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The History of Pilates

Posted Feb 10 2009 10:00am
There’s nothing “new” about the hottest exercise trend to sweep the world of men’s and women’s fitness.The Pilates Method has exploded in popularity in recent years. It has swept across Asia, North America and Europe. It’s a type of exercise that was developed in the early 20th century by a German national named Joseph Pilates, with simple methods and fantastic results.

Joseph Pilates developed this exercise form, naming it “The Art of Contrology”. It is a basic program that uses the mind to control the muscles. That simple idea eventually evolved into a far more complex exercise program, with focus on the core postural muscles. Fans of Pilates exercise believe that these core muscles support the spine and help balance the body.

As World War I raged on, Joseph Pilates was one of a group of German nationals placed under forced internment in Lancaster, England. As a trained nurse, Mr. Pilates was investigating ways to rehabilitate bed-ridden victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Taking all that he had learned in those twenty years of self-study, Joseph Pilates applied his vast knowledge of yoga, Zen and ancient Greek and Roman physical regimens to create a series of movements. These specialized movements could be practiced within the confines of the controlled war-torn environment. Pilates’ fellow camp members learned the movements and concepts, and the original system of exercises, now known as “mat work” was born. Even in the cramped quarters that they shared, Pilates and his fellow WWI detainees could easily perform this initial exercise regimen of “contrology”.

The Pilates Method is more than a combination of physical movements. It was created from the belief that physical health cannot be gained without mental health, and vice-versa. That’s why so many people believe that Pilates is actually a method of total body conditioning. The movements and physical practices strengthen the body while emphasizing proper alignment, concentration, precision, centering, control, breathing and flowing movements. Now, even decades later, these basic principles remain the major factors of the modern Pilates Method.

Of course, physical exercise was an important element of Mr. Pilates’ concept, but this aspect differed from traditional regimes. Rather than performing each exercise with a series of repetitions, Joseph Pilates developed a program of precise movements requiring form and control. Pilates designed over 500 of these very specific exercises to be included in his Pilates Method. The movements used most frequently are the Pilates ‘mat work’ exercises. These involve a series of callisthenic motions performed on a padded mat, without using apparatus or added weights.

Joseph Pilates followed up the development of his initial mat work exercises by designing five major pieces of unique exercise equipment. These, he claimed, would provide optimal results. The two components of the Pilates Method are often taught and practiced individually now, but the original Pilates Method combined both equipment exercises and mat work.

Most of the exercises involved in the Pilates Method were developed to create awareness of neutral alignment of the spine. These exercises also strengthen the deep postural muscles that support this alignment, playing a vital role in preventing or alleviating back pain.

Gravity Pilates is a relatively new development in the modern Pilates Method. People who practice gravity Pilates believe that the abdomen, lower back and buttocks make up the body’s “powerhouse”. When these areas are strengthened and supported, the rest of the body can move about more freely.

Many people seeking physical fitness and rehabilitation use modern Pilates. While it is a popular exercise program of choice for fitness buffs and Hollywood’s elite, the Pilates Method is also used by physical therapists as a rehabilitation exercise. Those practicing Pilates use their own bodies as “weights” to train their bodies and increase strength and flexibility.

While there is nothing “new” about the Pilates Method, the program continues to gain popularity as more and more people discover its many benefits. Contributor Selena Rymore writes for a variety of Internet sites, on fitness program and healthy aging subjects

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