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What is Pilates?

By Deborah Ng
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Joseph Pilates was a weak and sickly child. Determined to strengthen his body and make it well, he developed a series of exercises to help improve his health. His influences are said to be yoga, Zen philosophy, and exercises borrowed from ancient Romans and Greeks.

When he was interned in England during WWI, Pilates introduced his exercises to other German nationals also interned in the camp. This helped them retain their strength and ward off illness. As he taught his exercises to the other internees, he developed movements for floor or mat workout as well. When Pilates was at the internment camp, he started experimenting with various apparatus and made a few from bed springs. These provided resistance and were perfect for his exercises.

The workout taught to those in the internment camp became the basis of today's popular Pilates movement, which is a series of exercises designed to improve flexibility and strength through a variety of stretching and balancing movements.

Pilates especially appeals to dancers because the workout aids in flexibility without causing muscles to bulk. Athletes, celebrities and models also recommend these exercises. In addition to increased flexibility, they also said to prevent injury and improve posture. The practice strengthens and shapes the body from the inside out. To those who practice Pilates, the body isn't the only area benefiting. Many feel the mind is opened and expanded through regular workouts. Like yoga, it relieves stress and anxiety.

Many in the chiropractic profession recommend Pilates for strengthening the back and the spine. After a regular regimen, one may notice increased mobility in one's joints, a flatter stomach, thinner waist and thighs, and improved circulation.

Because Pilates are gentle exercises without a lot of bouncing around or muscular stress, it's recommended to those seeking rehabilitation through physical therapy. It's also considered a good workout for the elderly and overweight because there's no jumping or lifting involved. Those afflicted with arthritis also appreciate it as it helps to reduce stiffness in the muscles. Since it promotes good posture, it assists in the prevention of osteoporosis.

Pilates is perfect for helping women regain their shape after pregnancy as it especially provides results in the abdominal area. For many people, it is a great head-to-toe workout, improving not only the body but also the mind. Is it any wonder it's the workout of choice for many actors, athletes and dancers?

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Discussion Comments

By manykitties2 — On Jun 25, 2011

If you are thinking about trying Pilates for the first time do you think it is a good idea to invest in a Pilates machine or just try some exercises on a mat?

I have heard that using the Pilates machine is good for beginners because it really helps you hold the correct form and gives you the best stretch. Does anyone know if this is true or not?

I am not on a tight budget but I don't want another piece of gym equipment that won't deliver what it promises either. Any reviews of how well Pilates machines work would be really helpful.

By wander — On Jun 23, 2011

@anon24082 - If you are a complete beginner there are very simple Pilates workouts you can do. What is most important when you start out is copying motions correctly and holding good form so as not to hurt yourself. If you want to improve your muscle tone it will take time and you can't rush it.

Using an online search engine will provide you with lots of free beginner exercises that you can try. Some poses to look for include the chest lift, the hundred, the roll up, the one leg circle, open leg balance and planks.

While these poses are for beginners don't be surprised if they are still difficult. I still find the plank position brutal.

By mutsy — On Jun 22, 2011

@Comfyshoes - It was hard for me to start doing Pilates but after a while it became second nature. You just have to get used to it. This is what ballerinas do so you can just imagine how it will help shape your muscles.

You should give it another chance it is an excellent form of exercise because unlike other forms of exercise you don’t do damage to your muscles or joints. It also makes you stronger as you develop more muscle tone. You don’t have to sweat profusely in order to get a workout because Pilates is really hard and you will notice a difference in the way your clothing looks on you.

The best thing to do is try Pilates for a month and do it for at least three times a week and see if you notice a difference. I am sure when you see the results of your workout, you will change your mind regarding doing Pilates at home. I was so sore when I started, so I know I got a good workout.

By comfyshoes — On Jun 22, 2011

@Oasis11 - I know what you mean I tried a few of the best Pilates DVD’s and I couldn’t get the hang of it. I think that I need to go to a Pilate’s power gym so that I could learn the basics. It reminded me a little of yoga because of all of the stretching and concentration involved.

I will just go back to my dumbbells and continue my regular workout. I think that Pilates is something that you should do in a gym so that you can make sure you are doing the exercises correctly.

I really wanted to improve my posture and flexibility which is why I wanted to do Pilates but I find myself a little frustrated with it and I don’t have the money to go to a fancy gym to take classes.

By oasis11 — On Jun 22, 2011

I believe you can do Pilates at home or at a Pilates gym. The exercises are pretty tough because it takes a lot of concentration and you have to hold stretches for a certain amount of time and it could really does burn. It is great exercise because it not only strengthens your body, but it gives you longer leaner muscles.

You can also add a Pilates chair or use a Pilate’s reformer in order to do Pilates reformer exercises. It is really up to you. I tried Pilates and I found it to be a little more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I am a runner and really like experiencing that runner’s high which I did not feel doing Pilates so I stopped doing it. I wished I did like it because it is so good for you.

By anon43572 — On Aug 30, 2009

how is pilates done?

By anon34082 — On Jun 17, 2009

how pilates can be done?

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