History of Pilates

History of Pilates

History of Pilates

What is Classical Pilates?


Classical Pilates is an exercise method developed by Joseph Pilates nearly a century ago.

A brief history of Joe

From Germany, Joe grew up as a sickly child, but through hard work and determination, he became skilled in boxing, diving, skiing, and gymnastics. In 1912, he moved to England to pursue a career in boxing and found employment there as a circus performer. By 1914 he had become a performer as a Roman Gladiator and went on tour with his brother, Frederick Pilates.

In 1914, after WWI broke out, he was interned along with other German nationals in a “camp” for enemy aliens in Lancaster. There he taught wrestling and self-defense, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before the war. It was here that he began refining and teaching his series of mat exercises that he later called “Contrology.”

He was subsequently transferred to another camp on The Isle of Man where his interests in health led him to help out in the sickbay. Acting as a nursing aid he worked with many people suffering from illness and incarceration and began to help them in the infirmary with exercise. As most patients were confined to bed rest, Joe devised a system by rigging bed springs to the bedposts, and the prototype for “Trap Table”, later known as “The Cadillac”, was born.

When the 1918 flu epidemic swept the world and killed millions, Joe was boastful that none of his patients succumbed.  Following the war, Joseph moved to New York City where he and his wife Clara opened up a studio.  They began by training men only, but soon were persuaded to also work with women, specifically members of the New York City Ballet.  Over the decades, until his death in 1967, his method survived and it has improved over time, but still maintains the original ideals and principals created by Joseph.

Pilates Today
Recently, there has been an increase in the popularity of Pilates due to media exposure from celebrities, performers, and professional athletes.   The term “Pilates” has spread to the mainstream as it is proven to reshape and tone the body without causing stress and imbalance.  The movement is rhythmic, fluid, and focused on building greater strength, flexibility, and endurance.  It is layered and structured as a system that requires progressive learning and mastery. What makes Classical Pilates different from Contemporary Methods? Currently, there are various interpretations of Joseph Pilates’ work and some contemporary formats of the method lose sight of the original format and technique. Joseph and his wife Clara originally taught his program informally to his “apprentices” that involved years of observing and practicing what Joe did. As Pilates as an exercise method increases in popularity, some training programs deviate from the original method and can be considered  “Pilates-based exercise”. Staying true to the original principles created by Joe is referred to as teaching Classical or Pure Pilates.  This is what we teach at The Pilates Body.
Defining Characteristics of Classical Pilates

  • Teaches Pilates in its original form, with minor changes that reflect the advancement of scientific understanding of the human body. Systematic, sequential order of exercises that focus on flow, which develops endurance and stamina.
  • Exercises are taught with a unique and dynamic rhythm and progression occurs as mastery of the exercises can be done with control and precision.
  • Pilates is ideally taught in private lessons, or in classes with very small groups. The instructors teach by verbal cues and instruction only, never by doing the class with the students.
  • Teachers must complete a rigorous training program consisting of at least 600 hours of classwork, observation, and personal practice to become Comprehensively Certified. Continuing education is required to maintain certification.
The 6 Principles of Pilates
Centering – Physically bringing your focus to the center of your body, or powerhouse, which is the area between the neck and hips. Movement in Pilates initiates from your center.

Concentration – Bringing your attention to each exercise and doing it with full commitment so that maximum value can be obtained from each movement.

Control – Doing every Pilates exercise with complete muscular control while keeping your entire body engaged from head to toe.

Precision– Maintaining awareness that there is placement and alignment for each body part through the trajectory of every movement.

Breath – Always using full breath to pump air in and out of your body.  Coordinating your breathing is an integral part of most Pilates exercises.

Flow – Continuous movement through each exercise with fluidity and grace without wasted or unintentional placement of your body.  Transitioning smoothly from one exercise to the next will build stamina and endurance.

Pilates Terminology

Pilates Terminology

Pilates Terminology
Neutral Pelvis- Maintain the lower spine’s natural curvature by keeping your two front hip bones level with your pubic bone. Don’t flatten out or over-arch the curve in the lower back by tilting the pelvis.

Abdominal Scoop- Hollowing out your abdominals using your exhale and your deep abdominal muscles. It is a feeling of pulling your abs “in” and then “up” under your ribcage.   This does not mean flattening your low back or “tucking your pelvis”.

Powerhouse- A term coined by Joseph Pilates himself. The abdominals, back, hip and shoulder girdle muscles all working together. These are the main stabilizing muscles and are very important for preventing injury to the spine. As Joe said, “the engine that drives the movement”.

Pilates Breathing- “Breathing is the first act of life, and the last… above all, learn how to breathe correctly.” Joseph Pilates. In Pilates, we use diaphragmatic breathing as the ribcage expands laterally (side to side) and towards   the back of the ribcage.  Breathing patterns are the focus of many exercises, but of course, it is utilized in all.

Sitz Bones- The sitz bones are the two bones that you “sit on” and are located at the bottom of your pelvis. If you sit on a hard chair you’ll likely feel them poking down. Aiming your sitz bones towards your heels when lying down encourages a neutral spine.

