What Is Pilates ? A Brief History
What Is Pilates ?
Look at any gym today or talk to any celebrity about their workout routine, and chances are you will hear about Pilates. But what is pilates ?
This form of exercise is one of the most popular today as it is designed to help people of all fitness levels get the toned, lean muscles they have always wanted.
About a decade ago, Pilates began making its way into the mainstream.
First, with a few at home DVDs and eventually with countless classes in gyms across the country and numerous Pilates-only studios around the world.
However, while Pilates may be prominent in popular culture, this form of exercise isn’t exactly new.
In fact, this form of exercise has a very long history, and one that provides some interesting insight on where Pilates comes from, what it is supposed to do and how you can use it as part of your own exercise regimen.
So, What is Pilates?
Pilates is a type of exercise designed to strengthen the body and deliver long, lean muscles.
Many people use Pilates to help prevent injuries (as it is low-impact) and as part of their recovery when they are getting back into exercise following an injury.
There is also a strong mind/body connection and a great deal of breathing involved in Pilates.
One of the great things about Pilates is that so many people, with so many different fitness levels can do this form of exercise.
It is low-impact and doesn’t require any cardio or heavy weights. Instead, Pilates focuses on using your own body weight or resistance machines.
Those who do Pilates regularly will find they enjoy better flexibility and joint mobility.
This form of exercise can be modified based on the individual and on the individual’s fitness level. It can either be a gentle training program focusing on flexibility and slight strengthening—or a much more strenuous workout.
There are many people who do Pilates with little or no equipment—particularly people who do this exercise at home using a training video. As people get more advanced, there are special forms of equipment such as the Reformer which can add more resistance to moves and provide a more strenuous workout.
The Beginnings of Pilates
Pilates was actually named after its founder, Joseph Hubertus Pilates, who was born in Mochengladbach Germany in 1883.
He was born with a number of different ailments, including athletics and believed in using exercise as a way to battle those ailments.
Joseph was also very interested in the Greek history behind exercise and the ideal that a Greek man should be balanced in body, mind and spirit. This is when he began to develop his own exercise system based on this idea.
Eventually Joe developed a system that utilized exercise based on resistance.
Joe was living in Britain during Word War I and was interned as a German alien.
During this time, Joe Pilates began developing his form of exercise, based on his years of studying both Eastern and Western methods of exercise.
While interned, Joe was working as a nurse, and he began experimenting with this form of exercise by using bed springs and developing exercises that would help tone and heal wounded soldiers.
The exercise technique eventually caught on, particularly in the dance community and among those who wanted to recover following injury while developing and toning the body.
In 1926, Joe went to the United States, and the exercise caught on with many New York dancers.
Together with his wife, Clara, the two began teaching classes to dancers, particularly ballerinas how to do the moves in order to help them maintain the long, lean muscles they needed for their form of dance.
By the 1960s, the Pilates phenomenon that was helping so many ballet dancers stay in shape began spreading, and more and more people were trying the exercise, even when they weren’t dancing.
It also began a popular way for performers of all types suffering from injuries to regain muscle strength in order to return to their act.
Pilates Lessons Began Spreading
At first, Pilates was only taught by Joe and his wife, Clara, until two of Joe’s students began teaching classes on their own.
The first two students to open their own studios were Bob Seed, a former hockey player, and Carola Trier, a former performing contortionist.
Joe Pilates kept teaching his lessons until he was 87 year’s old and passed away in 1967.
However, Pilates kept growing even after its founder’s death.
In the 1970s, Hollywood celebrities started getting the Pilates bug thanks to Ron Fletcher’s studio in Beverly Hills. Many Hollywood starlets were looking to get the long, lean ballerina bodies that were so popular in New York.
In the 1980s, the media began talking about Pilates and soon this workout wasn’t just a secret form of exercise for the elite—available only to ballerinas and Hollywood stars, but a workout for everyone.
As Pilates became more and more popular, it was not only taught in fitness studies, but became part of the training for professional and Olympic athletes.
Soon, Pilates studios became just as popular as any other type of gym. Today, it is estimated that more than 10 million Americans practice Pilates, with more and more people trying it every day.
The Benefits of Pilates
One of the many reasons that Joseph Pilates’ workouts have become and stayed so popular is because they come with so many different healthy benefits.
If you do Pilates regularly, you will find a number of great health benefits including the following:
- Improved posture—this is particularly helpful for those who suffer from low back pain.
- Better muscle tone—many men and women do Pilates to get toned and defined without getting bulky.
- Flatter abdominal muscles—most of the exercises in Pilates focus on the core.
- Improved flexibility—this is a great perk of Pilates, especially for older individuals who may struggle with flexibility as they age.
- Better balance—this comes with the mind-body connection that is taught in Pilates.
Another thing that many people experience once they start doing Pilates regularly is reduced stress, and a better sense of well-being. This all come from the fact that Pilates focuses on the connection between your mind and your body.
What to Expect From a Pilates Workout
The Pilates workouts you see today may differ slightly from the original form of exercise that Joe Pilates first created almost a century ago.
However, the basic concept behind Pilates is still the same.
If you have never tried a Pilates workout before, this is what you can expect.
Almost all Pilates classes will start with a move called the Pilates Hundred. This is a signature move in Pilates. It is a core-centered move that has less than two inches of movement and it involves lots of ab burning.
If you take a mat class…
You will not need any equipment. The instructor will lead you through a number of different exercises on your workout mat or yoga mat. Your exercises will be standing, sitting or on the ground.
If you take a reformer class…
You will be using a machine that provides resistance, also known as a reformer.
This will help provide more toning. The reformer has a sliding platform, stationary foot bars, springs and pulleys for you to use.
Whichever class you take, you can expect the class to be about 45 minutes long and instructor-led.
You should always start with a beginner’s class if you have never tried Pilates before. The instructor will walk you through all of your exercises and help you with any moves you may have questions about.
A good instruction will also provide you with possible modifications for every move that you plan on doing.
This way, if you have an injury or a weakness you are worried about, you can modify the exercise in order to avoid further irritation or injury.
Most Pilates classes are going to focus primarily on your core, but you will also tone your arms and legs during this type of exercise.
You can expect to feel your muscles burning during your class. You will mostly likely be sore the next day.
Whether you are a seasoned dancer looking for an additional workout, recovering from an injury and trying to build core strength or are just looking for a new workout to try, Pilates can be a great workout to help you get a strong, lean, sculpted body.
With a general insight on how this exercise works and on the history behind Pilates, you can gain a better appreciation and understanding of this unique workout.