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Revista Brasileira de Geriatria e Gerontologia

On-line version ISSN 1981-2256

Rev. bras. geriatr. gerontol. vol.20 no.4 Rio de Janeiro July/Aug. 2017 


Influence of a protocol of Pilates exercises on the contractility of the pelvic floor muscles of non-institutionalized elderly persons

Ligia Muniz de Souza1 

Ana Beatriz Gomes de Souza Pegorare1 

Gustavo Christofoletti1  2 

Suzi Rosa Miziara Barbosa1  3 

1Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul, Instituto Integrado de Saúde INISA, Curso de Fisioterapia. Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brasil.

2Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul, Programa de Pós Graduação em Saúde e Desenvolvimento da região Centro-Oeste. Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brasil.

3Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul, Universidade Aberta à Pessoa Idosa. Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brasil.



To investigate the influence of a protocol of Pilates exercises on the functionality and contractility of the pelvic floor muscles (PFM) of older women living in the city of Campo Grande, Mato Grosso, Brazil.


Ten women (median age of 63.4±4.5 years) with little or no pelvic floor dysfunction were subjected to 24 sessions of Pilates exercises lasting one hour each, for 12 weeks. The pressure of the pelvic floor muscles (PFM) was assessed using a perineometer (cmH20) and contractility was assessed with the PERFECT scheme. Data were described as median ± interquartile range and inferential analysis was performed using the Wilcoxon paired test, with a significance level of 5%.


In view of the proposed treatment, the degree of voluntary contraction of the PFM of the participants increased from 79.0±83.5 to 90.0±82.0 cmH20, with a statistically significant difference in paired comparison (p=0.012). According to the PERFECT scheme, there was an increase in contraction time (from 5.0±0.1 to 7.0±4.7 seconds) and in the number of fast repetitions (from 7.0±4.5 to 8.0±4.7), with a statistically significant difference for both variables (p=0.017 and p=0.008, respectively).


The results indicate that the Pilates method increased the contractility and pressure of the PFM of elderly women with little or no PFM impairment. Further studies are required to determine whether the Pilates method is an effective method for the treatment of women with severe pelvic floor dysfunction.

Keywords: Aged; Exercise Movement Techniques; Physical Therapy Modalities



verificar a influência de um protocolo de exercícios do método Pilates na funcionalidade e contratilidade da musculatura do assoalho pélvico em mulheres idosas, em Campo Grande, MS, Brasil.


Dez mulheres (idade mediana de 63,4±4,5 anos) com pouca ou nenhuma disfunção do assoalho pélvico foram submetidas a 24 sessões de exercícios do método Pilates com duração de 1 hora, por 12 semanas. A pressão da musculatura do assoalho pélvico (MAP) foi avaliada por um perineômetro (cmH20) e a contratilidade pelo esquema PERFECT. Os dados foram descritos em mediana ± intervalo interquartil, e análise inferencial foi realizada pelo teste pareado de Wilcoxon, sob um nível de significância de 5%.


Diante do tratamento proposto, o grau de contração voluntária da MAP das participantes passou de 79,0±83,5 para 90,0±82,0 cmH20, com diferença estatisticamente significativa na comparação pareada (p=0,012). No esquema PERFECT houve aumento do tempo de sustentação das contrações (de 5,0±0,1 para 7,0±4,7 segundos) e do número de repetições rápidas (de 7,0±4,5 para 8,0±4,7), com diferença estatisticamente significativa para ambas as variáveis (p=0,017 e p=0,008 respectivamente).


Os resultados apontam que o método Pilates incrementou a contratilidade e a pressão da MAP em mulheres idosas com pouca ou nenhuma disfunção da MAP. Faz-se necessário estudos posteriores para determinar se o Pilates pode tratar mulheres com disfunções graves do assoalho pélvico.

Palavras-chaves: Idosas; Técnica de Exercícios; Modalidades de Fisioterapia


Pilates emerged as a method of rehabilitation during World War I, when Joseph Hubertus Pilates applied his knowledge to rehabilitate injured men. The popularity of the method grew most in the 1980s1,2. More recently, Pilates has been used by health care professionals to integrate the mind and body of subjects, resulting in improved fitness (flexibility, strength and balance) and body consciousness. The method features ground and apparatus-based exercises created by Joseph Pilates1-4.

