What is Pilates?


Joseph Pilates

© PilatesTechnique

Pilates is a form of exercise best known for strengthening the core muscles, the inner most muscles we use to maintain our posture. The method encourages the use of the mind to focus on these muscles, as well as breath and alignment.

Pilates resistance exercises are used to enhance strength, alignment, flexibility, stability and balance. Easily modified, they can be useful for a wide range of people with differing fitness levels, including dancers, athletes, seniors, people in various stages of rehabilitation and new mothers.

Pilates is taught in mat classes, on machines, in groups and individually. The exercises were originally designed to be taught individually using the machines, allowing the instructor to modify them to assist and challenge the student. Pilates group mat classes are now taught to Pilates students with a variety of experience, ideally with the instructor making appropriate modifications.

Joseph H. Pilates (1883-1967) was born in Germany to a naturopath and a prize-winning gymnast. He was a sickly child and devoted his life to improving his strength. By age 14 he was posing for anatomical charts, and by 1912 he was earning his living in England as a professional boxer, circus performer and self-defense trainer. During World War I he was sent to an internment camp for German citizens. It was there that he began to devise his method of exercise or “Contrology” using springs and beds to create his “machines” and using these techniques to strengthen the other internees in the camp.

By the mid 1920’s Pilates came to New York where he and his wife Clara had a studio. His devotees included Martha Graham and George Balanchine.


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