The Origin of Pilates

Joseph Pilates class

Developed in the 1920’s by Joseph Pilates, the original purpose of Pilates was to rehabilitate prisoners of war. Joseph Pilates has described his system of exercises as "contrology". In other words, practicing Pilates requires intense concentration that is centered around a strong abdomen (core), deep stretching, and focused breathing.

After realizing the Pilates exercises could improve everyone's level of fitness and mental well-being, Pilates entered the mainstream around the world as a viable and effective exercise type. Although Pilates has only become popular in the recent years within the United States, Pilates is now regularly practiced across the country at thousands of studios and fitness centers.

Pilates exercise routines are designed to promote good health and fitness across the entire age spectrum, for individuals that have suffered an injury, and for individuals that suffer from several types of debilitating diseases (i.e. arthritis, osteoporosis, low back pain...). In fact, there are even DVD's and video tapes of Pilates exercise routines for toddlers and infants.

What is Pilates?

Pilates focuses on developing “core strength”, increasing muscular strength and tone, promoting mental awareness, and improving overall coordination, balance, and flexibility. One of the primary reasons Pilates exercise routines are so well received is the fact that it promotes extensive muscle tone, allowing for a much leaner appearance. There are six primary principles associated with a Pilates fitness routine and are as follows:

  1. Centering
  2. Control
  3. Precision
  4. Concentration
  5. Breathing
  6. Flow

Joseph Pilates believed that by circulating your blood throughout your entire body it would awaken all of the other cells in your body and this would eliminate the squander that caused fatigue.

When performing a Pilates exercise routine, individuals will find that it has several similarities to other exercise types like Yoga and Tai-Chi. Individuals will need to focus on performing controlled sequences of movements in order to receive the maximum health benefits from Pilates. While performing a Pilates exercise routine does not require doing a high number of repetitions per movement, it does require that each movement, or series of movements, be performed with precision and control.

In Pilates, quite often, performing less repetitions, at a slower pace and with more control and precision, is at the core of why many individuals find it to be so effective. Performing each movement, and series of movements, with the proper form, control, and precision is the fundamental foundation to receiving an excellent workout that will improve your health and fitness.

Individuals must perform each and every movement properly to receive the full benefits of a Pilates exercise routine. For this reason, less is more when performing a Pilates exercise routine.

Participants swear by the philosophy and techniques of Pilates, and in some circles, it almost reaches cult-like status. While it is true that there are countless health and fitness benefits associated with regularly performing a Pilates exercise routine, several of the benefits have yet to be verified through clinical studies. However, this being said, Pilates, when performed correctly, can provide several benefits associated with good health, fitness, and mental well-being.

Pilates can promote muscular strength and tone, improve suppleness, and increase soft tissue and joint flexibility. Pilates exercise routines also have the ability to provide an intense workout since the movements are performed in a slow, controlled, and premeditated fashion. Pilates is an excellent addition for individuals that are looking for an exercise type that will complement their aerobic and/or weight training exercise routines and for individuals that are looking for a resistance based exercise type that is supervised, or for individuals that would like to try a different and unique exercise type.

Benefits of Pilates

Regularly performing a Pilates exercise routine produces several health, fitness, and mental well-being benefits. Below is a list of several of the benefits associated with performing a Pilates exercise routine:

  • Improvements in joint range of motion
  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Improved blood circulation throughout the entire body
  • Improvements in overall posture
  • Increased core and abdominal strength
  • Improvements in muscular tone
  • Promotes a lean well sculpted physique
  • Decreased back, neck, and joint pain
  • Improvements in body awareness (i.e. teaches you how to train, control, center, and calm your mind)
  • Teaches proper body symmetry and alignment
  • Improves awareness of how you sit, stand, or move in relation to being able to relate those habits and movements to the aches, pains, and injuries you may have suffered in the past

Two Major Types of Pilates

pilates equipment

Pilates studios and fitness facilities typically offer classes throughout the day and evening time-frames. There are two major types of Pilates that are currently practiced. The first utilizes Pilates equipment such as the reformer, the arc, ladder, and spine corrector barrels, the cadillac, and stability chairs. Each of these types of Pilates equipment are designed to provide an entire body workout that focuses on performing movements in a physically controlled fashion and in harmony with your breathing.

Many of the fitness centers do not have these pieces of equipment as they are more commonly found at a Pilates studio. In addition, all of these pieces of Pilates equipment can be purchased for home use as well.

The second type of Pilates that is practiced requires very little, if any, equipment and is performed primarily as a floor exercise and/or with a stability ball. The exercise movements under this type of Pilates are more similar to that of Yoga and Tai Chi and also focuses on performing controlled movements that exercise the entire body. This type of Pilates is more commonly offered at fitness centers.

Common to both types of Pilates, breathing, calming and centering of the mind will be a center point of the exercise routine. Likewise, balance, coordination, and flexibility will be emphasized as well.

For individuals that prefer to practice Pilates in the privacy of their home, DVDs/VHS tapes are available. In addition, exercise mats and stability balls can be purchased either on-line or at virtually any sporting goods store.

With over 14,000 Pilates instructors in the United States alone, it is not difficult to locate a Pilates class that is conveniently located and that fits your schedule. For many individuals it is not unusual for them to perform a Pilates exercise routine for core strength and flexibility while also participating in another type of exercise like aerobics and/or strength training.

Improvements in Health and Fitness from Pilates

The benefits associated with regularly performing a Pilates exercise routine are enormous, and if performed correctly, produce impressive improvements in health and fitness. With over 80% of the population suffering from some type of back pain, exercise programs such as Pilates, Yoga, and Tai-Chi have greatly increased in popularity.

The overall effectiveness of Pilates is impressive. Reducing stress, anxiety, depression, improving muscular tone and strength, while relieving pain, if performed correctly, appeals to many individuals and for good reason. Always remember to perform all movements in a controlled fashion and with precision. By doing so, your gains in health and fitness will be sizable.

Although it is important to note that many of the health benefits associated with regularly performing a Pilates exercise routine have not been substantiated, it does not mean that a Pilates workout does not provide excellent health benefits. More likely, it only means that the health benefits of regularly practicing Pilates have not been confirmed through clinical studies.

When clinical studies are conducted, the end result is that empirical evidence is produced. In other words, empirical evidence from a study may conclude that 87% of the participants experienced a 23% or greater increase in joint range of motion or 92% of the participants decreased their waist size by 3 or more inches within the first 4 weeks of exercise.

Anecdotal evidence are claims supported by the individuals who participated in the clinical study but is not, per se, as verifiable. For example, many individuals may state that they saw a reduction in back pain, slept more soundly at night, or experienced an increase in energy.

pilates at home

To this end, there has not been a large amount of empirical evidence that chronicles the benefits of practicing Pilates, however, there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that Pilates is an effective form of exercise.

More specifically, that when practiced regularly, Pilates can provide both physical and mental benefits that improve the quality of life across a broad spectrum of aspects including weight loss, muscle tone, cardiovascular endurance, focus, and mental clarity.

In fact, logic and an understanding of how the body works suggest that Pilates, when performed correctly and with regularity, will provide countless health, fitness, and mental well-being benefits. For this reason, a Pilates exercise routine is ideal for individuals that would like to complement their existing exercise routine, have contracted a debilitating disease (arthritis, osteoporosis...), have suffered an injury, or would like to center and calm their mind.