Most of us have heard about Pilates or perhaps even taken a Pilates class. But do you know the history, types, benefits, and goals of Pilates? What follows is a brief introduction to this form of exercise focused on flexibility, strength, and endurance.
Pilates is not a fitness fad; it is a holistic concept that will not only make you feel fitter and more flexible, but will enrich your whole way of life. The series of movements will not only change how your body looks, but it will also give you a new physical poise and greater mental strength.
During my years as an exercise instructor, I have witnessed many trend shifts in the fitness industry—from high impact to low impact aerobics, from slide to step, and from spinning to core and functional training. Some of these changes have been introduced because of safety concerns over certain movements or ways of exercising. The advantage of a Pilates system, in contrast, is that the movements can be gentle on your body. The technique can also be effectively used to complement other exercise regimes.
I am one of a third generation of Pilates instructors following Joseph Pilates and writing this book is part of my effort to give others an insight into the power of the Pilates way. I would like to pass on all the information and knowledge that I have developed over my years in the fitness industry, training people in the physical skills to enrich the quality of their lives.
It is very exciting to witness the current popularity of Pilates. From the perspective of someone with aback injury who has worked with many different types of exercise, I have seen the value of the Pilates technique and the way that it changes people. You may believe that a hunched posture is part of getting older, but this is not the case. If you pay regular attention to your body and invest in it by incorporating stretching and challenging exercises into your routines, then you will benefit by feeling fitter and more attractive. You can also maintain these benefits as you grow older.
History of Pilates
Joseph Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, Germany, in 1883. As a child, he had rheumatic fever, rickets, and asthma. In an effort to restore his health, he began studying anatomy books and a variety of disciplines, including bodybuilding, boxing, and gymnastics.
Joseph engaged in a variety of movement arts as a youth, including yoga, skiing, diving, and martial arts. He continued his work as a physical trainer and athlete in Germany throughout his young adulthood.
During this time, Joseph became more aware of the importance of the mind–body connection—a symbiotic relationship with myriad benefits.
He developed what we today know as Pilates by focusing on this connection and furthering the correlation between spiritual and physical arts. Joseph immigrated to England in 1912 and he worked as a martial arts trainer for Scotland Yard. At the start of World War I, he was sent to an English internment camp, where he continued to train others in wrestling, boxing, and self-defense. It was here that he began developing a system of mat exercises he called “Contrology.”
Joseph continued to develop his system by studying the movements of animals and human anatomy. Some of his exercises were even used to rehabilitate injured war veterans. After WWI, he returned to Germany. Around 1925, he immigrated to New York City, where he and his wife, Clara, taught Contrology classes. This instruction focused on the core and postural muscles, and the exercises were designed to flow from one move to the next. They met Romana Kryzanowska, a former ballerina who would become Pilates’s protégé.
They opened a studio in NYC and began building the teacher training program. When Joseph created the Pilates method nearly 100 years ago, society was becoming more sedentary and people were using their bodies less and less. He designed his methods to counter society’s ever-increasing inactive lifestyle and lack of daily movement, which is a problem for so many more today than ever before.
Types of Pilates
- Classic: Classical Pilates focuses on preserving the original teachings of Joseph and Clara Pilates and the equipment used to practice Pilates, featuring the exact specifications as those built by Joseph Pilates. Classical Pilates is taught within the order of exercises Joseph created for the reformer and the mat. Exercises in this book use Classical Pilates as their foundation.
- Contemporary: Contemporary Pilates integrates various traditional Pilates exercises with other forms of exercise, like yoga, fitness training, and physiotherapy. It might also include props, such as resistance bands, foam rollers, and stability balls. Contemporary Pilates includes additional exercises as well as modifications to the original Pilates exercises. Exercises in this book are most closely related to Contemporary Pilates while still maintaining core elements from Classical Pilates.
Pilates has two main methods:
- Mat: Mat classes use your body weight for exercises.
- Reformer: Use equipment that works against spring-loaded resistance.
Some forms of Pilates also include weights and small equipment that offer resistance and aid in alignment. Mat Pilates is practiced on the floor and requires little to no equipment.
Pilates matwork is the basis for the entire Pilates system of exercises. On the mat, your body weight provides resistance against gravity, making the Pilates workout more challenging in many cases. Mat Pilates focuses on developing core strength and it’s typically taught in groups, making it more affordable. Reformer Pilates is taught on a narrow bed with a sliding carriage, straps and pulleys, and springs for increasing or decreasing tension and resistance.
