Researchers have found that a 12-week Pilates program can improve muscle strength in the pelvic floor just as effectively as 12 weeks of pelvic-floor muscle training (PFMT). The findings were published in the International Urogynecology Journal (2010; 21 [4], 401–408).

While incontinence is widespread among women, adherence to typical PFMT programs is low. Healthcare professionals need ways to motivate women to perform exercises consistently in order to maintain healthy pelvic-floor muscle function over time.

Researchers from the Atlantic Health Division of Urogynecology in Morristown, New Jersey, wanted to determine whether a Pilates exercise program and a PFMT program could provide similar improvements in pelvic muscle strength. They randomly assigned 62 women with little or no pelvic-floor dysfunction to either Pilates or PFMT. Twice a week for 12 weeks, each group had 1-hour sessions with either a Pilates instructor or a physical therapist. Researchers measured pelvic-floor muscle strength and provided questionnaires at baseline and at the end of the program. Data analysis showed that all participants improved pelvic-floor muscle strength, and there was no significant difference between groups.

Patrick Culligan, MD, director of urogynecology at Atlantic Health and lead study author, said, “The Pilates group received all the pelvic-floor benefits enjoyed by the PFMT group, but they also received [the] full-body benefits of Pilates as well. Therefore, the Pilates program was the clear winner. All of the benefits enjoyed by the PFMT group were rather ‘private,’ whereas the Pilates group received those benefits plus better overall strength, flexibility, posture and confidence. The drawback of PFMT treatments is that they were ‘medicalized’; in other words, the patients had to go to a medical office and get undressed. On the other hand, the Pilates group received their instruction in a comfortable studio, fully clothed.”