What is Pilates, exactly, and how can I benefit from incorporating Pilates into my exercise routine?

Updated: Jul 17

How did Pilates begin?


"Joseph Pilates was born near Düsseldorf, Germany in 1883. Little is known about his early life, but he appears to have been a frail child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. His drive and determination to overcome these ailments led him to become a competent gymnast, diver, and skier.


In 1912 Pilates lived in England working as a circus performer, boxer, and self-defense instructor. During the First World War, he was interned with other German nationals. During this time, he developed his technique of physical fitness further by teaching his fellow internees. During the latter part of the War, he served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man, where he worked with patients unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patients' limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the 'Cadillac.' Much of his equipment, although slightly adapted, is still in use today in many Pilates Studios.


Pilates emigrated to the USA in the early 1920s with his wife Clara, and together they developed and taught the method in their 'body-conditioning gym' in New York in 1926."


What is Pilates exactly?


Pilates is a core-based workout correlating the breath with the movements. The best way to think of Pilates is it works from the inside out. For example, in class, you focus on strengthening the intrinsic muscles near the bone for stabilizing your pelvis or shoulders depending n which exercises you are working on. The equipment includes the most popular one the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Pedi Pull, Ladder Barrel, Arc Barrel. Pilates can also be executed on a mat if you do not have access to the equipment.


What are the benefits of Pilates?

  • Improved flexibility

  • Increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks (the 'core muscles' of your body)

  • Balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body

  • Enhanced muscular control of your back and limbs

  • Improved stabilization of your spine

  • Improved posture

  • Rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances

  • Improved physical coordination and balance

  • Relaxation of your shoulders, neck and upper back

  • Safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries

  • Prevention of musculoskeletal injuries

  • Increased lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing

  • Improved concentration

  • Increased body awareness

  • Stress management and relaxation.

Why don't I feel worked out when I take Pilates?


In working with clients for more than 20 years, I always get the "I don't feel it" comment. Sometimes working with gym rats, so to speak, this is the common complaint I get. If you don't feel it, either you're not executing the exercise correctly, or your brain is not connected to your body. That latter is the more common mistake.


I find weight lifting to leave out the mind connection of exercise. You can make weight lifting or any exercise tough if you approach it with a Pilates mind.


Pilates engages the mind in every exercise. If your brain checks out, your body doesn't "feel it." Kicking someone's ass, so to speak, is easy. But subtly kicking someone's ass is not. You need to understand the body's biomechanics and every little muscle that works synergistically with the larger muscle groups. They should move as a free-flowing unit, and you can see it in the movement. If it is not happening, you can see in the person's spine, leg, hip, arm, or shoulder where the energy stops moving. If the energy is not moving freely through the joints or gets stuck somewhere in the body, injury can occur.


This concept can be esoteric, and if you're not schooled in entire body movement, you won't be able to see it.


The client or student needs to pay attention to their instructor, but most of all, be open-minded and ready to learn, and you will have a very pleasantly surprised how detailed and hard it can be. The main thing you can take from Pilates is it is beneficial and satisfying.
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