Understanding Clinical Pilates vs. Traditional Pilates

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Understanding Clinical Pilates vs. Traditional Pilates


Clinical Pilates, an adaptation of the Pilates method developed by Joseph Pilates, is a form of movement therapy that focuses on alignment, optimal joint mechanics, and functional retraining for patients rehabilitating from injuries and impairments.

What sets Clinical Pilates apart from traditional Pilates is that it’s implemented and tailored by your healthcare practitioner – often a Physiotherapist or Massage therapist – to your individual rehabilitative needs and goals. These practitioners come with in depth training in anatomy, physiology, pathology, and movement assessment followed by additional advanced training in pilates for their clinical patient population. If you’re looking to not only recover from injuries but prevent them from returning, this one-on-one movement approach will teach you how to move more optimally in your body and support your functional movement goals. 

The beauty of Clinical Pilates lies in its versatility and accessibility. You can experience benefits whether you’re a senior, an athlete, pregnant, have a neurological condition or anywhere in between, proving to be a valuable component of many treatment plans. By integrating body work and movement re-education, Clinical Pilates helps you to explore new ways to attain strength and mobility, potentially enhancing your day-to-day life or specific physical activities. Plus, the personalized nature of Clinical Pilates means it evolves with you, adapting to your progress and changing needs.

History and Principles of Pilates

Pilates is a form of exercise that emphasizes body awareness, core strength, and mindful movement to promote healing and wellness. This section will guide you through its historical roots and the core principles that define its practice.

The Origins of Pilates

Joseph Pilates, a physical trainer, developed the Pilates method in the early 20th century. The method was created as a form of rehabilitation for injured soldiers during World War I. Joseph Pilates believed that mental and physical health were closely connected and designed exercises that focused on precision, control, and concentrated breathing.

Core Principles of the Practice

Pilates has evolved, integrating modern exercise science and rehabilitative techniques. However, it preserves the fundamental principles set by Joseph Pilates:

  • Precision: Each movement in Pilates should be done with attention to detail to ensure you gain the full benefit.
  • Control: You’ll learn to move your body with control to avoid injury and maximize the effectiveness of each exercise.
  • Concentration: The mind-body connection is key; concentrating on your movements ensures that you execute them with purpose.
  • Breathing: Proper breathing techniques are essential in Pilates, helping to engage your core and facilitate smooth movements.
  • Centering: Finding power from the center/the core is the foundation of Pilates, as a strong core leads to improved posture, balance, and overall mobility.

Incorporating these principles into your routine should aid in not only restoring function but also enhancing your overall physical vitality. 

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Clinical Pilates Versus Regular Pilates

When considering Pilates as part of your movement practice, you’ll come across two distinct types: clinical Pilates and traditional Pilates. Each caters to different needs and goals and together, can be used as a spectrum of care.

Clinical Pilates

Clinical Pilates is an evidence-based form of movement therapy that requires a thorough assessment and treatment tailored to your individual needs and functional goals. One of the biggest differences is that clinical pilates is led by a registered health practitioner – often a physiotherapist or massage therapist – who will design a program specific to your body’s requirements and injuries. Clinical Pilates is a mind-body approach unique in that it allows you to experience movement therapy with a professional who is able to combine Pilates principles with their sound knowledge of anatomy, motor learning and control, rehabilitation, and injury prevention. This type of Pilates focuses on:

  • Rehabilitation: Layering on movement therapy to your healthcare passive modalities (such as massage and manual therapy) is a beneficial and long lasting approach if you’re recovering from injury or managing a chronic condition.
  • Targeted Movements: Exercises emphasize core control, body awareness, and proper breathing to support optimal posture and movement patterns.
  • Functional training: The spring-based Pilates equipment can be used to replicate functional movement patterns and sport-specific tasks to help you learn optimal mechanics and enhance your performance.
  • Sensory-motor integration: Therapists often use hands on feedback via assisting joint movement or tapping a muscle to support activation of it during the exercise. This is a research proven and highly effective tool to support motor learning and strength building. 

