Pilates 101

What is Pilates?
Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates in Germany, the UK and the USA. As of 2005, there were 11 million people practicing the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States.

Are you really doing Pilates or just think man_womanyou are? To enjoy the full benefit of Pilates training, you need to know what the signs of a genuine Pilates workout are, beyond the exercises. Below are 5 questions you can ask yourself about the classes you take or the workouts you do at home, just to be sure you are on track to getting all that Pilates has to offer.

Is your body developing uniformly? The uniform development of muscles and the body form in general is one of the hallmarks of Pilates training. To develop a uniform musculature, which is the most attractive and functional, your workouts need to be full-body workouts. They can’t just be about certain body areas. For example, the abdominal muscles have become an obsession in our culture and Pilates certainly is top-of-the-line abdominal exercise, but abdominal work done out of context with a fully integrated approach to body development is not Pilates and will never produce the kind of efficient, graceful movement that balanced Pilates training will.

Is your Pilates training based on the Pilates principles? The principles of Pilates take Pilates out of the realm of general exercise and into the realm of body/mind/spirit integration which is one of the goals of Pilates. The principles are: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow.

Are you breathing fully? Yes, breathing is one of the principles above, but learning to breathe well is so essential to Pilates workouts that we need to examine its role in our workouts separately. Yet, some Pilates classes gloss over the breathing and just focus on the exercises.

Are you doing spinal articulations? Attention to a flexible spine cannot be overlooked in evaluating Pilates workouts. The benefits of Pilates for the back muscles and spine do not come only because Pilates exercises develop core strength thereby stabilizing the spine–often cited as the primary way to help with back pain. Keeping the spine flexible is a top priority as well. The many rolling and spinal articulation exercises are somewhat unique to Pilates. They are intended to stimulate the spine and increase flexibility (rolling is not recommended for those with spine or neck issues, but there are many other appropriate articulation exercises.)

Does your workout leave you feeling good? Pilates is not just exercise. It is a program of fitness meant to enhance your health: body, mind and spirit. Your workouts should leave you feeling good, and better able to accomplish not only the physical tasks of daily life but also to take joy in living.

Pilates called his method Contrology, because he believed that his method uses the mind to control the muscles. Pilates is a body conditioning routine that helps to not only build flexibility, but also strength, endurance, and coordination in the legs, abdominals, arms and back.

Benefits of Pilates

  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Strong center
  • Mobile Joints
  • Postural Awareness
  • Toned muscles
  • Efficient movement
  • Neuromuscular Connection
  • Coordination
Pilates Principles

1: Become Aware
Be present in the movement with mind and body.

2: Achieve Balance
Uniformly develop musculature so the body can function unhindered, flexibility can be present, and well-being achieved.

3: Breathe Correctly
Breathing is the inner shower that cleanses the body, promotes natural movement, relaxes the mind and calms the spirit.

4: Concentrate Deeply
Ensure a deep focus of the work to allow you to block out unnecessary thoughts and perform each movement to the maximum of your ability.

5: Center Yourself
Discover and experience your body’s center of gravity — your “powerhouse.” All movement emanates from this core.

6: Gain Control
Achieve control of movement through practice of the work.

7: Be Efficient
Focus the work where it is needed, exerting the required amount of energy, no more and no less.

8: Create Flow
Connect movement to movement.

9: Be Precise
Without precision, Pilates work becomes almost meaningless. Precision requires awareness, concentration and control.


Joseph Pilates

joesph_portraitJoseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1880.  He was a sickly child, plagued with rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever.  His drive to overcome these ailments led him to explore and practice bodybuilding, gymnastics, diving and other physical pursuits.  He studied Eastern and Western philosophies and forms of exercise and was greatly influenced by Greek and Roman regimens.  This background provided him with the foundation, shaped by his experiences, to innovate a system that he developed throughout his life.

In 1912, while interned during World War I, he taught and practiced his physical fitness program and began devising apparatus to aid in the rehabilitation of the disabled and sick.

In 1925 he emigrated to America and en route met a young nurse named Clara.  She became his wife, and shortly thereafter, an integral partner in helping develop and teach his method.  In 1926 they set up their first studio in New York City, which attracted a diverse population including socialites, circus performers, gymnasts, dancers and athletes.

Over the course of his career Pilates developed more than 600 exercises for the various pieces of apparatus he invented.  His guiding philosophy was that achieving good health means that the whole being — body, mind and spirit — must be addressed.