Pilates is a body conditioning routine that helps build flexibility and long, lean muscles, strength and endurance in the legs, abdominals, arms, hips, and back. It puts emphasis on spinal and pelvic alignment, breathing to relieve stress and allow adequate oxygen flow to muscles, developing a strong core or center (tones abdominals while strengthening the back), and improving coordination and balance. Pilates’ flexible system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginning to advanced. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions and adapts to the exercises. No muscle group is under or over trained. It enhances core strength and brings increased reach, flexibility, sure-footedness and agility.
History of Pilates
Pilates was designed by Joseph Pilates, a physical-culturist born in Mönchengladbach, Germany in 1883. He developed a system of exercises during the first half of the 20th century which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body. Joseph Pilates believed that mental and physical health are inter-related.
He had practiced many of the physical training regimes which were available in Germany in his youth, and it was out of this context that he developed his own work, which has clear connections with the physical culture of the late nineteenth century such as the use of specially invented apparatuses and the claim that the exercises could cure illness. It is also related to the tradition of “corrective exercise” or “medical gymnastics” which is typified by Pehr Henrik Ling.
Joseph Pilates published two books in his lifetime which related to his training method: Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education (1934) and Return to Life through Contrology (1945). In common with early twentieth century physical culture, Pilates had an extremely high regard for the Greeks and the physical prowess demonstrated in their Gymnasium.
The first generation of students, many of them dancers, who studied with Joseph Pilates and went on to open studios and teach the method are collectively known as The Elders and the most prominent include: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Jay Grimes, Ron Fletcher, Maja Wollman, Mary Bowen, Carola Treir, Bob Seed, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel, and Mary Pilates (the niece of Joseph and Clara). Modern day Pilates styles, both “traditional” and “contemporary”, are derived from the teaching of these first generation students.
The method was originally confined to the few and normally practiced in a specialized studio, but with time this has changed and pilates can now be found in community centers, gyms and physiotherapy rooms as well as in hybrid practice such as yogilates and in newly developed forms such as the Menezes Method. The “traditional” form still survives and there are also a variety of “contemporary” schools, such as Stott Pilates, which have adapted the system in different ways.
Controlled Movement Builds Strength and Tones Muscle
The Pilates method seeks to develop controlled movement from a strong core and it does this using a range of apparatuses to guide and train the body. Joe Pilates originally developed his method as mat exercises (his 1945 Return to Life teaches 34 of these), but, in common with many other physical culture systems from the first part of the twentieth century, he used several pieces of apparatus to help people “get the method in their bodies”. Each piece of apparatus has its own repertoire of exercises and most of the exercises done on the various pieces of Pilates apparatus are resistance training since they make use of springs to provide additional resistance. Using springs results in “progressive resistance”, meaning the resistance increases as the spring is stretched. The most widely used piece of apparatus, and probably the most important, is the Reformer, but other apparatus used in a traditional Pilates studio include the Cadillac (also called the Trapeze Table), the high (or electric) chair, the Wunda Chair, the baby Chair, and the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector (Step Barrel) and small barrel. Lesser used apparati include the Magic Circle, Guillotine Tower, the Pedi-Pole, and the Foot Corrector.
In contemporary Pilates other props are used, including small weighted balls, foam rollers, large exercise balls, rotating disks, and resistance bands. Some of the traditional apparatuses have been adapted for use in contemporary Pilates (e.g. splitting the pedal on the Wunda chair). Some contemporary schools, such as the British Body Control Pilates, work primarily on the mat with these smaller props, enabling people to study the method without a full studio.
Currently the Pilates Method is divided into two camps, Classical/Authentic Pilates or Contemporary/Modern Pilates. Classical/Authentic Pilates teach the exercises in an order that does not vary from lesson to lesson. Teachers of this style of Pilates seek to stay close to Joseph Pilates’s original work and generally use equipment that is built to his specifications. Most classically trained teachers will have studied the complete system of exercises and can generally trace their training back to Joseph Pilates through one of his protégés. Contemporary/Modern Pilates breaks the method down into various parts and the order of the exercises varies from lesson to lesson with many changes made to the original exercises.