Understanding Pilates, Its history and how it could help

April 04, 2023 5 min read

Understanding Pilates, Its history and how it could help

The History of Pilates

Pilates aims to strengthen the body with a particular emphasis on core strength in order to improve general fitness. Pilates is a physical system and was developed by German-born Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, who believed that physical and mental health were closely connected. His method was influenced by Western forms of exercise, which included boxing, gymnastics and Greco-Roman wrestling.

It was formed by Joseph during the First World War with the intention to improve the rehabilitation programme for casualties. In the 1920s, Joseph Pilates immigrated to the US and opened a studio in New York, teaching his method, which he called Contrology, for several decades. Pilates was formed by Joe during the First World War with the intention to improve the rehabilitation programme for casualties.

During this period, Pilates was designed to help injured soldiers to regain their health by strengthening, stretching and stabilising key muscles. Joseph Pilates preferred fewer and more precise movements which required control and technique over increased repetition. The exercises use correct alignment, concentration, control, breathing and flowing movement, which are known as the principles of Pilates, establishing a perfect working body from the inside out.

Developing from this, modern Pilates classes build strength, flexibility and lean muscle tone with the focus of lengthening the body and aligning the spine, rather than on shortening and bulking the muscles. As well as this, the Pilates method aids to train the core, which is an area between your shoulders and your pelvis, including all the muscles within this area; the essential intrinsic core muscles are your Transverse Abdominus, Pelvic Floor and Multifidus muscles. Pilates exercises are either done on a mat or using special equipment, examples include the Pilates Reformer,  (its worth reading our " introduction  to the use of a pilates reformer" if your unsure ) also the Cadillac and Wunda Chair. The system of pulleys and springs, handles and straps, the apparatus provides both resistance and support, depending on the individual’s needs. 

What's the difference between apparatus and mat work?

Joseph Pilates originally devised more than 500 exercises for his system, 34 of which were mat exercises. Mat work may involve traditional Pilates equipment such as magic circles or hand weights, as well as non-Pilates gear such as stretch bands, gym balls and foam rollers. Pilates with apparatus uses equipment designed by Joseph Pilates, such as the Spine Corrector and Ladder Barrel. Mat and apparatus Pilates can be adapted to suit different levels of fitness and ability; the apparatus can provide alternate ways to exercise for those who are unable to lie down on a mat. 

Who is Pilates for?

Pilates has something to offer people of all ages with differing levels of ability and fitness, from beginners to elite athletes, and can be taught on a one-to-one or group basis. The apparatus can be used to provide support for beginners along with those who have certain medical conditions, as well as resistance for people looking to challenge their body.

What are the health benefits of Pilates? 

Practitioners of Pilates say that regular practise of the exercise can help to improve posture, balance, muscle tone, and joint mobility, as well as providing a relief to stress and tension. During Pilates movements, muscles are strengthened and lengthened at the same time to produce long, lean and strong overall muscle tone that doesn’t create bulk. These results create a comparison to any other type of exercise, and due to this is recommended to those who feel as though they have tried everything to achieve the body they want without success. For elite athletes, including dancers, Pilates can complement their training by developing whole body strength and flexibility, and therefore help reduce the risk of injury. 

Even in just a short space of time, an overall slimming, greatly improved flexibility and increased mobility can be expected. Alignment and postural correction will leave you standing taller, sitting straighter and moving with better balance and coordination. The mental and physical connection achieved during the exercise allows you to feel an inner strength and heightened body awareness as you become aware of the subtleties of your individual needs. Ultimately, this will empower you to be able to train yourself with the best possible efficiency, and thereby using your time most effectively. Although Pilates isn’t the type of workout which will leave you feeling tired, you will leave with a clear and focused mind set as well as increased energy levels with your body feeling strong and in control, as you have experienced a challenging workout where time flies due to the stress relief. 

Pilates gives you positive systemic effects on all of your body systems because it stimulates and eliminates toxins and waste. You will find improvement to your digestion system including an increased metabolic rate as well as a continuous booster to your immune system. The exercise also offers many more specific benefits for various populations including improvement to bone density improvement, pelvic floor function and lung capacity/breathing technique advancement amongst many others.

Can Pilates help reduce back pain?

There's some evidence that Pilates can provide pain relief to people with non-specific lower back pain. For the exercises to be effective, they need to be tailored to the individual and assessed by an appropriately qualified health professional; Pilates teachers are not medically qualified and due to this they are unable to prescribe, treat or offer therapy. Because of its core focus, Pilates is popular in rehabilitation and can be used to progress individuals through movements which reflect their day-to-day activities. The focus on strengthening the core and improving postural awareness are especially well indicated for the alleviation and prevention of back, neck and joint pain.

Can Pilates help me lose weight?

Pilates is classed as a muscle-strengthening activity, which can help to maintain a healthy weight. Its classes can vary in intensity and can be gentle, or dynamic and provide a solid workout. If you want to lose weight, it is advised that pilates is combined with a healthy diet and some aerobic activities, such as walking, swimming, and cycling. 

Can I injure myself doing Pilates?

Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise, and due to this injuries are uncommon. It is important to find a qualified teacher and a class which is suited to your level of fitness and ability. As Pilates teachers aren't medically qualified, if you're recovering from injury, it is advisable to check with your GP or relevant health professional to ensure that certain exercises or movements are suitable for you before beginning a class.

What's the difference between Pilates and yoga?

Whilst the methods of Pilates and Yoga are different, both exercises develop strength, flexibility, balance, posture and a good breathing technique. These systems are relatively similar due to their emphasis the connection between physical and mental health, although yoga places more emphasis on relaxation and uses meditation. On the other hand, Pilates is performed both on apparatus and mats, whereas yoga doesn't require any equipment. Furthermore, Pilates exercises are performed in a flow of movement without the static poses that are associated with Yoga. 

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