What is Pilates?

The Pilates method, which was devised by Joseph Pilates, was introduced to the United States in the 1920s. It was one of the first exercise systems in the west to take a holistic approach to fitness and well-being.  Pilates encompasses more than 500 controlled, precise movements, which are performed on a mat or with special apparatus and designed to stretch and strengthen muscles.  You use your inner most abdominal muscles, low back, and buttocks (also known as the “powerhouse”) to initiate and direct movement so that the rest of the body can move more freely, yet in an ‘empowered’ manner.

Who is Joseph Pilates?

Joseph Pilates, born in Germany, was a frail child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. But by the time he was 14 he was posing for anatomical charts. He studied both Eastern and Western forms of movement, including Martial Arts, Yoga, Gymnastics, Skiing and Boxing.

In 1912 Joseph Pilates moved to England to pursue boxing and ended up performing in a circus with his brother. In 1914 after WWI broke out he was interned along with other German nationals in a “camp” for enemy aliens in Lancaster. Later he was transferred to The Isle of Man, where he began devising his system, which at the time was referred to as “Contrology.” He helped rehabilitate injured soldiers by using the springs from the beds and rigging exercise apparatus for the bedridden. In 1918 not one of the soldiers that followed his regimen got sick with the influenza epidemic sweeping the world.

In 1926 unhappy with the political direction of Germany, Joe left for the United States. En route he met his future wife and partner Clara Pilates. Together they opened a studio in New York City, in the same building as several dance studios. Dancers like George Balanchine and Martha Graham regularly sent their students to Pilates for training and rehab.

Joseph died in 1967 at 87 years old following what many assume to be complications from a fire incident. One of his greatest desires was to see his methods practices daily by children in schools worldwide. It has been said that Joseph Pilates knew one day that people would appreciate his work.

Can it really help me?

Definitely. Pilates is beneficial for all ages and fitness levels. From injury rehabilitation to improved fitness for sport to a healthier all around body, a regular practice of Pilates has many long-lasting benefits.

Yogis: stronger core
Surfers: balance
Climbers: core strength
Tri-athletes: endurance building
Runners: stretching
Soccer players: control
Golfers: torque

What will I do in a Pilates session?

As a beginner you will be taken through exercises on the apparatus and/or the mat. The focus will primarily be on the “powerhouse” or the group of muscles that begin 2 inches above your navel, goes two inches below your navel and completely wraps around your front and back, like a corset. The goal is to keep you moving and help you understand the mind body connection. You only do a few reps of each exercise, which will keep you on your toes. As you become stronger you will be challenged with new exercises and new variations of old exercises.

Why is one-on-one training helpful?

Most people do not have complete awareness of their body alignment. In a private lesson, your instructor can focus her/his attention entirely on you, making sure to correct your alignment and keep you moving. By making small changes with your body, your Pilates session can become a completely different workout.

Individual attention is especially important when dealing with an injury. If you like to take group mat classes, you can have your instructor review exercises and discuss the modifications you might have to make, which allows you to become more responsible for your own body.

How often should I do Pilates?

Just like any type of exercise you do, the more you do it the faster you will see results. I always recommend two or three times a week. That way if you can’t make one of your lessons you are still coming every week. You can mix up your workouts with privates and classes.

Can I do Pilates while pregnant?

If you have been practicing Pilates for a few months before you become pregnant, Pilates is a great form of exercise to do. You will strengthen the important muscles used during pregnancy and labor, which include the deep abdominal, pelvic floor, and back muscles. Pilates will also help with back pain and loss of balance that comes with pregnancy and help increase endurance during birth. It is not recommended to start anything new once you become pregnant, as your body is changing from day to day.

What should I wear?

You should wear whatever is comfortable for you to work out in, as long as the clothes are not too oversized. You want your instructor to be able to see your alignment and engagement of your core. If you choose to wear shorts they should be longer or biker type shorts. Socks are optional, and you will not need shoes.

What’s the “classical” Pilates method?

The classical Pilates method closely follows the original teaching of Joseph and Clara Pilates. You don’t isolate or rehabilitate one particular part of the body – instead you focus on strengthening the core, which enables you to work the whole body with constant movement. There is an obvious progression in the classical approach, from lying, to sitting, to inverting, to standing. As you progress, you challenge your body in different ways.

Click here for information on the classical technique and what makes a Power Pilates-certified instructor unique.