Using a reformer, you can target small muscle groups, which help build strength. The reformer acts as a support system for the body by helping assist it into proper form and gives you the option of performing exercises in a variety of different body positions—from your back, side, and stomach as well as while kneeling, standing, or seated.
They’re both beneficial to building up your core strength and toning your muscles. Both methods also train you to initiate the movements from your body’s powerhouse (your core) and they translate into benefits across your day-to-day activities. The biggest misconception is that reformer Pilates is harder than mat Pilates, but this can be the opposite in an advanced class, which can lead to faster results. What’s critical is that regular practice is maintained and that the principles of Pilates (breathing, centering, concentration, control, precision, and flow) are adhered to throughout a class to maximize the results. All exercises in this book are mat Pilates exercises. While many of these exercises use small props, mat Pilates allows you work out at home without needing specialized equipment. This also makes mat Pilates a more inclusive kind of exercise—a type of fitness for everyone.
What Are The Benefits?
Practicing Pilates can improve your core strength (balance), flexibility, spinal and joint mobility (posture and stability), body awareness, and overall physical strength. Let’s look at these areas to discover how they can help you reach your fitness goals.
- Core strength (balance):
Perhaps the biggest advantage of making Pilates a part of your wellness regimen is it can help strengthen your core. Your core is the center of your body, including all the muscles in your midsection (front, back, and sides), and this area can greatly benefit from a regular Pilates routine. Almost every movement you make relies on your core muscles, and when you can develop and enhance these muscles, movements can feel easier. Plus, with a strong core, you’ll increase your balance, further making physical activities easier and more efficient. Pilates is a system of exercise that, when regularly practiced, will improve your flexibility and strength. The movements will have a noticeable impact on your body in terms of general well-being, you foulness, and flexibility, and they will also help to heal any long or short-term injuries. Even moderate regular daily activities may result in recurring aches or physical problems. Sitting at a desk all day, for example, unbalances your body, causing the hip flexors(the front muscles of your thighs)and the upper back to form themselves into a rounded position. Pilates helps to release such tensions and ease your body back into a more natural balance. It also helps you to achieve a leaner body, feel more poised, less anxious, and stronger mentally. The moves shown here are structured with this in mind and are based on the movements that Joseph Pilates taught.
Flexibility is the most neglected component of fitness and adding a Pilates practice to your wellness plan is a wonderful way to gain more flexibility. Rather than using static stretches, Pilates focuses on movements while stretching. This means the muscles are warm as you stretch, allowing you to stretch further with less pain and injury. Improving and strengthening your flexibility can also mean better posture and balance, better mobility, and, yes, even a better state of mind—which is a strong aspect of every Pilates exercise.
- Spinal & joint mobility (posture & stability):
Pilates encourages students to target the muscles that protect and support their spine. Because Pilates involves stretches and exercises that work to strengthen all the essential parts of your core, when you perform exercises that target your core muscles, you’re also going to strengthen your back and gain spinal stability and mobility. This means less back pain, especially in your lower back, which would typically prevent you from fully enjoying all kinds of activities, but with help from Pilates, you’ll gain more control over your ability to perform everyday movements. Pilates can also improve your joint mobility and range of motion by moving your joints through their full range of motion from a stable base. During a balanced Pilates class, you work through all planes of motion and allow the body’s joints to mobilize through their natural movement and natural function. The repetitive joint movements in Pilates help stimulate and promote the release of synovial fluid into the joint cavities, which helps protect joints and allows for smooth movement. Because Pilates is a low-impact and low-intensity type of workout, the movements are easy on the joints.
- Body Awareness:
Pilates can help you connect with your body to learn how to best move and function. This isn’t about limitations as much as it’s about finding ways to do what you need and want to do. Performing the exercises in this book—whether the main exercises or the modifications (or a combination depending on what feels right to you)—will help you see where you are physically and mentally. Making your practice a regular routine will allow you to take this even further by developing and achieving your exercise goals while continuing to discover your capabilities and full potential.
