From Wikipedia: Pilates (English pronunciation: /pɪˈlɑːteɪz/; German: [piˈlaːtəs]) is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, and popular in many countries, including Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom. As of 2005, there were 11 million people practicing the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States alone. Pilates called his method “Contrology” (from “control” and Greek -λογία, -logia).
Benefits of Pilates
Pilates is a body conditioning routine that may help build flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance in the legs, abdominals, arms, hips, and back. It puts emphasis on spinal and pelvic alignment, breathing, and developing a strong core or center, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates’ system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginning to advanced. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions and adapts to the exercises.
Pilates improves muscle tone, balances musculature, supports correct posture, and teaches to move with ease and grace.
Pilates was designed by Joseph Pilates, a physical-culturist from Mönchengladbach, Germany. During the first half of the 20th century, he developed a system of exercises which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body. Pilates believed that mental and physical health are interrelated.
In his youth, he had practiced many of the physical training regimes available in Germany, and it was from these he developed his own work. It has clear connections with the physical culture of the late Nineteenth Century, such as the use of special apparatuses and claims that the exercises could cure ill health. It is also related to the tradition of “corrective exercise” or “medical gymnastics” as typified by Pehr Henrik Ling.
Pilates published two books related to his training method: Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education in 1934, and Return to Life Through Contrology in 1945. In common with early twentieth century physical culture, Pilates had an extremely high regard for the Greeks and the physical prowess demonstrated in their Gymnasium.
His first generation of students, many of them dancers, went on to open studios and teach the method are collectively known as The Elders. The most prominent include: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Jay Grimes, Ron Fletcher, Maja Wollman, Mary Bowen, Carola Treir, Bob Seed, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel, and Mary Pilates, Joseph’s niece. Contemporary Pilates includes both the “Modern” Pilates and the “Classical/Traditional” Pilates. Modern Pilates is partly derived from the teaching of some first generation students, while Classical preserves and promotes the original work as Joseph Pilates taught it.
The method was originally confined to a few who practiced it in a specialized studio. Nowadays, Pilates in whatever form can be found in community centers, gyms, and physiotherapy rooms, and offered by Pilates-inspired businesses who have mixed Pilates with other disciplines. A variety of “modern” schools of Pilates, heavily influenced by a physiotherapeutic approach, have adapted the Pilates system in different ways for reasons unapproved of by its creator and by the schools of Authentic Pilates.
Method and apparatus
The Pilates method seeks to develop controlled movement from a strong core and it does this using a range of apparatus to guide and train the body. Joe Pilates originally developed his method as mat exercises (his 1945 Return to Life teaches 34 of these), but, in common with many other physical culture systems from the first part of the twentieth century, he used several pieces of apparatus to help people “get the method in their bodies.” Each piece of apparatus has its own repertoire of exercises and most of the exercises done on the various pieces of Pilates apparatus are resistance training since they make use of springs to provide additional resistance. The most widely used piece of apparatus, and probably the most important, is the Reformer, but other apparatus used in a traditional Pilates studio include the Cadillac (also called the Trapeze Table), the high (or electric) chair, the Wunda Chair, the baby Chair, and the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector (Step Barrel) and small barrel. Lesser used apparati include the Magic Circle, Guillotine Tower, the Pedi-Pole, and the Foot Corrector.
Currently the Pilates method is divided into two camps—classical/authentic Pilates and modern Pilates. Classical/Authentic Pilates teaches consistency in respecting the principles of the method developed by Joseph Pilates. Teachers of Authentic Pilates seek to stay close to Joseph Pilates’s original work and support the use of equipment that is built to his specifications. Classically trained teachers will have studied an important part of the Pilates system of exercises and some of the teachers will continue training towards mastering the whole system over many years. They can generally trace their training back to Joseph Pilates through one of his students. In modern Pilates, which is the most widely marketed today particularly as an extension of the physiotherapy and fitness industries, many changes have been made to the original exercises, the equipment, and philosophy.
In many schools of modern Pilates other props are used, including small-weighted balls, foam rollers, large exercise balls, rotating disks, and resistance bands. Some of the traditional apparatus have been adapted for use in modern Pilates (e.g., splitting the pedal on the Wunda chair). Many modern schools, work primarily on the mat with these smaller props, hence people study without a full studio.
Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen, two students of Romana Kryzanowska, published the first modern book on Pilates, The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, in 1980 and in it they outlined six “principles of Pilates”. These have been widely adopted—and adapted—by the wider community. The original six principles were concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.
