Pilates: How It Started & Why You Need It

Pilates is an exercise that was developed in the 20th century. Originally called Contrology, Pilates focuses on increasing bodily strength, flexibility, and mental awareness.  The exercise is often praised for injury prevention and healing.

The name comes from its inventor, Joseph Pilates.

Joseph, born in Germany but an immigrant to Britain and then the US, was ill as a child. He searched for a method to build strength, and ended up body-building through his childhood and teenage years. He studied exercise methods from both the East and West, and practiced gymnastics, Tai Chi and yoga. While practicing each exercise, Joseph observed the effects on his body, and tied the effects to his study of anatomy and motion.

During World War I, the British interned Joseph as a German enemy alien, where he worked as a nurse. 

Through his experience, he experimented with his patients, by attaching springs and building contraptions, to help them tone their muscles on their hospital beds, while they recovered. It was this time in his life that provided him with the inspiration to create what we now know as the Reformer, a machine designed for isolated muscle toning.

Pilates reformer
Photo Credit: Mateus Lunardi Dutra, Flickr

With the creation of the exercise and the main piece of equipment, Joseph brought his exercise regimen to the United States. He opened the first studio in New York City and it flourished from there. Mari Winsor, a well known fitness expert, is often credited for popularizing Pilates through her Winsor Pilates fitness and exercise DVD’s. Mari actually trained with Romana Kryzanowska, who was a student of Joseph’s. Romana took over his New York studio after he passed away.

When you hear things like physical strength and mental awareness, Yoga probably comes to mind.

While Yoga and Pilates do share some aspects, the two are incredibly different. Pilates has a much stronger emphasis on the physical part of the mind-body balance, while yoga is more mentally and spiritually focused. Pilates aims to improve balance and coordination, strengthen the core, increase muscle and muscle control, and tone the body. The stress relief and mental wellness that comes along with the practice is more of an added bonus than the reason for its creation.

There are 6 specific principles in Pilates:

  1. Centering (strengthening “The Powerhouse”—abdominal muscles, pelvis, buttocks and lower back)
  2. Concentration (bringing full attention to each exercise)
  3. Control (utilizing total muscle control)
  4. Precision (every movement has a purpose)
  5. Breath (exercises are coordinated with the breath)
  6. Flow (movements are smooth and graceful)
pilates tower
Photo Credit: Strong Tower Pilates, located in Acworth, Georgia

You can condition your body with Pilates in many ways.

As far as equipment goes, it can be done with just a mat or with what Joseph used to refer to as the ‘apparatus’ which we now know as The Reformer. You can do Pilates in a class, with a personal trainer in person or online, or in your living room with routines from YouTube or Mari Winsor herself! The exercises in a Pilates regimen focus on isolating and strengthening muscle groups. Abdominal strengthening is by far one of the biggest focuses in Pilates.


mari winsor pilates

Pilates has many proven health benefits for people of all ages.

For both joint and spinal injuries, it is preventative or rehabilitative. It is even used in physical therapy, to help patients recover strength in injured muscles. Anyone can benefit from doing it. The regimen’s benefits include:

  • an increase in flexibility
  • more muscle strength
  • muscle tone
  • muscular control
  • improved spine stabilization
  • improved physical coordination and balance

The exercise can also help to improve posture, relax the shoulders, neck and back, improve circulation and increase lung capacity, improve concentration, increase body awareness, and help with stress management!

Clearly, Pilates is awesome. When are you going to book your first training session?

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