Developed by Joseph Pilates (1880 – 1967) the Pilates method is an interrelated system of exercises designed to challenge your strength, flexibility and coordination. Joseph Pilates firmly believed that fitness was not just about developing and maintaining perfect muscular performance, but a unity of mind, body and spirit.
As a child he suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever and so dedicated his life to becoming physically stronger. He earned a living as a boxer, circus performer and self-defence trainer.
He also spent time during the first World War training interns at a hospital in physical fitness. Pilates created a number of exercises designed to strengthen the core and postural muscles without needing any form of resistance weights. He then moved to New York where he taught his exercises to dancers in his own studio.
When you perform a Pilates exercise you are never just tightening up one area of the body, stretching another or mindlessly powering your way through a series of reps. Each movement requires your full concentration as you train yourself to control your alignment and target your body’s deeper muscles. As part of the process you have to learn to let go of the muscle tension that distorts your posture and your ability to perform the exercises correctly. To help achieve this, a flowing breathing pattern has to be mastered for each exercise.
The Eight Principles
With many exercise techniques and programmes you can switch off whilst executing the programme. With Pilates-based exercises every movement is controlled by thought. The ‘mind body’ side of this technique is that you block out other thoughts whilst focusing on the movement.
Breathing is a huge part of this technique and you may find this the hardest part to perfect. The main rule to remember is that you breathe out on the greatest effort.
With the huge movement in the fitness industry towards functional exercise programmes, the torso and back are areas that require major attention. We spend most of the day sitting at work so exercises that improve the way we sit are exercise we require daily. So to sit correctly we need to ‘balance’ or ‘centre’ the torso area. In Pilates your ‘centre’ is your ‘Power House’. Every exercise is controlled by contraction of the abdominal muscles.
Working against the gravity with Pilates-based exercises strengthens the body. The slower the movement the greater strength we gain.
To place the body in an exact position at the beginning is difficult, but practising the technique leads to control of the movement and therefore exact execution of the exercise.
Pilates-based exercises are a continuous movement – as in a wheel turning continuously with the same speed throughout the cycle and range of movement.
The Pilates-based exercises challenge each person differently as with different body types and different training programmes, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. The education side of the technique is that through the balancing effects of the technique we begin to learn of our body’s structure and therefore control.
As with any principle, repetition and frequency leads to the skill level rising. The technique is not meant to be a replacement for any other activity, but an addition, to strengthen your body for whatever activity you need it for.