Lengthen Your Legs- Stretch the muscles of your legs without tensing or overly pointing your feet. Keep your hips even. Imagine someone gently pulling your legs by the ankles.

Pilates Stance vs. Parallel Stance- Pilates stance is the formation of a small “V” with your feet by placing your heels together and your toes a “fist distance” apart.  Contrastly, a parallel stance is keeping your feet in parallel alignment with equal weight distribution on all four sides of each foot.

Chin to Chest- As you lengthen the back of your neck, slightly tilt the chin down. The chin shouldn’t actually touch your chest; keep the width of an apple or tennis ball between the two.

Relax Your Shoulders/Slide Your Shoulders Down Your Back- One of the most commonly heard cues! Overusing the upper body muscles and shoulder tension is common in many people. Pilates teaches correct shoulder stabilization and alignment preventing many shoulder injuries.  Avoid letting your shoulders lift to your ears, draw them down and back.

Articulate the Spine- Roll forward or backward through the spine one vertebra at a time. Feel as though you are imprinting each bone into the mat as you roll up or down.

“Engage”  your Abdominals- Use the deep abdominal muscles to stabilize your body before you move, and to initiate the movement.  The “scoop” explained above is utilized here.

Zip your Thighs Together- Squeeze the inner thighs and sitz bones toward each other, actively pressing your legs together.

Tabletop Legs- Lie on your back and raise your legs to a 90-degree angle from your body. Then bend your knees so your calves are at a 90-degree angle to your thighs.

Make a C-curve- Creating a C-shape with your back by looking into your abs and tilting your pelvis anteriorly. All the while not letting your ribs collapse.  (see below)

Lengthen on each side of your waist- Even though your spine is in a curve, do not let your ribs collapse onto your waist. Keep length and space from your bottom ribs to the top of your hips. To avoid collapsing into your ribs, pretend you’re curving over a porcupine.

Work in Opposition- When you sit on the floor, try to lengthen your spine upward. At the same time, push your legs into the floor, and reach through your heels. Or as you reach up, draw your shoulder blades down your back. The effort of lengthening in both directions builds stabilization and makes each movement a whole-body exercise.

Equipment vs. Mat – What’s the Difference?

Equipment vs. Mat – What’s the Difference?

Starting out on the Equipment vs. Mat – What’s the Difference?
Mat classes are often the first experience most people have with Pilates.  Recreation centers, health clubs, and community gyms may offer mat classes to its members.   Mat exercises can be difficult for beginners to do, however, because they do not have the core strength to perform the exercises correctly. This combined with an instructor that may have minimal training and a room full of students, can lead to injuries at worst, or ineffectiveness at best. Consequently, some people come away with the notion that Pilates causes neck pain, or aggravates back issues.   This is a valid concern in the Pilates industry.  A qualified instructor needs to watch and teach by cueing and observing, not by performing and demonstrating to the class in the front of the room.   The watchful eye of a certified, educated, and experienced teacher that can spot poor technique is the best insurance against injurious Pilates training.

The truth of the Classical Pilates Method is based on a full, integrated system of equipment—and mat exercises are just part of the technique (only 25 percent of the Pilates exercise system/repertoire can be performed on a mat).  By adding equipment, or starting out on the equipment, you are able to experience a more authentic, quality experience. The equipment can aid in changing your body faster and more safely because the springs provide support and resistance that help you to engage your core connection in a way that is difficult to do on the Mat alone, especially for beginners. The equipment allows you to shape, tone, lengthen and align quite different than working on the mat alone. But it is important to do both, and there’s nothing quite like a challenging mat class; and the more experience you have in Pilates, the harder the mat classes can be.

Benefits of Pilates

Benefits of Pilates

Better Posture

Strengthening postural muscles is a key component in Pilates exercises.  Most of us know good posture when we see it, and we are inspired by how free and strong it makes a person look, but there are so many reasons to work on your posture that go beyond appearance.  Here are just a few benefits of good posture; pain relief throughout the body, including back and neck pain, hip pain, leg and foot pain; more efficient movement by improved muscle function and range of motion; less stress on joints, tendons and connective tissue; and improved circulation and breathing.

Pilates for Athletes

Sports performance is greatly improved because Pilates builds balanced muscle development, core strength, and flexibility through efficient and purposeful movement. Many conventional workouts practiced by athletes build strength and mass in specific muscle groups but ignore others. This leads to weak muscles getting weaker and strong muscles getting stronger but overworked. The result is muscular imbalance – a primary cause of injury and deteriorating athletic performance. In Pilates, no one muscle group is overly trained.

You will learn how to move efficiently–Pilates exercises train several muscle groups at once in smooth, continuous movements. By developing proper technique, you can actually re-train your body to move in safer, more efficient patterns of motion – invaluable for injury recovery, sports performance, good posture, and optimal health.

