The Pilates Method (sometimes simply Pilates) is a physical fitness system that was developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. Pilates called the method The Art of Contrology, which refers to the way the method encourages the use of the mind to control the muscles. It is an exercise program that focuses on the core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of neutral alignment of the spine and strengthening the deep postural muscles that support this alignment, which are important to help alleviate and prevent back pain.
During World War I, Pilates, a German national, was interned in England, where he trained police officers beginning in 1912. A trained nurse in his native Germany, he was investigating ways that he could rehabilitate bed-ridden victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Thus he created a series of movements that could be practiced within the confines of this controlled environment. The Pilates Reformer (a piece of Pilates equipment) is based on an old hospital bed.
Instead of performing many repetitions of each exercise, Pilates preferred fewer, more precise movements, requiring control and form. He designed more than 500 specific exercises. The most frequent form, called “matwork,” involves a series of calisthenic motions performed without weight or apparatus on a padded mat. He believed that mental health and physical health were essential to one another. Pilates created what is claimed to be a method of total body conditioning that emphasizes proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement (The Pilates Principles) that results in increased flexibility, strength, muscle tone, body awareness, energy, and improved mental concentration. Pilates also designed five major pieces of unique exercise equipment that he claimed should be used for best results. Although the two components are often taught separately now, the method was always meant to combine both matwork and equipment exercises. A recent development is gravity Pilates. In all forms, the “powerhouse” (abdomen, lower back, and buttocks) is supported and strengthened, enabling the rest of the body to move freely.
Pilates practitioners use their own bodies as “weights” in training, to build strength, and flexibility. This is targeted without a focus on high-powered cardiovascular exercise. Today, Pilates is used in the rehabilitation process by many physical therapists. Pilates is an old approach to movement re-education that is becoming popular in the field of fitness and rehabilitation. The Pilates environment can be used as an assistive environment that optimizes the acquisition of movement with a reduction of destructive forces and can be used to progress individuals through more challenging movements that represent their day-to-day activities. Research and theories in motor learning, biomechanics, and musculoskeletal physiology help support the phenomena experienced by many Pilates-based practitioners; however, the Pilates-based approach needs to be subjected to the rigors of research to better evaluate its efficacy in the field of rehabilitation.
In recent years, many Pilates students have seen important parallels with the Alexander Technique, and the discoveries of F. Matthias Alexander. Pilates has been used to train dancers in flexibility and physical strength. The first official Pilates Studio was opened in New York in 1926. In recent years it has become a popular fitness modality, with many stars attributing their successful weight loss and increased muscle tone to Pilates.
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Pilates Foundation – a UK based not-for-profit professional Pilates organisation.