Traditional Pilates

On the other hand, traditional Pilates classes are more general and are typically conducted in group settings. These sessions emphasize:

  • General Fitness: Aimed at improving overall strength, flexibility, posture, and balance.
  • Routine Workouts: Follow a set sequence of exercises that cater to the general population rather than individual health concerns.
  • No assessment required: Often there are a couple of intro sessions or none at all before jumping into the practice. Each session is guided by a Pilates instructor. 
  • Fitness goals: The person’s main goals are fitness related rather than rehabilitative in nature. 

Clinical Pilates training is detailed and sensitive to your medical history. It’s a therapeutic choice for nurturing your body back to health or improving specific physical impairments. Whereas traditional Pilates classes are your go-to for maintenance of general fitness, providing a dynamic environment to work out with others sharing similar fitness goals.

RELATED READING: Clinical Pilates: 10 Health Benefits

The Role of Physiotherapy in Clinical Pilates

When you engage in Clinical Pilates, physiotherapists use their expertise in anatomy, physiology, joint mechanics, myofascial health, and healthy movement patterns to tailor programs for rehabilitation.

Physiotherapist Expertise

A physiotherapist’s role in Clinical Pilates is to apply their deep understanding of the body’s mechanics to customize exercises that meet your specific needs. They’re not just instructors; they’re healthcare practitioners who assess and align the Clinical Pilates approach with a focus on manual therapy and movement education. With this knowledge, your physiotherapist creates a treatment plan that supports your journey toward optimal health.

Rehabilitation and Chronic Impairments

Your journey with Clinical Pilates often begins as a part of rehabilitation or as a final pursuit after trying “everything else”. A physiotherapist uses Clinical Pilates as a movement therapy tool for motor learning and re-education of movement. Often post surgery, chronic conditions, and degenerative ailments can lead to disconnect in the body. Your physiotherapist’s role is to screen for movement dysfunctions and root causes of your pain and then support your healing recovery through optimal loading and re-patterning. The clinical pilates movement practice is designed to improve body awareness, posture, core strength, and flexibility, which are crucial elements in both the recovery process and the maintenance of your physical well-being.

RELATED READING: Physiotherapy & Clinical Pilates for Running Injuries

Assessment and Personalization in Clinical Pilates

Clinical Pilates is tailored to your unique needs starting with a thorough physiotherapy assessment. This individualized approach ensures that your condition, abilities, and goals drive the treatment plan.

Initial Assessment

Your journey into Clinical Pilates begins with a detailed physiotherapy initial assessment. This critical first step involves evaluating your condition, range of motion, strength, movement strategies, and taking a close look at any specific injuries. Understanding your body’s capabilities and needs sets the stage for a personalized clinical pilates experience.
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  1. Condition: Your physical therapist will review your medical history and any current health concerns.
  2. Postural Assessment and Movement Screen: Your physical therapist will look at your static and dynamic posture and relate these findings to your symptoms and concerns. Often your functional restrictions and movement patterns are broken down to determine where the ailment may be driven from in order to find the root cause of your concerns.
  3. Strength: Muscle strength and endurance levels are measured to determine any imbalances, sources of pain, and functional limitations.
  4. Range of Motion: Flexibility and joint movement are assessed to identify limitations or asymmetries.
  5. Injury Review: If you have any specific injuries, they’ll be carefully evaluated to understand how they affect your movement and what exercises may be beneficial.

Customizing the Clinical Pilates Session

Based on your assessment, your physical therapist will guide you through a movement program designed just for you—focused on improving your condition and addressing the findings from your initial evaluation.

  • Exercise Selection: Chosen to target areas that need strengthening, mobility, stability, or offloading. Your physiotherapist is mindful of any areas of hyper/hypomobility, nerve sensitivity, inflammation, etc. in order to support your healing and recovery. 
  • Pacing Your Progress: The intensity and complexity of exercises will align with your individual capability and progress rate.
  • Hands on feedback: Manual therapy, tactile feedback, and/or myofascial release may be integrated with the movements in order to facilitate sensory-motor integration and teach your body how to move more optimally again.
  • Adapting to Change: As your strength and condition evolve, so will your program ensuring it remains effective and challenging. As your body learns, often the hands on cueing is less necessary and your physical therapist will progress you to be more independent with your movement goals. 
  • Addressing Individual Needs: Exercises may be modified to accommodate specific injuries, with a goal to rehabilitate and prevent future issues.