Combat the Effects of Aging

Pilates is a non-impact exercise program that builds a strong, flexible, and fit body to support you into old age.  Many of the exercises are performed in reclining or sitting positions, yet are weight-bearing to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. Pilates is so safe, it is used in physical therapy facilities to rehabilitate injuries. It is also an extremely flexible exercise system. Modifications to the exercises allow for a range of difficulty from beginners, those post-rehab, all the way to advanced practitioners. At each of these levels, the workout is modified to suit you now, and intensity increases as your body conditioning improves.  To restate from above, the essence of Pilates remains the same, but it should always be taught to the specific needs of the individual.

Benefits Both Men and Women

Pilates and men?  Pilates was started by a man, Joseph Pilates; it’s been a training vehicle for elite athletes, both men and women, for over 50 years; and men have figured prominently as instructors and promoters of the Pilates method throughout its history.

Though men have always been part of the Pilates scene, the surge of popularity that Pilates has enjoyed in recent years has been powered to a large extent by a wave of women participants and instructors, leaving some with the impression that the Pilates method is more for women.  Fortunately, this idea is quickly dissolving. Pilates is one of the fastest-growing fitness trends in the world, and men are definitely taking advantage of Pilates many benefits.

There is nothing specifically different about Pilates training for men, especially in the beginning. The Pilates method is the same for all. Developed on a man’s body, and taught with input from both men and women, Pilates is founded on healthy movement principles for the human body in general. Men might find that their muscles are a little tighter than women’s, especially in the hips and hamstrings, but exercises can be easily modified to allow those areas to stretch out gradually. Modification of exercises is commonplace in Pilates, allowing it to meet a variety of needs in practitioners.

What is Pilates?

What is Pilates?

What is Pilates?

Pilates focuses on the abdominal region (commonly known as the powerhouse or core) as the basis of movement. Activating the core muscles begins in a precise and controlled method, sometimes called the “SCOOP” and works the deep abdominal muscles, hip/buttock muscles, shoulder girdle, pelvic girdle, and the muscles surrounding the spine.

By emphasizing proper breathing, correct spinal and pelvic alignment, and concentration on smooth, flowing movement, you become acutely in tune with your body. You actually learn how to control its movement through the stability of your core muscles. In Pilates, the quality of movement is valued over quantity of repetitions. Some exercises are so precise and controlled doing only a few are all that is needed.  Modification to the exercises is key here.  The essence of Pilates remains the same, but it can be taught to the specific needs of an individual.

“You will feel better in ten sessions, look better in twenty sessions, and have a completely new body in thirty sessions.”
— Joseph Pilates

Pilates can

  • Energize your body and mind
  • Correct imbalance and increase body awareness, flexibility and circulation
  • Improve your posture, poise, and alignment in everyday activities
  • Provide relief from back, neck and joint pain
  • Help to rehabilitate injuries and improve neuromuscular, joint and other movement dysfunctions
  • Improve your overall fitness, muscle tone, strength and stamina
  • Create a toned, lean and muscular body without building bulk and mass
Pilates for Men

Pilates for Men

Pilates for Men? You bet!

1. Golfer, Runner, Cyclist or Weekend Warrior? Fitness is great, but unfortunately participating in sports can create major imbalances in the body. Think of rotating and swinging the same way repeatedly, or the impact and injuries caused by overuse. Doing Pilates in addition to other sports and activities can not only increase flexibility and range of motion, it can improve your game and make you better at your sport. Almost every top athlete works Pilates into their training methods.
2. Sitting for most of the day? The car, the bus, the office… way too much time spent sitting. It’s a fact that sedentary behavior can lead to an increased risk of many diseases. It slows metabolism, compresses the spinal column, and stiffens muscles. Pilates can help to reverse the effects of all that sitting around. Strengthen, lengthen, stretch and tone!
3. Gym rat or weightlifter past his prime? While it’s probably not necessary to give up weights completely, it is beneficial to balance it out with some Pilates. Usually the bulkier the muscle – the less flexibility it has. Combining weight training with Pilates will increase flexibility and mobility so that the risk of getting an injury from lifting lessens. Also, although you may be spending hours building muscle in the major body parts, chances are your core is still pretty weak. Nothing gives your core a good workout like Pilates!
4. Slouching and Shrinking? Poor posture is the cause of a lot of bad things, like chronic back and neck pain. It also can make you appear heavier and older. Pilates can help to decompress the spine by strengthening and lengthening muscles and proper alignment. After some good Pilates workouts, you can be back to your original height in no time. This is true, we see it all the time!
5. Stress, stress and more stress? Everyday life is a challenge, and we all know how stress can negatively affect almost everything within and around us. Pilates can help. During a Pilates session, you are forced to pay attention and concentrate on breathing while working through each movement with control and proper form. Afterwards, you feel refreshed and energized, which can carry over into your everyday life, if you keep Pilates as a routine.

So here’s the take away; Pilates is not a women’s only workout. It was developed by a man, Joseph Pilates, who initially refused to train women, feeling they were not strong enough to handle it.
Of course today we know this is not true, but Pilates can benefit the men just as much as the ladies. All of these benefits can be applied to everyone, regardless of sex, age, and fitness level.