“Contrology” was Joseph Pilates’ preferred name for his method and it is based on the idea of muscle control. “Nothing about the Pilates Method is haphazard. The reason you need to concentrate so thoroughly is so you can be in control of every aspect of every moment.” All exercises are done with control with the muscles working to lift against gravity and the resistance of the springs and thereby control the movement of the body and the apparatus. “The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy.”
In order for the practitioner to attain control of their body they must have a starting place: the center. The center is the focal point of the Pilates Method. Many Pilates teachers refer to the group of muscles in the center of the body—encompassing the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and inner thighs—as the “powerhouse”. All movement in Pilates should begin from the powerhouse and flow outward to the limbs.
Flow or efficiency of movement
Pilates aims for elegant sufficiency of movement, creating flow through the use of appropriate transitions. Once precision has been achieved, the exercises are intended to flow within and into each other in order to build strength and stamina. In other words, the Pilates technique asserts that physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate movements of the extremities: Pilates is flowing movement outward from a strong core.
Precision is essential to correct Pilates: “concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value”. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Pilates is here reflecting common physical culture wisdom: “You will gain more strength from a few energetic, concentrated efforts than from a thousand listless, sluggish movements.” The goal is for this precision to eventually become second nature, and carry over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
Breathing is important in the Pilates method. In Return to Life, Pilates devotes a section of his introduction specifically to breathing “bodily house-cleaning with blood circulation“. He saw considerable value in increasing the intake of oxygen and the circulation of this oxygenated blood to every part of the body. This he saw as cleansing and invigorating. Proper full inhalation and complete exhalation were key to this. “Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation.” He advised people to squeeze out the lungs as they would wring a wet towel dry. In Pilates exercises, the practitioner breathes out with the effort and in on the return.] In order to keep the lower abdominals close to the spine; the breathing needs to be directed laterally, into the lower rib cage. Pilates breathing is described as a posterior lateral breathing, meaning that the practitioner is instructed to breathe deep into the back and sides of his or her rib cage. When practitioners exhale, they are instructed to note the engagement of their deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles and maintain this engagement as they inhale. Pilates attempts to properly coordinate this breathing practice with movement, including breathing instructions with every exercise. “Above all, learn to breathe correctly.”
Humans breathe on average around 18,000 breaths per day. Posterior lateral breathing is a way of breathing that facilitates bibasal expansion of the rib cage, this encourages the breath to travel down into the lower lungs and cleanse the blood by the exchange of oxygen with carbon dioxide. To understand this concept properly the practitioner has to first learn to expand and release the rib cage without deliberately breathing in or out. The in-breath (inhalation) and out-breath (exhalation) should occur instinctively as a result of the conscious expansion and release of the rib cage. This is how it is done: The practitioner places their hands on their lower ribs with their thumbs facing the back of their rib cage, trying not to think of breathing, relaxing their upper abdominals, and expanding their rib cage to the side against the soft resistance of their hands. Release the expansion of the rib cage by first melting away the area of the clavicles. This can also be tried with a scarf around the lower rib cage. The practitioner will not be able to expand and release the rib cage effectively if they try to contract their abdominal muscles to expand the rib cage and if they try to contract the rib cage instead of first releasing it.
Pilates emphasizes the concepts of core strength and stabilization. Students are taught these concepts, as well as to use their “powerhouse” throughout life’s daily activities. According to Joseph Pilates, the powerhouse is the center of the body or core and if strengthened, it offers a solid foundation for any movement. This power engine is a muscular network which provides the basic control and stability in the lumbopelvic region, which furthermore consists of the pelvic floor muscles, the transversus, the multifidus, the diaphragm, the muscles of the inner thigh, and the muscles encircling the sitting bone area.
The Powerhouse is activated effectively by hollowing of the deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles (“deep muscle corset”), by drawing the navel back into the spine in a zipping-up motion, from the pubic bone to the breast bone thereby engaging the heels, the back of the inner thighs, the deep, lower-back muscles, and the muscles surrounding the sitting bones and tailbone area without inhibiting the natural function of the diaphragm—that is without the practitioner holding their breath either from lifting the chest upwards or contracting the chest.
Apart from providing core control and stability to the lumbopelvic region, in the sitting position the power engine elevates the torso and places the center of gravity at its highest and most efficient position; in prone position it elongates the body bidirectionally to reduce weight in the upper body; in supine position it elongates the body bidirectionally and places the center of gravity again at its highest and most efficient position.
Pilates during pregnancy has been claimed to be a highly valuable and beneficial form of exercise, but the use of Pilates in pregnancy should only be undertaken under guidance of a fully trained expert.