Your Clinical Pilates program is a dynamic and evolving plan, shaped by ongoing assessments and your body’s responses to the exercises. As you need less support, cueing, and reach your functional rehab goals, your physical therapist will work with you to find traditional pilates classes or other fitness exercises to continue on your own. 

what is clinical pilates

The Equipment and Techniques in Clinical Pilates

In Clinical Pilates, you dig into focused, controlled movements that heavily rely on specialized equipment and accessory-driven exercises to enhance rehabilitation and strength.

Using the Pilates equipment

The Reformer Machine is a key piece of Pilates equipment you’ll encounter. It’s a bed-like frame with a flat platform that moves back and forth on wheels within the frame. Less common are the Tower/Trapeze Table and Pilates Chair machines. Thousands of variations of movements can be performed on these pieces of equipment – of which makes these incredibly diverse and accessible machines. You can use any of these pieces of equipment to execute a variety of exercises while lying down, kneeling, standing, or sitting. Resistance/assistance is provided by the machine’s springs, which can be adjusted to cater to your strength or mobility levels. This allows you to perform movement patterns that focus on your core practice in an evidence-based manner, aiming for precise muscle control and improved mobility.

Therapeutic Exercises and Accessories

Within your Clinical Pilates sessions, you’ll incorporate therapeutic exercises that go beyond the Reformer. Accessories such as the foam roller, exercise balls, and resistance bands play a significant role. Often these small props/equipment can be used to support home exercises between your physiotherapy sessions. These items assist in adding variety, challenge, and specificity to your workouts, targeting muscles that aid in functional stability and mobility. Your exercises will be carefully selected to meet your individual rehabilitation needs, ensuring that every movement is performed with proper form and is aligned with your therapeutic goals.

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Participating in Clinical Pilates

When you decide to take part in Clinical Pilates, you’re embarking on a personalized movement therapy tailored to your educational needs for injury recovery and functional improvement. It involves guided retraining of movement patterns and postural awareness with the help of a rehab professional.

Booking an Appointment

To begin your journey with Clinical Pilates, first, you need to book an appointment. Look for a reputable clinic that specializes in this form of Pilates and provides a qualified rehab professional. When you call or visit their website, inquire about the practitioner’s credentials and experience, particularly in treating patients with conditions similar to yours.

You’ll likely need an initial assessment to determine your specific needs and goals. Don’t hesitate to ask about the educational aspect of the sessions since understanding your own movement patterns is crucial to long-term success.

What to Expect in a Session

Each Clinical Pilates session is tailored to address injuries, improved function, and individual goals. You can expect the following during a session:

  • Personalized Attention: The rehab professional will closely work with you to ensure exercises are performed correctly for optimal benefit and to promote retraining of specific movement patterns.
  • Adaptability: Exercises and routines can be modified depending on your progress and comfort level.
  • Education: You will be educated on the mechanics of movement and postural awareness to carry the benefits of Clinical Pilates into daily life.
  • Equipment: Your session may include specialized Pilates equipment designed to facilitate rehabilitation and function enhancement.

Remember, feedback is pivotal for your progression, so maintain open communication with your practitioner throughout the session for the best results.

If you’re looking for Clinical Pilates in Vancouver, come visit the team at Reformotiv Physio + Pilates. We are a collaborative care clinic in Vancouver, BC, that is well known for our advanced training in Clinical Pilates, 5-star client experience, and manual therapy skills. We see clients from all over the Lower Mainland and Greater Vancouver area and support them in reaching their highest potential. We have a spacious Pilates Studio and private treatment rooms to accommodate one-on-one sessions, offering an effective way to integrate this research-proven method of treatment into traditional Physiotherapy work.