What is Pilates?

What is Pilates?

by: Lisa Ritchie

Pill-la-tease <pronounced>

PilatesPilates is a form of exercise named after its inventor Joseph Pilates, which emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness in order to support efficient, graceful movement. It tends to build lean, long muscles rather than the rounded muscles of bodybuilders.

German born Joseph Pilates was living in England, working as a circus performer and boxer, when he was placed in forced internment in England at the outbreak of WWI.  As time went by, he began rehabilitating other detainees who were suffering from diseases and injuries.  It was invention born out of necessity that inspired him to use items that were available, like bedsprings and beer keg rings, to create resistance exercise equipment for his patients. These were the unlikely beginnings of the Pilates equipment we use today.

After WWI, Pilates briefly returned to Germany where he worked for the Hamburg Military Police in self-defense and physical training.  In 1925, he was asked to train the German army. Instead, he packed his bags and took a boat to New York City where he went on to establish his studio in New York with his wife.  They evolved the Pilates method of exercise, invented the Pilates exercise equipment, and of course, trained students.

Joseph Pilates taught in New York from 1926 to 1966 before passing away in 1967.  His New York studio led many dancers to discover the Pilates method of training for the strength and grace it developed, as well as for its rehabilitative effects. Modification is the key to Pilates exercise success with a variety of populations. All exercises are developed with modifications that can make a workout safe and challenging for any one at any level.

Core strength is the foundation of Pilates exercise. The core muscles are the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back. When the core muscles are strong they work in coordination with the more superficial muscles of the trunk to support the spine and movement. As you develop your core strength you develop stability throughout your entire torso. This is one of the ways Pilates helps people overcome back pain. As the core is properly stabilized, pressure on the back is relieved and your body can move freely and efficiently.

The six Pilates principles are essential ingredients in a high quality Pilates’ workout. They are Centering, Control, Flow, Breath, Precision, and Concentration. The Pilates method has always emphasized quality over quantity, and you’ll find that, unlike many other forms of exercise, Pilates doesn’t require a lot of repetitions for each move. Instead, by doing each exercise fully, with precision, you’ll get significant results in a shorter time.

Pilates exercises are done on either a floor mat or on exercise equipment developed by Joseph Pilates. The equipment generally utilizes pulleys and resistance from the participants’ own body weight and graduated levels of springs. The Reformer is probably the best-known piece of resistance equipment that you will see at a Pilates studio. There is also the Pilates Chair, Circle, Cadillac and a few others.  Using a floor mat makes Pilates available to everyone.

Before you take any Pilates class make sure the instructor is certified in the discipline. Comprehensive certifications can take over a year of study to complete, and often requires many hours spent in the studio as an apprentice teacher. Apprentice hour requirements can be up to 900 in a year. The Pilates Method Alliance (PMA), with support from a number of Pilates schools and companies, has created a certified Pilates teacher exam that meets professional certification requirements.  Pilates teachers can choose to take the PMA exam after they have completed their training. 

If you don’t want to commit to taking Pilates classes at this point in time or you are trying to be thrifty, you can always purchase a pilates dvd in our co-op store and work out in the comfort of your own home. Pilates for Beginners, by Kristin Mc Gee is a wonderful way to get acquainted with pilates and determine if it is a good fit for you.  It is available in our co-op store at discounted member pricing along with any necessary Pilates equipment. 



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These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration.  The preceding information and/or products are for educational purposes only and are not meant to diagnose, prescribe, or treat illness. Please consult your doctor before making any changes or before starting ANY exercise or nutritional supplement program or before using this information or any product during pregnancy or if you have a serious medical condition.

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