Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that is either done as a group fitness class on the floor or done on specialized machines. Pilates focuses on range of motion while maintaining a neutral spine, abdominal and back strengthening, overall flexibility and fluidity of movement, and incorporates breathing patterns throughout the workout. There are over 500 exercises, all with modifications available for people at any fitness level. With modifications, pregnant woman are able to continue with Pilates throughout pregnancy. It is ideal for persons with disabilities and spinal injuries as exercises are done in a neutral spine with emphasis on core strengthening. Exercises focus on stabilizing smaller muscles usually forgotten about in conventional weight training.
Pilates is named after its developer and founder, Joseph Pilates. Joseph was born in Germany in 1880 and was a sick child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He developed a strong interest in physical fitness at an early age and over the years was involved in gymnastics, kickboxing, and circus performing. He became a nurse during WWI and worked at a war camp with wounded soldiers focusing on rehabilitation training to help them recover. The conventional treatment at the time was bed rest, however Joseph felt exercise would be beneficial. According to legend Joseph was told, "you can do anything you like with the patients, as long as they stay in bed." He rigged the bed springs to the bed posts to allow for resistance exercises in bed. His Pilates equipment emerged from this and was thus based on a hospital bed with pulleys and springs to control body weight resistance. His work developed into the exercises and equipment now known as Pilates. He immigrated to the United States in 1926 and opened a successful studio in New York City next to New York City Ballet where he taught until he died at eighty seven. For decades, this form of exercise was mainly used by ballerinas; but now is widely used in private studios and gyms across America for people of all fitness levels. It can be especially helpful for the deconditioned patient, as well as post-surgical and rehab patients - remember it was designed for patients in a hospital bed!
Pilates is a dynamic and total body exercise program that focuses concentration, control, centering, fluidity, precision, and breathing. While performing any of the more than 500 exercises, these principles are applied whether you are on the mat or on one of the specialized pieces of equipment used in Pilates.
Purposeful breathing patterns help to recruit the diaphragm which is one of the core muscles that support the spine. This deep breathing directs air into the lower lobes of the lungs where oxygen exchange is more efficient. By breathing properly, movements are done with power and efficiency.
Pilates includes a mind - body focus, precise awareness to your body and muscle control, coordination, and endurance. Focus is required to perform each exercise correctly. Exercises focus on flexibility of the spine in multiple planes of motion while stabilizing the core. Pilates elongates and strengthens muscles to create long, lean muscles that are flexible. Short bulky muscles from traditional weights are more at risk for injury. Pilates improves muscle elasticity and joint mobility. It creates an evenly conditioned body so that the entire muscular system is balanced. There is constant focus on activation of the low back and pelvic stabilizers during each exercise. This strengthens and lengthens the core muscles that support the spine to protect it from injury. It helps restores poor postural habits and re-trains the brain to recruit small stabilizing muscles. In addition to working on the spine, both arms and legs are worked out for strength and stamina.