Joseph Pilates

Born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child. His determination and drive to overcome those aliments led to the study of both Eastern and Western forms of exercise: including yoga, zen, ancient Grecian and Roman regimens. He took them on step further by combining engineering skills with his knowledge of exercise and anatomy, to design apparatus geared specifically to his philosophy.

Joseph Pilates – the name is of Greek origin – brought his revolutionary method of physical and mental conditioning to the United States in the early twenties. His studio in New York caught the attention of the dance community – and the Pilates techniques became an integral part of the dance training.

Pilates felt that his work was probably about fifty years ahead of its time, and although his name was not yet a household word, people from all walks of life were discovering and choosing the Pilates technique as their fitness program.

The Pilates Method

The Pilates Method is a conditioning program that improves muscle control, flexibility, coordination, strength and tone.

The basic principles of Pilates conditioning are to make people more aware of their bodies as single integrated units, to improve alignment and breathing, and to increase efficiency of movement. Unlike other exercise programs, the Pilates method does not require the repetition of exercises that people tire of quickly and subsequently abandon. The method consists of a sequence of carefully performed movements, some carried out on specifically designed equipment. Each exercise is designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles involved, opening the joints and releasing tension. There is a specific breathing pattern for each exercise to assist in directing energy to those areas while relaxing the rest of the body.

The Pilates Method works many of the deeper muscles together, improving coordination and balance, to achieve efficient and graceful movement. Rather than pursing the unrealistic goal of having an ideal body, the practitioner develops a healthy self-image, through the attainment of better posture, proper coordination and improved flexibility.

How is Pilates different from other forms of exercise?

Pilates is different from most exercises out there because it’s non-impact and safe, and it really works on using the body as a whole. You’re either lying on your back, on your side or kneeling on the floor where it’s safe. When you move the body, you’re trying to move it from the core, using your abdominal wall to protect your back. You’re also working the body very evenly and symmetrically, making sure one side is not working harder than the other.

How do I know if Pilates will benefit me?

I can’t say that it’s great for everyone in every scenario, but in my experience, I’ve only had clients feel better after doing it. Injuries begin to cause less discomfort or go away completely. Pilates can help you lose weight, get relief from back pain, tone your trouble spots, or recover from injury. It’s also being used more and more as therapy to help people with certain serious illnesses such as cancer.

Is Pilates a cardiovascular workout?

Initially the workout is slow moving because everything is being explained to you. Eventually, once you learn the workout and you’re going through the motions, it becomes aerobic. You can get a cardiovascular workout when you’re on the equipment and working on an advanced level because it’s more physical. And some classes and Pilates DVDs alternate classic Pilates moves with sequences of heart-rate boosting exercises for a double-duty effect. You have to work towards it, but Pilates can be cardiovascular.

How often should I do Pilates? Is it like weight training in that you need to rest your muscles for 48 hours between workouts?

Pilates is safe enough to do every day. Initially you may want to do it every day so you get a rhythm and become consistent; then a good goal is to do it every other day. Joseph Pilates used to say to do it three times a week.

Will my body be sore after a Pilates class?

Feeling sore is a very individual thing. Some people don’t feel sore. Pilates is what you put into it. If you’re really conscious and making an effort to make every movement count, you’ll most likely feel something the following day. It also has to do with your athleticism. If you’ve been sedentary, you’re probably going to feel it more than someone who’s very active. It’s all relative.

How can beginners get the most benefit from Pilates?

Be consistent, especially in the beginning. Don’t just try it once. Give it a few shots and do it in succession. Make it your reward, your break from a hectic day. Also, listen to your body and really concentrate — it makes for a better workout.

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