Pilates is a physical fitness system developed by the German Joseph Pilates in the early nineteen hundreds that has in recent times captured the attention of the world for its benefits in promoting wellness through strengthening the body’s “core” muscles. Over 12 million people regularly practice Pilates in the USA, and there are over 14,000 operating instructors.
Pilates initially name his new method Contrology as he believed it involved the use of the mind to control the muscles. ﾠUnique to Pilates is its focus on the core postural muscles essential for maintaining the body’s balance and to providing support for the spine. Pilates training teaches the student awareness of their breathing and alignment of their spine with the aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.
Pilates claimed his method had deep philosophical and theoretical foundations and was more than a mere set of exercises, its was based on many years of observation as to how such exercises could enhance overall health and wellbeing.
Modern Pilates practitioners see the central aim of Pilates is to create a non conscious fusion of mind and body resulting in the body moving with economy, grace, and balance.
Breathing during Pilates
Proper breathing is integral to the practice of Pilates, the philosophy being heightened breathing and blood circulation would help the body eliminate fatigue creating waste. Breathing should continue throughout with no breath holding. Exhalation should be complete, like “wringing a towel dry”.
Breathing in Pilates is known as posterior lateral breathing whereby the student breathes deep into the back and sides of their rib cage. On exhalation, they note the involvement of the deep abdominal and pelvic muscles.
The Powerhouse, or Core
In Pilates, the large muscles in the centre of the body are know as the powerhouse, those of the abdomen, hips, lower back and buttocks. Everything starts here and flows outward to the limbs. Pilates philosophy describes how even movements which involve in the main the extremities need to come from a strong stable powerhouse, known to modern instructors as the ‘core”
Precision of Purpose and Movement
There is no waste in Pilates, every movement in the method has purpose. Every stage is important to the overall result, these are not a set of exercises from which the student may do some Monday, Wednesday Friday, the rest on Tuesday’s and Thursdays. Each exercise must be precisely performed in order for the benefit of the exercise to transfer to the next. Half hearted attempts should be avoided. With practice, precision in executing the exercises will become second nature.
A qualified Pilates instructor will understand the technique well enough to modify it to the real-world physical constraints of their students. Many students turning to Pilates may come with physical disabilities, and their regimen will need to be modified to focus on what they can do, and what will best improve their physical condition.
Flow or efficiency of movement
Movement in Pilates is continuous between exercises through the use of appropriate transitions from form to form. Once precision has been achieved in the exercises they will flow into each other building strength and stamina.
The Pilates student can expect increases in flexibility, at the same time the see increases in their core strength.
Exercises and Apparatus
Originally 34 exercises done on a padded mat, Joseph Pilates later invented apparatus to enhance some of the exercises. The equipment is resistance based using springs to increase resistance. The springs provide the resistance progressively, with resistance increasing as the string is stretched unlike weights where the resistance is at maximum right from the start.
The most well known apparatus is the “Reformer”. Others include the Cadillac (or Trapeze Table), the Wunda Chair and the Ladder Barrel. Lesser known and used apparatus are the Spine Corrector (or Step Barrel), the Guillotine Tower(why ever would such a lovely named apparatus not be more popular), the Arm Chair, the Ped-a-Pul (Pedi-Pole), and the Foot Corrector.
Many props are also made use of, including weight balls(magic circle) as well as foam rollers, exercise balls and resistance bands. Some Pilates practitioners don’t recognize any equipment used as Pilates equipment other than the apparatus used by Jospeh Pilates, others agree that if his philosophies are maintained in the execution of his exercises, there is no reason to block the introduction of new apparatus into Pilates.
Whichever method is used, all build strength, assist in the development of proper alignment, posture and increased flexibility.