You may not have even heard of Pilates, much less be able to pronounce it. (It’s pronounced puh-LA-tees.) I heard of it only a few months ago, when some fitness magazines starting publishing articles about this “new” craze. I know yoga has made a big comeback, but after researching Pilates, I think this is going to be ranking high as the popular new exercise.
Pilates is more like yoga than aerobics and has been a popular “secret” with dancers since the 1940’s. The exercises can be done on mats or machines (created in the 1920’s by founder Joseph Pilates). The classes are taught in studios, hospitals, universities, and health clubs.
The Pilates Method is a system of movement and therapeutic exercise designed by German-born Joseph H. Pilates. He used this fitness regime bearing his name to overcome his disabilities as a frail and sickly child. Obsessed about the perfect body, he was trying to find something to combine the physique of the ancient Greeks and the meditative strength of the East. The result was 500 exercises requiring intense concentration, and focused mainly on a strong abdomen, as well as deep stretching. These controlled movements engage the mind and body in developing strong, flexible muscles without building up bulk. Pilates, himself, was a boxer and dancer studying yoga and meditation.
Pilates uses the center of the body for strength and resistance to tone other muscles. No force is placed on joints or ligaments. Each movement is repeated a maximum of 10 times. It is not considered as an aerobic exercise, but as you are able to perform each move in sequence, you will notice an increase in heart rate.
Exercises are usually performed on a padded mat on the floor, though they can also be done using different handholds, supports, bands, tubing and bars, allowing the body to stretch even farther. Pilates exercises can also be performed on machines with names such as “Cadillac” and the “Barrel.” Repetitions are low, but concentration is intense. You squeeze your stomach and glute muscles, and stretch out your legs and arms. Pilates promises that you’ll feel better in 10 visits, look better in 20 visits, and have a new body in 30 visits.
Those with complications from knee, shoulder cuff and hip injuries, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, car accidents, spina bifida, whiplash and stroke, have had great results using the Pilates method. It is considered a great complement to physical therapy, massage therapy, and chiropractic because it serves as both rehabilitation and a wellness program.
A news item in “The Detroit News” (1996) states that Pilates has been used to rehabilitate spine problems. The method strengthens, lengthens, and balances spinal musculature, thereby aligning and decompressing injured vertebrae and helping to relieve nerve and disc pressure. This decompression facilitates and stimulates healthy circulation to the damaged spinal tissue. This pelvic and spinal stabilization work also helps prepare the body for rehabilitation of other weak or damaged areas more effectively.
The Harvard Women’s Health Watch Newsletter states, “Because Pilates exercise is taught one-on-one or in small groups, instructors can tailor it to people of any age or with previous injury, even joint surgery. In fact, they go on to say, “the exercises are well-suited for women.” After childbirth, there may be weakening of the pelvic floor from pregnancy, and incontinence that many women experience after childbirth. Pilates helps restore abdominal strength, which helps with these conditions. In fact, most fans and devotees of Pilates are women. They say the exercises make them feel better, stronger, more in control, and less prone to injury.