What Is Pilates?

by on May.07, 2012, under Fitness

Have you ever wondered what Pilates is? It’s not some newfangled, New Age exercise trend. Pilates (pronounced pi-LAH-teez) was actually introduced to the United States back in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, a German athlete who developed a method of exercise that uses springs for resistance to deliver a full-body, non-impact workout.

Benefits of Pilates
Pilates promotes uniform development by focusing on strengthening the core of the body — especially the muscles that support the abdomen, lower back and buttocks.

As Joseph Pilates himself put it, “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with zest and pleasure.”

That means that Pilates emphasizes functional movements that bring the body into alignment. It makes you strong but also supple, so you can perform better in your daily life.

Pilates strengthens and lengthens muscles “The method promotes mental and physical harmony through improved balance, flexibility, strength and tone,” explained Beth Downey, a Pilates instructor who is certified through the Pilates Center of Boulder, Colo., and owner of a Pilates studio in Rosemont, Pa. “It works the smaller muscles, not just the large muscle groups like most other exercises, to strengthen and lengthen them.”

As a result, Pilates provides a longer, leaner and less bulky look. It decompresses the spine and improves posture. According to Downey, it’s suitable for virtually everyone because the exercises are progressive and tailored to suit individual ability — beginner, intermediate and advanced.

“It’s also great exercise for people with chronic ailments such as arthritis and fibromyalgia,” Downey said. “The movements are challenging yet gentle because they don’t hurt the joints.” More and more, rehabilitation centers are using Pilates exercises for patients recovering from injuries and other medical conditions. Pilates is also used for injury prevention.

Getting in a Pilates Class
If you’re looking for a Pilates class, Downey recommends finding a teacher who is certified in Pilates. “Ask which organization provided the certification and how many hours of training it involved. A weekend workshop in Pilates is not sufficient.”

The exercises should be pain-free, too. Downey suggests you consult the teacher if you feel any pain during the class. “The movements are very specific and have to be done correctly. It requires a lot of concentration,” she said. Learning the right way to breathe while exercising is also important, Downey adds.

Mat classes as well as classes that use specially designed Pilates equipment are both beneficial, Downey says. Each uses similar movements to achieve the same results. The Pilates equipment, however, uses spring resistance while the mat relies only on your own body weight for resistance.

The most common piece of equipment is the “Reformer,” which Joseph Pilates invented in the 1940s and resembles a twin bed with springs, a carriage and a foot bar. Other Pilates resistance equipment includes the “Cadillac,” the “Wunda Chair” and “Barrels.”

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