Pilates stretches and strengthens the body. Pilates


Pilates (pronounced Puh-LAH-teez) is a method of exercise and physical movement that is designed to stretch and strengthen the body. There is a debate as to precisely what Pilates means since Joseph Pilates never developed a training program or had his name trademarked. Many different schools of Pilates have developed since his death; such as Winsor Pilates®, Stott Pilates®, and Body Control Pilates®, each with their own unique characteristics.

Highlights of Pilates:

  • Pilates wrote about a connection to ancient Greece and to Greco-Roman gymnastics.
  • Pilates applied body-weight exercise techniques to what Pilates people often call the powerhouse.
  • All of Pilates Matwork exercises are performed lying down on the ground.
  • Pilates' had a strong belief in the wellness benefits of strong mental concentration while performing his matwork exercises.
  • In Pilates, there is no training to failure.
  • Pilates is a mind-body exercise that combines slow, deliberate, and precise movements along with concentration and breathing.
  • Slow, deliberate and precise movements are performed. Emphasis is on postural correction.
  • No pieces of equipment are required for performing Pilates matwork exercises at home.

"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 spontaneous zest and pleasure."
--Jospeh Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology, 1945

While some people like to claim a strong connection to yoga, Pilates' only connection with yoga is the use of a sticky mat for matwork exercises. Pilates wrote about a connection to ancient Greece. He nevver mentioned yoga or Eastern philosophies. "All of the [Pilates matwork] exercises are performed while you are in a sitting or reclining position."[2] While a large number of yoga positions are performed standing. Many of the matwork exercises use what Pilates calls "spinal rolling and unrolling,"[2] which were clearly derived from a gymnastic tumble. All of this documents a strong connection to Greco-Roman gymnastics, rather than to yoga.

Joseph Pilates studied gymnastics in his youth and even boxed professionally. So, Pilates simply applied the body-weight exercise techniques of gymnastics, such as the tumble, to what Pilates people often call the powerhouse or the muscles of the abdomen, lower back, thighs, and buttocks. Basic physics answers the question why the powerhouse is important. The center of gravity of the human body lies within its core or trunk area. By always slightly bending at your body's center of gravity while standing you will significantly improve the stability of your body by a basic law of physics called the center of gravity.

What is unique about Pilates? First, its sole focus on the powerhouse. Second, all of Pilates Matwork exercises are performed lying down on the ground. Third, Pilates' strong belief in the benefits of strong mental concentration while performing physical exercise. And, finally there is a total lack of a musclehead or jock attitude among Pilates devotees.

There is no general agreement on what the principles of Pilates are. Joseph Pilates himself never provided a list of principles. But a list of at least six basic principles are often quoted; such as breathing, concentration, control, centering, precision, and flow. Most of these principles are based upon what Pilates wrote that others consider important in the practice of Pilates. The list of Pilates principles will differ organization from organization and will even change within the same organization depending on when and where the principles were stated. But a few general comments can be made on the Pilates method, as well as on common criticisms..

Bodyweight Exercise
Pilates is a body-weight exercise because it uses the weight of your own body to provide resistance. The main problem with bodyweight conditioning is that the weight of your own body is basically fixed. So, that begs the question: how can anyone increase resistance, or the work load, in a bodyweight exercise? The answer is simple: You learn to use leverage. You can control the leverage of a bodyweight exercise by changing the position of your legs, for example. By decreasing the amount of leverage the resistance of a body-weight exercise becomes greater. There is also the option of using elastic stretch bands to make your Pilates workouts harder.

Pilates "is not a fatiguing system of dull, boring, abhorred exercises repeated daily 'ad-nauseam.' Neither does it demand your joining a gymnasium nor the purchasing of expensive apparatus. You may derive all the benefits of ...[Pilates] in your own home."
--Jospeh Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology, 1945

Pilates strengthens, or stabilizes, the powerhouse -- the muscles of the abdomen, lower back, thighs, and buttocks. Interestingly, Joseph Pilates himself never mentions the powerhouse in his writings. Pilates believed that working the deepest layer of abdominal muscles will develop a girdle of strength for the spine. And, that a flexible, more stable, spine results in improved posture, stance, walking gait, and balance. The arms and legs are exercised, but they are simply not emphasized in Pilates matwork.

In other words, Pilates does not emphasize either the upper or lower body, but rather just the middle core of your body, known as the powerhouse. Interestingly enough, Joseph Pilates never used the word powerhouse in his two booklets. He mentions the trunk only once.

Many people who practice Pilates report that these powerhouse exercises make them feel better, stronger, more in control, and less prone to injury.