There are six key principles involved in Pilates: concentration, control, precision, fluidity of movement, breathing and center of strength1,3,5. The center of strength, also called the "core", "power house" or "engagement" refers to the region of specific groups of muscles (anterior abdominal wall, spinal extensors, hip extensors, hip flexors and pelvic floor muscles).

The pelvic floor (PF) consists of muscles, fascia and ligaments that occupy the region of the lower pelvis. These muscles are classified as skeletal striated or voluntary contraction muscles, and thus respond to training techniques just like the other skeletal muscles of the human body. There are two hypotheses about the mechanisms by which the strengthening of this muscle group can prevent or treat urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. These are: (1) women develop the ability to consciously contract the pelvic floor muscles before and during the increase of intraabdominal pressure; and 2) the strengthening of this muscle group can build support for the bladder and uretra6.

Due to the fact that most Pilates exercises are performed in conjunction with the recruitment of PF muscle fibers, many Pilates instructors believe that the method can produce a significant increase in the force or contractility of the muscles. Furthermore, if Pilates promotes an improvement in the functioning of the pelvic floor muscles (PFM), it may be an alternative for the treatment and prevention of pelvic floor dysfunction.

Urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and other manifestations of pelvic floor dysfunction are highly prevalent in women, especially in old age7. These symptoms are associated with a number of factors that lead to damage to the integrity of the pudendal nerve or skeletal muscle fibers of the levator ani or coccygeus muscles8.

Due to the high prevalence of pelvic floor dysfunction among the elderly, the present study aimed to verify the influence of a protocol of Pilates exercises on the functionality and contractility of the PFM of elderly women.


The study consisted of an initial sample of 30 volunteers who were enrolled at the Universidade Aberta para a Terceira Idade (the Open University for the Third Age) at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul (UnAPI / UFMS), in the city of Campo Grande, Mato Grosso, Brazil. The subjects were invited to participate in the survey via telephone. However, eleven did not meet the inclusion criteria, six declined the invitation and three alleged personal reasons that prevented them from attending the exercise therapy sessions. The present study therefore adopted a longitudinal design, in which ten elderly women were accompanied during the execution of the procedure. The sample size calculation was based on the delimitation of type 1 error at 5% (α=0.05), a power of 80% (1-β=0.20), under a bicaudal curve, and an effect size of 0.50. Due to the lack of studies addressing the impact of Pilates on the PFM, it was not possible to use data published in literature to calculate the effect size. Thus, the delimitation of this topic was carried out using the hypothesis of improvement initially stipulated by the authors. From the calculations, the ideal sample size should be at least 28 subjects. This fact led us to an initial screening of 30 subjects, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Study flow chart. Mato Grosso do Sul, 2015. 

The inclusion criteria involved healthy, sedentary women (normal weight, without psychiatric and/or neurological diseases), the Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) of whose self-reported daily activities did not exceed three times the baseline value. The women were aged over 60 years, sexually active, non-smokers, non-alcoholics, with no clinical diagnosis of pelvic floor dysfunction, no history of urinary tract infection, and no previous history of gynecological surgery (in previous five years) or neurological or endocrine-metabolic disorders. Women who were allergic to latex gloves or condoms or who did not complete three Pilates sessions were excluded from the study. Based on these criteria, the initial sample suffered considerable losses and included ten participants, as detailed in figure 1.

The participants were previously informed about the data collection procedures, and all signed a free and informed consent form. Assessments and reassessments were performed by the same researcher. Anamnesis was performed initially, and soon after the pressure and contractility of the PFM were assessed, performed with the patient in the dorsal lithotomy position8.

The measurement of intracavitary perineal pressure was performed using a perineometer (Perina, QUARK, Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil), graduated from 0-48 cm H2O. Perineometry is a pressure gauge which captures the pressure generated during the activation of the PFM, providing a reading on the display of the device on a scale in cmH2O. The equipment has an attached latex vaginal probe (25X90 cm) inflated by a pear type control9.

The PERFECT scheme consists of seven items and was developed and validated to assess the functionality of the PFM10. The "P" (power/force) indicator evaluates the intensity of the contraction of the PFM, graded using the modified Oxford scale. The "E" (endurance/resistance) result evaluates how long the contraction is maintained and sustained in seconds, until a loss of 35% or more. The "R" (repetitions) result assesses the number of repetitions of the sustained contraction (up to 10) that the participant is able to perform with satisfactory duration (5 seconds), with 4 seconds between each contraction. The "F" (fast/rapid contractions) result is evaluated after a short rest break (1 minute), and measures the number of contractions lasting one second each (up to ten contractions).

