Pilates was invented by Joseph Pilates almost 100 years ago. We don't know much about the man Pilates or how he came to invent the program. John Howard Steel did his best to find answers about Pilates's past in his book Caged Lion but even with his exhaustive efforts, very little is documented about the man.
Steel surmises that Joseph Pilates created Contrology (what he called it) while in an English prison camp for Germans during World War I. Pilates returned to Germany and opened a boxing gym which eventually failed. Becoming a sports trainer, he connected with a famous ballet dancer in Germany named Hanya Holm and used his exercise system to help her heal from injuries. Soon after, he left for America, most likely because the German economy was very bad at the time and Joe could not see a future for himself there.
PIlates arrived in the United States in 1926 with his third life partner, Clara (they never married). He opened his Contrology studio on 939 Eight Ave. in New York in 1927. Perhaps Holm, who likely visited the U.S. before immigrating in 1931, introduced Pilates to the dancing world where he found his clients. In his heyday, Pilates worked with some of the most famous dancers in the world like Holm, George Balanchine and Martha Graham. To this day, many prominent dance companies use the warm up routine developed by Pilates and Holm.
Pilates died in 1967 and his exercise routine almost died with him. Thanks to a dedicated group of teachers and students, they kept Contrology - changed to Pilates when Joe passed away - breathing as it faced exercise fads like Aerobics and even a trademark lawsuit that could have killed Pilates completely. Today, Pilates has many vareties: traditions, contemporary and combinations like Pilates and Barre or Pilates and boxing.
Traditional Pilates practice uses much of Joseph Pilates's original moves and his philosophy. Pilates for Real Bodies is a part of this tradition.
A Gratz brand reformer.
The list for Pilates benefits are long! Here are a few of them:
Strong Core – The Pilates philosophy is in part to train your body to work as one unit. The core holds both the upper and lower body together, so in order to work as one unit you must strengthen you core. Just about every exercise in Pilates, from the easiest to the hardest, works through the transverse abdominis, the innermost stomach muscle.. If you are looking for a core workout, Pilates is it!
Full Body Strength – Mat Pilates uses isometric exercise - keeping muscles tight and engaged - to strength muscles that might not be working at the moment. Your entire body is working while you focus on one area, so nothing is left out! You'll see improve toning, increased stamina, and an overall increase in fitness through your practice.
Coordination – Control, precision and concentration are three of the seven Pilates principles. A mind/body connection is imperative to execute the Pilates moves safely and effectively, training your brain to speak to your body, thus improving everyday coordination.
Strong Back – Pilates strengthens the thoracic spine (upper back) while strengthening the core, leading to an overall stronger back. People often notice decreased back pain with Pilates, especially if their issues are poor posture, tight muscles or a weak core. Having a strong upper back is the key to good posture! You'll stand taller, feel better and have more energy.
Accessibility - Most of the exercises in Pilates can be modified around injury, chronic issues and beginners' needs. Everyone can do something on the mat! Each exercise is short with few repetitions, so if you find you can't do something, you can hang out on your mat until the move is done.
Magic Circle, a basic Pilates tool that creates greater resistance, muscle strength & coordination.
Concentration Breathing Control
Center (Core) Fluidity/Flow Precision
People will come to my in-person classes and say they have done a Pilates workout before. However, when I announce we are going to do The 100, a foundational Pilates move, more often than not these same members don't know what The 100 is.
This story shows that there are many different kinds of Pilates programs being offered and the the word means different things to different instructors.
I teach "traditional" Pilates, meaning that I stick with a somewhat limited number of exercises to design my classes. The benefits to this are several fold:
Stay Close to the Origins – Joseph Pilates developed a philosophy for strengthening the body that works. I prefer to stay close to his design rather than branch out to more contemporary work. The foundations don't need to be watered down to emulate current trends in fitness.
Experience Improvement – When you practice similar exercises in each class, you can experience improvement with moves you might have been struggling with.
It's a Practice - Pilates is more than exercise - its a practice for your body and mind. Your ability to link the two is an ongoing challenge, an ever-growing power. When we take the time to slow down, listen to our body, breath deeply and focus, we give our bodies a gift. Traditional Pilates brings you that experience because that is the intent of the format.
You only really need a mat! (And maybe a ball and a Magic Circle.)