No-Pain-No-Gain Bodybuilding
The Pilates method of exercise is in direct opposition to the no-pain-no-gain school of bodybuilding which generally requires training to failure. This means that in Pilates, there is no training to failure. Because of this, many consider Pilates a painless form of exercise.

Pilates emphasizes the importance of using fewer repetitions of compound movements that require significant motor skill and coordination. Whereas the no-pain-no-gain school of weight machine bodybuilding generally emphasizes the prolonged repetition of fairly automatic movements.

Pilates thoughts on this was that endless repetition of unchallenging mind numbing routines naturally decreases the degree of mental involvement in exercise, whereas carefully executed sets of very few repetitions of precise movements would only tend to better balance mind-body training.

Strong Lean Bodies
Pilates does NOT create long muscle fibers. A Pilates trained body however will develop the strong lean body look of a ballet dancer. And, the reason for this is rather obvious. Pilates works only the Powerhouse. Abs of steel simply do not become noticeable to others until you take your clothes off.

No-pain-no-gain bodybuilding tends to build short bulky looking muscular bodies. The reason again is rather obvious. Training to failure bodybuilding often emphases only the upper body, or your chest and arms. Bodybuilders with well developed chests and arms are characterized by bulky looking muscles, or a lightbulb shaped figure. Pilates does not produce these results, simply because it does not concentrate on your upper body.

In order to develop either the upper or lower body, all you have to do is supplement Pilates with body-weight exercises that develop those areas. There are many exciting possibilities that use Swiss balls, balance boards, or a modified chin up bar.

Pilates is a mind-body exercise that combines slow, deliberate, and precise movements along with concentration and breathing.

"What is balance of body and mind? It is the conscious control of all muscular movements of the body. It is the correct utilization and application of the leverage principles afforded by the bones comprising the skeletal framework of the body, a complete knowledge of the mechanism of the body, and a full understanding of the principles of equilibrium and gravity as applied to the movements of the body in motion, at rest and in sleep."
--Jospeh Pilates, Your Health, 1934.

Working out in gyms using aerobic equipment and weight machines often has a mind numbing effect. While working out on the treadmill, bicycle, or on an elliptical trainer in a gym, you will notice that most people around you are watching television, music videos, or listening to music. They are wearing headphones, or maybe even reading. They are oblivious to the exercises that they are performing.

Watching instructional videos in order to learn Pilates is great, but trying to perform Pilates matwork by watching a follow-along video, as if Pilates was just another form of aerobic dancing, is contrary to the requirement of performing Pilates with strong mental concentration.

Body-weight exercises, like Pilates, force you to concentrate on balancing and controlling your own body weight. Regularly performing Pilates will, thus, help improve your own body awareness.

Better Posture
Stretching is built into most of the 34 Classical matwork exercises. Slow, deliberate and precise movements are performed. Emphasis is on postural correction. This is said to help you to realign your bones and improve your posture, when you regularly do Pilates.

Pilates' Equipment
Pilates from the very beginning was used to rehabilitate bedridden patients by the use of specially designed Pilates equipment.

Joseph Pilates designed several unique pieces of exercise equipment: universal reformer, cadillac, big barrel, panoply, wunda cvhair, magic circle, flexring toner, and spine supporter. The larger pieces of equipment like the universal reformer, cadillac, and spine supporter were designed for rehabilitative use in a Pilates studio. The original wunda chair was actually designed to double as a piece of living room furniture that by turning it upside down could be converted into exercise equipment for home use. He, also, developed a number of hand held exercise gadgets, like the magic circle, that are not anymore valuable then similar equipment being sold by Joe Weider and other exercise entrepreneurs. None of this equipment is required for performing Pilates matwork exercises at home.

Physical exercise will improve your natural health and fitness. Physical exercise is part of healthy living. Anybody interested in natural health should regularly participate in moderate forms of physical exercise like fitness walking. An active lifestyle, is even better than physical exercise, in improving your natural health and fitness.

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Pilates Comments:


  1. Your Health, Published by Jospeh Pilates, 1934.
  2. Return to Life Through Contrology, Published by Jospeh Pilates and William John Miller, 1945.
  3. Michele Olson, Carrie Myers Smith. Pilates exercise: lesssons from the lab.IDEA Fitness Journal. Nov-Dec 2005 v2 i10 p38(6).
  4. Owsley, A. An introduction to clinical Pilates. Athletic Therapy Today; 2005 Jul; 10(4); p. 19-25, 34-5, 68.
  5. Smith, K; Smith, E. Integrating Pilates-based core strengthening into older adult fitness programs: implications for practice. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation; 2005 Jan-Mar; 21(1); p. 57-67.
  6. Segal, NA; Hein, J; Basford, JR. The effects of Pilates training on flexibility and body composition: an observational study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; 2004 Dec; 85(12); p. 1977-81.

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