- Overall Physical Strength:
Pilates is also a form of strength training. You can perform Pilates on a mat using your body’s weight and/or small props or on Pilates equipment that uses spring tension for weight resistance. Practitioners also perform movements that improve their overall strength, working large muscles and often neglected smaller muscles. By practicing the sequences at the back of this book—combining Pilates exercises into routines—you can assure yourself that you’ll target many different areas of your body, ensuring you’re working on strengthening your body from head to toe.
The Pilates system works the body as a whole, and aims to coordinate the upper and lower muscle groups with the center of the body.
This has a dramatic effect on strength, flexibility, posture, and coordination. Whether you are interested in Pilates for cosmetic, medical, or preventative reasons, the system of movements will strengthen your body and at the same time focus your mind.
Why Pilates ?
The Pilates movements stretch the muscles and pull them into a longer and leaner shape, rather than forcing them to tear and rebuild into the shorter and thicker shape that conventional strength training does.
Pilates systematically exercises all the muscle groups in your body, challenging the weak areas as well as the strong. It balances the body, focuses on tight areas, and aims to increase strength and flexibility.
When he conceived the original mat work exercises, Joseph Pilates was looking to stretch the body to the full to bring maximum benefit to the person exercising. Even experienced athletes may find some of his original moves difficult. This is because they use muscle control and coordination that few people are used to.
Who Should Do Pilates?
You—no matter who you are. Pilates is great for people of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels. The accessibility of mat Pilates makes it the perfect home, studio, or on-the-go workout. Whether you’re recovering from an injury, looking to get back into regular exercise to strengthen your body, or a professional athlete trying to stay in shape, the principles of the exercises apply to you. Pilates is low impact in nature, but it can provide high intensity, making it the perfect balance for anyone looking to increase their fitness. All the exercises in this book have been modified to allow anyone and everyone an opportunity to practice Pilates.
Pilates needs basic equipment
You don’t need any expensive equipment for Pilates exercises; you can follow a program at home with just a floor mat.
The Pilates system is often linked to various innovative Pilates machines, equipment that can form an integral part of the exercises. However, remember that there is nothing that you can do on a machine that you can’t do on the mat.
Known as the intelligent way of working out, there is a focus on concentration and discipline with Pilates. Standard exercise regimes tend not to require mental discipline, but Pilates is different, healing and treating the mind and body on different levels. And because it works all the muscles in the body, simple everyday tasks such as shopping or gardening also become easier and safer.
Pilates and yoga
Pilates and Yoga have certain goals in common. Most significantly they both advocate individual progress in a non-competitive format. The exercises also share an emphasis on stretching, as well as strengthening muscles. Both Yoga and Pilates emphasize deep breathing and the use of smooth, long movements that encourage muscles to relax and lengthen. Pilates is also similar to Yoga because of the body suppleness it brings. The difference is that while some Yoga techniques involve moving from one static posture to the next without repetitions, Pilates flows through a series of movements that are more dynamic, systematic, and anatomically based.
Although Pilates has been around since the 1920s, an understanding of this program of exercise that builds up your strength and your immune system has only become popular quite recently. Many Hollywood stars have endorsed the technique—among them Sharon Stone, Courtney Cox Arquette, Minnie Driver, Julia Roberts, and Madonna (who has even claimed that it is the only way to exercise). As a result, Pilates is no longer the domain of the rich and famous and can be practiced in most gyms and health clubs.
Managing and Preventing Pain in Pilates
Even the most healthy person may have minor pains that indicate stresses and strains on the body. Never ignore these symptoms, but use them to identify which areas need more strengthening or more stretching and mobility.
Pilates trains the body to prevent injury and to maintain good posture and movement. In order to have good posture, you need to develop good muscle balance. Indeed, injuries are often related in some way to bad posture or muscular imbalances. These types of problems can occur for many reasons. Repetitive movements can be one cause, such as when a golfer continuously practices his swing on one side of the body or when someone spends long periods of time working at a desk. In fact, any pattern that destabilizes your body’s natural balance and makes it tense, can lead to weakness, tightness, and a resulting danger of injury.
Pain and Gain
There is always a certain amount of discomfort that arises during training, especially when it comes to stretching muscles that you may not have used in some time. A strong stretch may elicit some pain, but be careful not to push yourself too far. If any pain is sudden or sharp you must stop immediately This extreme should never be experienced. I emphasize again that Pilates should be performed gradually. It is always better to build up slowly. Only in this way can you strike a balance between achievement and challenge. Never exercise when you are in chronic pain or when any of your muscles are inflamed.