During the vaginal probe measurements the probe is coated a non-lubricated condom and inserted into the vaginal canal of the participant to capture the contractions. After the observing and recording of the intensity in cmH2O of five maximal voluntary contractions, with a 5 second interval between each, the average was calculated. Perineal contractions were held during expiration, and the participants were instructed on the correct contractile movement of the PFM, avoiding the use of the accessory muscles.

There was a rest interval of two minutes between perineometry assessment and the evaluation of vaginal palpation. The participants were instructed to contract the PFM following the commands given by the examiner, which followed the steps determined by the PERFECT scheme and the intervals of rest10. All evaluations were performed before and after the 12-week follow-up period.

Chart 1 demonstrates the Pilates protocol realized in the present study. It consisted of 11 different Pilates postures: Pilates Breathing, Spine Stretch, Swan, Shoulder Bridge, Hundreds, Double Leg Stretch, Footwork, Roll up, Single Leg Stretch, Leg Pull Back, Kick front and back. It was performed twice a week, with each session lasting 60 minutes, for 12 weeks, totaling 24 sessions. The progression of the exercises was based on increasing the number of repetitions of the exercise, and variations in posture from beginner to intermediate and advanced, for each exercise. The movements were repeated six to eight times each.

Chart 1 Exercise protocol applied to the subjects. Mato Grosso do Sul, 2015. 

Statistical analysis of the data was performed through descriptive and inferential analysis. Due to the non-parametric character of the data, the results were initially detailed as median ± interquartile range. The Wilcoxon paired test was used for inferential analysis, while still respecting the non-parametric sum of the data. The delimitation of the null hypothesis (hypothesis of equality between pre- and post-intervention evaluations) in relation to the alternative hypothesis (hypothesis of difference between pre- and post-intervention evaluations) adopted a significance level of 5% (p<0.05).

Ethical approval was previously obtained from the institutional review board, and the research was registered under number 18879713.1.0000.0021. The study complied with Resolution 466/2012 of the Health Council of the Brazilian Ministry of Health.


The present study included ten women duly enrolled in UnAPI/UFMS, who were aged 63.4±4.5 years at entry. Table 1 details the general characteristics of the participants.

Table 1 General characteristics of the participants. Mato Grosso do Sul, 2015. 

Variables Prevalence (%)
Final sample size 10 (100.0)
Marital status
Single / divorced 0 (0.0)
Married 7 (70.0)
Widowed 3 (30.0)
0 8 (80.0)
1 to 3 0 (0.0)
More then 3 2 (20.0)
Hormone replacement therapy
Yes 1 (10.0)
No 9 (90.0)
Loss of urine when coughing
Yes 2 (20.0)
No 8 (80.0)
Daytime urinary urgency
Yes 1 (10.0)
No 9 (90.0)

Table 2 shows the results of the comparative analysis of the intensity of PFM pressure and contractility before and after 12-weeks of follow-up. The results indicate an increase in PFM pressure and contractility (p=0.012). Regarding the PERFECT scheme, the benefits of the intervention was observed in the endurance (p=0.017) and number of fast repetitions (p=0.008) variables. No apparent benefit of the Pilates method was observed in the power (p=0.157) and number of slow repetitions variables (p=0.156).

Table 2 Initial and final values of the participants regarding maximal voluntary contraction and the PERFECT scheme. Mato Grosso do Sul, 2015. 

Variables Initial values (median ± interquartile range) Final values (median ± interquartile range) P
Perineometry (cm H2O) 79.0 ± 83.5 90.0 ± 82.0 .012
P - Power 3.0 ± 1.0 3.0 ± 1.0 .157
E - Endurance 5.0 ± 0.1 7.0 ± 4.7 .017
R - Repetitions 3.0 ± 2.5 5.5 ± 3.2 .156
F - Fast contractions 7.0 ± 4.5 8.0 ± 4.7 .008

Inferential analysis was performed using the Wilcoxon test.


