An interesting question, does pilates strengthen your pelvic floor? The simple answer is yes, it can. A study in 2010 showed that pilates strengthened the pelvic floor just as much as specific pelvic floor exercises (Culligan et al 2010). A more recent pilot study also found that 6 weeks of modified pilates classes (taken by a physiotherapist) improved participants urinary incontinence symptoms (Lausen et al 2018). So there is evidence out there that pilates can help strengthen the pelvic floor but in my opinion, as a physiotherapist, a pilates instructor and a client of various different pilates classes, it will depend on a few things
How you are taught your pilates exercises;
This is the big one. If your instructor hasn’t talked you through how to switch on your pelvic floor or if they don’t even mention your pelvic floor during class, then the likelihood is, that you won’t engage your pelvic floor when doing a pilates class. So this is the big one for me, and I have been to many classes when instructors don’t mention your pelvic floor. So if you want to get the best out of your pilates class and start working your pelvic floor then make sure your instructor is talking about pelvic floor activation during class. I would even recommend starting off with a pilates class led by a physiotherapist to ensure that you get the correct pelvic floor activity. Once you’ve mastered it you would be fine to transition to a general pilates instructor as you will have the knowledge of how to activate your pelvic floor that you can use in general classes.
Are you being reminded to engage your pelvic floor?
Your instructor needs to have taught you how to switch on your pelvic floor, but then they need to be cueing you to continue to activate your pelvic floor during your exercises. I know myself, I often let go of my pelvic floor (as it gets tired) mid-way through an exercise. So we need to be reminded to switch it back on. A good instructor will remind you to keep your pelvic floor engaged during your exercises.
Reformer or mat class?
Both a reformer and a mat pilates class should work your pelvic floor muscles. Generally speaking, a mat class can be at a lower level – but don’t be fooled in to thinking this means it’s an easier class! You can work just as hard in a mat class, sometimes harder than a reformer class if you get the right instructor!
For beginners to pilates or those with weaker pelvic floor muscles, I suggest starting with a mat class as it allows you to get to grips with getting those pelvic floor muscle switched on whilst you are doing your exercises before having to get to grips with all the moving parts of a reformer!
Pilates can help you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. I would suggest going to a physio-led pilates class to ensure that you get the correct activation of your pelvic floor muslces whilst doing your pilates exercises. You may even need to do a one to one session with a women’s health physio first if you are struggling to activate your pelvic floor. I would also suggest a mat based pilates class to start with and once you have mastered the Matwork exercises then you can progress on to your reformer classes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article, if you have comments or questions then please leave a comment below.
Have a great day.
Culligan, P.J, Scherer, J, Dyer, K, Priestley, J.L, Guigon-White, G, Delvecchio, D and Vangeli, M (2010). ‘A randomized clinical trial comparing pelvic floor muscle training to a Pilates program for improving pelvic muscle strength.’ Int Urogynecol J (2010) 21:401-408. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00192-009-1046-z
Lausen, A., Marsland, L., Head, S., Jackson, J and Lausen, B (2018). ‘Modified pilates as an adjunct to standard physiotherapy care for urinary incontinence: a mixed methods pilot for a randomised controlled trial.’ BMC Women’s Health (2018) 18:16. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-017-0503-y