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& History of Pilates
is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century
Pilates in Germany. As of 2005, there are 11 million people
who practice the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in
the United States.
called his method Contrology, because he believed his method uses
the mind to control the muscles. The program focuses on the core
postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which are
essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates
exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine,
and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.
was designed by Joseph Pilates, a gymnast born in Germany of partly
Greek ancestry. He designed a system of exercises during the First
World War with the proposal to improve the rehabilitation program
for the many returning veterans. Joseph Pilates believed that mental
and physical health are inter-related. He recommended a few precise
movements emphasizing control and form to aid injured soldiers in
regaining their health by strengthening, stretching, and stabilizing
key muscles. Pilates created "The Pilates Principles"
to condition the entire body: proper alignment, centering, concentration,
control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.
Pilates wrote two books related to the Pilates method: Return to
Life through Contrology (1928) and Your Health: A Corrective System
of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education
claimed that his method contains both philosophical and theoretical
foundations. He claimed that his system is not merely a collection
of exercises, but a method developed and refined over more than
eighty-five years of use and observation.
to practitioners, the central aim of Pilates is to attempt to create
a fusion of mind and body, so that without even engaging the mind,
the body will move with economy, grace, and balance.
Correct postural alignment of the skeletal structure is
crucial to the practice of Pilates, not only to get the best out
of the exercise, but also to prevent injury. Achieving optimal alignment
starts with positioning the pelvis, ribcage, shoulder girdle, and
head in a neutral alignment with respect to each other, and then
utilizing all the stabilization muscles to maintain that alignment
while performing the exercises. Correct alignment in Pilates also
means limiting range of motion of the appendages so as to not push
the joints beyond where the ligaments and connective tissue are
Joseph Pilates believed in circulating the blood so that
it could awaken all the cells in the body and carry away the wastes
related to fatigue. For the blood to do its work properly, he maintained,
it has to be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through
proper breathing. By this standard, if you stop breathing during
exercise, there is an error in your practice. Full and thorough
inhalation and exhalation are purportedly a part of every Pilates
exercise. Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation.
“Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry,”
he is reputed to have said. Pilates breathing should
be done with concentration, control, and precision. Proper and effective
breathing, practitioners assert, not only oxygenates the muscles,
but also reduces tension in the upper neck and shoulders. Pilates
breathing is described as a posterior lateral breathing, meaning
that the practitioner is instructed to breathe deep into the back
and sides of his or her rib cage. When practitioners exhale, they
are instructed to note the engagement of their deep abdominal and
pelvic floor muscles and maintain this engagement as they inhale.
Pilates attempts to properly coordinate this breathing practice
with movement, including breathing instructions with every exercise.
Joseph Pilates stated, “Even if you follow no other instructions,
learn to breathe correctly.”
Pilates called the very large group of muscles in the center
of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips,
and buttocks – the “powerhouse." All energy for
Pilates exercises is said to begin from the powerhouse and flow
outward to the limbs. In other words, the Pilates technique asserts
that physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate movements
of the extremities. Pilates felt that it was important to build
a strong powerhouse in order to rely on it in daily living. Modern
instructors call the powerhouse "The Core."
Pilates demands intense focus. For instance, the inner
thighs and pelvic floor may be assessed when doing a standing exercise
that tones the triceps. Beginners are instructed to pay careful
attention to their bodies, building on very small, delicate fundamental
movements and controlled breathing. In 2006, at the Parkinson Center
of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon,
the concentration factor of the Pilates method was being studied
in providing relief from the degenerative symptoms of Parkinson's
Pilates built his method on the idea of muscle control. To him,
that meant no sloppy, uncontrolled movements.
Practitioners assert that every movement in the Pilates
method has a purpose. Every instruction is considered vitally important
to the success of the whole. To leave out any detail is believed
to forsake the intrinsic value of the exercise. The focus is on
doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted
ones. The goal is for this precision to eventually become second
nature, and carry over into everyday life as grace and economy of
qualified Pilates instructor is expected to understand the technique
well enough to adapt it to the real-world capabilities of his or
her students. Students with physical disabilities, for example,
should be given a Pilates regimen intended to improve their methods
of physically compensating for their ailment.
or efficiency of movement: Movement
is expected to be kept continuous between exercises through the
use of appropriate transitions. Once precision has been achieved,
the exercises are intended to flow within and into each other in
order to build strength and stamina.
A controlled experiment gives some support to claims that
pilates enhances flexibility.
of Apparatus in Pilates
The original Pilates repertoire was 34 exercises
done on the floor on a padded mat (matwork), but Joseph Pilates
later invented several pieces of apparatus, each with its own repertoire
of exercises. Most of the repertoire done on the various pieces
of Pilates apparatus is resistance training since it makes use of
springs to provide additional resistance. Using springs results
in "progressive resistance", meaning the resistance increases
as the spring is stretched.
most common piece of apparatus is the Reformer,
but other apparatus used in a modern Pilates studio includes the
Cadillac (also called the Trapeze Table), the Wunda Chair, and the
Ladder Barrel. Lesser used apparatus includes the Spine Corrector
(Step Barrel), the Guillotine Tower, the Arm Chair, the Ped-a-Pul
(Pedi-Pole), and the Foot Corrector.
are also many props used in Pilates including the Magic Circle,
invented by Joseph Pilates, small weighted balls, foam rollers,
large exercise balls, rotating disks, and resistance bands. However,
some in the Pilates community, particularly the Pilates Method Alliance,
maintains that exercises done on any piece of apparatus not designed
by Joseph Pilates, such as large or small exercise balls, should
not be called Pilates.
using the additional resistance of springs on Pilates apparatus,
or the constant resistance of gravity in mat work, the Pilates repertoire
builds strength, develops proper alignment and posture, and increases