A Little History…
Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, a gymnast, boxer, diver and self-defense trainer, who was born in Germany in 1883 and had a lifelong interest in health & body conditioning. He was living in England at the outbreak of War War I, and his German citizenship led to his imprisonment along with other German nationals as enemy aliens. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, this was a fundamental time in the development of his method, which was originally called Contrology.
During his imprisonment Joseph taught his exercises to fellow compatriots and developed the first concepts for his innovative machines by disassembling the camp bunk beds and using the springs as a form of resistance to rehabilitate the injured and bed-ridden. This spring-based apparatus became the first machine Pilates developed. This system, combined with Mat work, formed the foundation of his method.
Doctors at the camp noticed that patients who practiced Pilates improved faster than those who did not. The 1918 influenza pandemic hit and decimated populations all over the world, however, it is told that the inmates that followed Joseph’s routine survived due to their good health.
After the war Joseph returned to Germany. He continued training police officers and also worked with dance and movement experts. When he was pressured to train the New German Army, Joseph chose to leave Germany. He immigrated to New York, and on the boat met Clara, a nurse. The two married and founded a studio. The first official Pilates studio was set up in New York City in 1926. At first practiced chiefly by dancers and elite athletes, today, it has also filtered into the sports and fitness world.
Here are some examples of the equipment and exercises:
a workout on the Cadillac:
Check out this archival footage of Joseph Pilates — the movements and workout are still just as relevant now as they were back then:
What Will Pilates Do for Me?
Pilates is a full-body exercise system that uses a series of machines and exercises. It works the entire body, both the right and left sides, in unison. It focuses primarily on what Joseph Pilates called the powerhouse, which is the area that spans from the bottom of your ribs all the way to your hip line, wrapping from front to back like a corset, and includes the abdominal muscles, lower back muscles, pelvic floor, muscles around the hips, and the glutes. Focusing on the powerhouse allows the rest of the body to move freely, while still working out the whole body in unison to build strength and flexibility. It results in long and strong muscles and an overall awareness. With detailed cues from an instructor, you become aware of the deep muscles that are not generally used. Pilates also corrects structural imbalances, thus making it beneficial to everyday movement.
Over a committed period of time, Pilates can change the shape of the body and improve posture. The workouts consists of a series of exercises using specialized equipment as well as mat work. Because of its low-impact nature, Pilates is also ideal for injury rehabilitation and prevention.
When executed correctly, Pilates can:
- Improve posture, giving the appearance of a taller, leaner body
- Increase core strength/stability
- Enhance balance, strength, and flexibility
- Heighten body awareness
- Complement other methods of exercises/sports performance
- Improve coordination and circulation
- Prevent injuries
- Develop longer & leaner muscles
- Flatten, tone and strengthen the abdominal area
Is Pilates for men?
Is Pilates for men? Well, Pilates was developed by a man, Joseph Pilates. Have a look at the A Little History section to see how Joseph Pilates developed his technique, with which he originally trained military men. Pro golfer Tiger Woods, basketball player Kobe Bryant, pitcher Curt Schilling and offensive lineman Ruben Brown, all do Pilates.
Pilates is designed to increase flexibility and strength while improving posture, balance and coordination, for men AND women. Once favored by elite actresses and dancers, it has now become the latest training rage for male professional athletes as well.
Check out this USA Today article, Male athletes get no pain, big gains from Pilates, in which Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl offensive guard Ruben Brown talks about how his body has responded to Pilates:
“I came out of the season injury-free,” Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl offensive guard Ruben Brown says. “I used to feel like crap after practice and games but not since Pilates…I learned how to breathe through my muscles. My posture is better. I can run more fluidly. And I increased my bench workouts.”
What is the difference between Pilates and yoga?
There is synergy between Pilates and yoga, and because there is a mind-body connection in both, they integrate well, but they are definitely different. One difference is that there is an entire line of equipment in Pilates that doesn’t exist in yoga, so it provides a different angle: you’re doing exercises with the assistance and resistance of springs and pulleys. The springs may assist you or challenge you, depending on the exercise.
Both Pilates and yoga build strength and flexibility and work the whole body, though you’ll find that Pilates focuses more on core stabilization: the powerhouse serves as the center of all movement, allowing the rest of the body to move freely while still building strength and flexibility unilaterally throughout the body. The six Pilates principals (centering, control, concentration, precision, breath and flow) train the body to move efficiently with minimal impact on the body. The balance between strength and flexibility creates a healthy, vigorous and symmetrical workout for all muscle groups resulting in a leaner, more balanced, and stronger body.
Oprah’s O Magazine has an interesting article comparing aspects of Pilates and yoga: Yoga vs. Pilates.