilates as an exercise method that is great for toning and flexibility. However, Pilates was originally created with the aim of rehabilitation.

The founder of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, suffered from various medical conditions as a child and was determined to conquer these conditions through movement. In the 1st World War, he helped patients regain strength and return to daily life through movement and exercise. Later, in his life, he opened a Pilates gym that was commonly used by dancers and performers for injury recovery.

Some of the fundamental principles in Pilates are the ‘core’, otherwise known as the trunk, as well as ‘breathing’. 


The ‘core’/ trunk refers to the Transverse Abdominis and Oblique muscles anteriorly, the Multifidus posteriorly, the diaphragm superiorly and the pelvic floor muscles inferiorly.  Pilates is proven to improve trunk muscle strength, which is directly related to static/ dynamic balance and functional performance. Therefore, Pilates may be a great supplement to Physical Therapy by improving functional performance, as well as preventing injuries and falls. 

Many injuries occur due to muscle imbalances or over-use. These injuries can be prevented or treated effectively through Pilates as this exercise method aims to correct muscle imbalances, posture and alignment.

Respiratory Function

Pilates also incorporates set breathing patterns. Set breathing patterns are when inhalation occurs during one phase of a specific movement/ exercise, and exhalation during another phase of the movement. These specific breathing patterns assist in recruiting targeted muscle groups and prevent excessive muscle tension or rise in blood pressure.  Active breathing is also proven to increase respiratory muscle strength and performance.

Other benefits of utilizing Pilates as a supplement to Physical Therapy:

  1. It can easily be modified to each client’s physical abilities. 
  2. Many individuals find Pilates empowering, by improving body awareness and sense of responsibility to their rehabilitation. 
  3. Clients can perform prescribed exercises under supervision more often.
  4. Low impact, as well as a slow and controlled exercise method. Making it great for rehabilitation.

It is however extremely important that Pilates be used in combination with PT techniques if considered for rehabilitation purposes. A channel of communication should be established between instructor and therapist to ensure optimal rehabilitation.

Common conditions that may benefit from Pilates are:

  • Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
  • Back pain
  • General Injury recovery
  • Injury prevention
  • Fall prevention

Home-based Pilates 

Pilates does not only consist of reformers and Cadillacs as we commonly see in studios. As a matter of fact, ‘Mat work’ was used prior to the invention of these types of equipment. 

Mat work goes back to the basics and can easily be modified for any age and/or fitness level. Mat work can not only improve flexibility and strength but also posture, coordination, balance, lung capacity and body awareness. As well as reducing stress and improving focus.

This type of Pilates can easily be done at home with some basic exercises are shown below:

Pelvic curl

  • Starting position: lie down on your back, with knees bent and feet fist-distance apart.
  • Start by pushing your lower back into the floor and curling your tailbone off the mat. (Exhale)
  • Slowly start lifting your buttocks off the mat until you reach a straight line with your body as shown in the image
  • Pause (Inhale)
  • And slowly lower down (Exhale)
  • Repeat 10 times

Chest lift:

  • Starting position: same as above
  • Hands behind head
  • Tuck chin in towards your chest (making a double chin) (Inhale)
  • Then slowly lift your head off the mat, followed by your neck then your shoulders. (Exhale)
  • Pause (Inhale)
  • Slowly lower down (Exhale)
  • Repeat 10 times

Leg lifts:

  • Starting position: same as above
  • Push lower back into the mat and pull stomach towards your spine
  • Slowly lift your right leg up to tabletop (as shown in image) (Inhale)
  • Then slowly lower to touch toe on mat (Exhale)
  • And lift back up (Inhale)
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each leg

*maintain a stable trunk

4 point kneeling:

  • Starting position: hands and knees with shoulders in line with hands and hips in line with knees.
  • Contract abdominals and pull stomach up towards the spine (without rounding the back) (Exhale)
  • Lift left arm up slowly to parallel with the floor (Inhale)
  • And slowly lower (Exhale)
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each arm

*maintain a stable trunk

About Eugenie Lamprecht

Eugenie is a qualified Physical Therapist and graduated from Stellenbosch University, South Africa, in 2018. She has worked in several public hospitals in South Africa, where she gained experience treating patients in the ICU and High-Care wards, as well as Orthopaedic-, Medical – and Surgical wards. Eugenie also volunteers for Physiopedia’s content team, a platform that’s used by Physical Therapists around the world. She is also a qualified Pilates Instructor and passionate about integrating the two fields in therapy. She is especially interested in Neurological Development and Women’s Health. In her free time, she enjoys going on hikes, being outdoors and reading.

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