It may seem like the latest trend in exercise, but Pilates has been around since the early 20th century. The method, which gently strengthens the abdominal and back muscles, incorporates breathing, mental concentration and body control. Pilates can benefit people of every level of fitness.
The Pilates method was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German who moved to England in the 1880s. Interned by the British government during World War I, he used his interest and experience in yoga, meditation and fitness to train others in the internment camp. He later lived in the United States, where he taught fitness and developed the Pilates method, which he called Contrology.
Today, most Pilates classes are concentrated on mat work, although there is a machine that is usually used while in training with a private Pilates instructor. Pilates does not use aerobics, but it lets you get a powerful workout without breaking a sweat. Where traditional workouts focus on the same muscle groups, Pilates aims to strengthen deeper muscles within the abdomen, torso and back. The method is believed to lead to improved balance, posture, flexibility and strength.
Although there are several Pilates versions taught most are based on the same principles.
Pilates principles include:
Breathing – Pilates teaches a breathing technique of deep inhalation and complete exhalation to improve oxygen intake and enhance circulation. Specific breathing and movement techniques are combined.
Control – Concentration of the mind and muscle control are central to Pilates. Exercises work the muscles to lift against gravity in a controlled way.
Centering – The center of the body, made up of the abdomen, upper and lower back, hips, buttocks and inner thighs, is where all Pilates movement begins.
Precision – One precise movement done perfectly is the focus.
Stamina – With practice, stress is lessened during exercise.
Flow – Another goal of Pilates is economy of movement. The idea is that once you’ve achieved precision, the different exercises can flow in transition from one to the next.
Alignment – Correct posture while executing Pilates exercises is strived for in order to correct and keep muscle balance and improve coordination.
As with all forms of exercise, you should speak with your physician before undertaking Pilates if you have sustained an injury or have health issues.