Pilates has become one of the most popular fitness methods in the United States, although the concept is not particularly new. The routine was devised during the early part of the 20th century by a German, Joseph Pilate, who was obsessed with restoring his asthmatic body back to health.
Pilates incorporates movements and exercises from such disciplines as dance, yoga and gymnastics as well as breathing techniques, although the Pilates routine does include some original movements as well. Whereas for some people Pilates is a lifelong commitment, most people will see benefits after just a few sessions.
Most of the 500 movements that comprise the Pilates routine can be practiced on a regular exercise mat with no need for expensive or specialized equipment. Pilates can also be practiced by people of all ages, body types and fitness levels – many people in their 70s practice Pilates.
Players of many sports such as skiing, running, cycling and gymnastics can also benefit from the Pilates program. Pilates is well known as an aid to helping people recover from sports related injuries or strains and dancers can benefit from the movements.
On the other hand, some of the gentler exercises are suitable for pregnant women as they help improve concentration and flexibility while giving birth and assist in recovering the body shape after pregnancy. The gentler exercises also mean that Pilates can be safely and effectively used in physical therapy to help treat injuries.
Virtually all Pilates exercises work on the concept of “centering” which is basically a way of improving posture by strengthening the muscles close to the spine and the abdominal muscles. By concentrating on this group of muscles, grouped together in the center of the body, Pilates is also particularly effective in decreasing the symptoms of lower back pain. And such things as slumped shoulders and potbellies may be a thing of the past with Pilates.
Many people who practice Pilates find that it leads to improvements in their life such as sitting up straight at a desk, walking straighter and a better sense of balance. Pilates has even helped people who ride horses maintain their balance more effectively, and in some cases has increased a person’s height slightly.
Pilates is what is commonly known as a “no impact” method of exercise – it can be practiced effectively in conjunction with other exercise methods. It is also gentle on the joints of the body and has been proven to counter the effects of over-worked muscles, which otherwise may lead to aches and pains.
One key feature of Pilates is that the series of exercises are designed to improve the mind as well as the body. While doing the exercises you are encouraged to focus and concentrate, which leads to a more relaxed state and better awareness of your body. Practitioners point out that this aspect of the exercises also helps to reduce stress.
Pilates has many other benefits that wouldn’t perhaps normally be associated with an exercise regimen. Practicing Pilates on a regular basis can help alleviate such conditions as urinary incontinence, osteoporosis, sleeplessness and relief from the symptoms of menopause.
Joseph Pilate dies in 1967, leaving as a legacy the many advantages and benefits of his innovative fitness system. Today, Pilates is practiced regularly by around 5 million people – including such famous names as Sharon Stone, Oprah Winfrey and Julia Roberts.