The subjects of the present study were elderly women (median age of 63.4±4.5 years) with little or no pelvic floor dysfunction, who were all non-smokers and had few children (average number of children of two). These inclusion criteria were proposed to volunteers who had one muscle in the entire PF which could respond to training11.

Two recent Cochrane systematic reviews have recommended the training of the PFM through Kegel exercises as the first line of conservative treatment for urinary incontinence, urgency and mixed as well as fecal incontinence12,13. However, PF training with Kegel exercises requires proper instruction to be effective and a long follow-up period for the results to be maintained. Glazener et al.14 described improvement of the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction after childbirth by training with Kegel exercises among a group of highly motivated women. However, the improvement did not persist due in part to the loss of adherence to the exercise program over time. Other authors likewise report major short-term benefits provided by Kegel exercises, but also describe a low compliance rate in the long-term15,16.

The study by Sluijs et al.17 described greater adherence among patients to training programs which featured positive feedback and a shorter interruption in activities of their daily routine. Thus, it can perhaps be inferred that Pilates training that provides positive feedback and is easily adapted to the individual’s routine is necessary to keep patients motivated. These exercises promote flexibility, the strengthening of the entire body and produce greater physical fitness and body and mind integration18,19.

Due to the fact that the activation of the "core" recruits the deep muscles of the pelvis, the present study identified improved functionality and contractility of the PFM after training with the proposed protocol. Thus, older women can benefit from the comprehensive training that this technique provides to improve PF functionality, and thus prevent the PF distortion that is so common in older women.

Cullingan et al.20 compared changes in the strength of the pelvic floor muscles achieved by young women after a 12-week Pilates program or a 12-week program of Kegel exercises. Both groups achieved significant increases in the intensity of PFM pressure in cmH2O, with no difference between the groups. It was found that Pilates was as effective at promoting the strengthening of the PFM as the traditional exercises developed by Kegel 21.

However, a study that evaluated young women who performed Pilates and non-Pilates practitioners found no difference between the two groups regarding maximum voluntary contraction (cmH20) and standardized vaginal palpation through the PERFECT scheme21. It is believed that the divergence of results found can be justified by the findings of a FERLA study that assessed contractility and PFM functionality among women who practiced Pilates. In this study, PFM assessments were carried out before the initial voluntary training with the proposed protocol. During the functional evaluation of the pelvic floor, the volunteer was instructed how to correct the PFM without the interference of the accessory muscles, so promoting information and body awareness. The volunteer therefore uses this knowledge during the exercises, especially in the recruitment of PFM which occurs during the activation of the "powerhouse" for the effectiveness of the technique.

A randomized controlled trial22, with the evaluation of PF prior to treatment, compared the Pilates method with a Kegel exercise program, and demonstrated the effectiveness of the Pilates method to treat male urinary incontinence.

Evaluation of the PF is essential for the development of appropriate treatment and the monitoring of results. There is currently no assessment tool that is considered gold standard, though the ICS recommends that the evaluation of PFM is carried out through vaginal palpation and perineometry, among others23, as was performed in this study.

Functional assessment of prior pelvic floor training is generally not performed in Pilates studios or clinics that use this method in physical therapy. It would be extremely useful if the objectives of such training included the strengthening of the deep pelvic muscles. It is common for healthy women to fail to properly contract the PFM, as they are internal, deep location, muscles, and are not always recruited during physical activities24.

It is important to consider some limitations of this study. The small sample size is due to the fact that some of the women did not meet the "being sexually active" inclusion criteria of the study while another individual refused to participate in the evaluation because of shame or embarrassment. Another possible criticism of this study could be the absence of a control group, but it is believed that it would be impossible to provide a credible Pilates placebo treatment protocol.

Finally, the present study indicates the need for further studies with symptomatic patients, adapting the Pilates protocol for women with urinary incontinence and other PFM disorders.


Training with the exercises devised by Joseph Pilates increased the pressure resistance and the number of rapid contractions of the pelvic floor muscles. The results of the present study are encouraging and may eventually lead to enhanced therapeutic Pilates use to treat or prevent disorders of the pelvic floor, especially in periods in which these muscles are most required, such as pregnancy, vaginal postpartum or in old age.


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Received: October 20, 2016; Revised: April 21, 2017; Accepted: June 01, 2017

Correspondence Ana Beatriz Gomes de Souza Pegorare Email:

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