The Basics of Pilates Exercise Method

Woman stretching backwards using pilates equipment
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Pilates is a form of exercise emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness to support efficient, graceful movement. It was developed by Joseph Pilates and is also known as the Pilates Method.

Who Can Benefit From Pilates?

It seems like everyone is either doing Pilates or is interested in starting a Pilates exercise program. Indeed, one of the best things about the Pilates method is that it works so well for a wide range of people. Athletes and dancers love it, as do ​seniors, women rebounding from pregnancy, and people who at various stages of physical rehabilitation.

The top benefits of doing Pilates exercise include becoming stronger, longer, leaner, and more able to do anything with grace and ease. Enthusiasts talk about getting in shape with Pilates and developing a Pilates body.

When Joseph Pilates developed this work, he did not talk about long, lean muscles, or flat abs as we see in Pilates body advertising these days. He was interested in the body as a total package of health and vitality, from which a pleasing external presentation—flat abs, better posture, balanced muscularity—is a natural result.

Pilates Is an Adaptable Method

Exercise modification is the key to Pilates success with a variety of populations. All exercises are developed with modifications that can make a workout safe and challenge a person at any level.

Core Strength

Core strength is the foundation of Pilates exercise. The core muscles are the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back. When the core muscles are strong and doing their job, as they are trained to do in Pilates, they work in tandem with the more superficial muscles of the trunk to support the spine and movement.

As you develop your core strength you develop stability throughout your entire torso. This is one of the ways Pilates helps people overcome back pain. As the trunk is properly stabilized, pressure on the back is relieved and the body is able to move freely and efficiently. Pilates exercises are designed to make sure the spine is well-supported by the core muscles, and that there's proper alignment of all the bones.

The flat abdominal muscles Pilates promotes are the natural result of a system of exercise that emphasizes core strength and flexibility by way of the harmonious coordination of muscles and skeletal alignment in the service of graceful, efficient activity. The abs are strengthened, but they are also trained to work together properly (an often overlooked key to getting flat instead of poofed abs) in the context of an integrated body that is relating at a high level to itself and its environment.

The Six Pilates Principles

These six Pilates principles are centering, control, flow, breath, precision, and concentration. They are essential ingredients in a high-quality Pilates workout as well as being the philosophical foundations of Pilates. The Pilates method has always emphasized quality over quantity, and you will find that, unlike many systems of exercise, Pilates exercises do not include a lot of repetitions for each move. Instead, doing each exercise fully, with precision, yields significant results in a shorter time than one would ever imagine.

Joseph Pilates said that, above all else, one should learn to breathe properly. Full breathing feeds and stimulates the circulatory system, which is a body cleansing process that detoxifies the blood and refreshes the cells. Here is the root of the vitality you need to enjoy life and exercise. When breathing and circulation are working well, the body also has a natural rhythm wherein the organs are toned and refreshed, and there is energy for daily life.

A Unique Method of Exercise

Core strength and torso stability, along with the six Pilates principles, set the Pilates method apart from many other types of exercise. Weight lifting, for example, can put a lot of attention on arm or leg strength without attending much to the fact that those parts are connected to the rest of the body. Even running or swimming can seem like all arms and legs, with either a floppy or overly tense core. Ultimately those who really succeed at their sport learn to use their core muscles, but in Pilates, this integrative approach is learned from the beginning.

How a body moves, not just in the studio or gym, but in daily life, is the most important aspect of Pilates training; it wasn't developed just for looks. For Joseph Pilates, the point was to provide a method of training that would allow the body to do what is asked of it with grace, ease, and efficiency. Such a body has to be both strong and flexible, and it has certain qualities of movement, such as being centered and balanced, as well as flowing yet controlled. These qualities, or Pilates principles, are practiced consciously through Pilates exercises as the strength and flexibility that support them are developed.

What you see in an ideal Pilates body is uniform, function-appropriate, muscular development. In fact, strength without bulk is one of the aspects of Pilates that draws many people to it. Not only is uniform muscular development a pleasing visual, but it is also a natural result of training the body to move at a high level of harmony and efficiency. Who can be truly flexible when their muscles are over-developed or developed in an imbalanced way which leads to all kinds of weaknesses and compensations in the body?

Mat Work and Equipment

Pilates exercises are done on either on a mat on the floor or on exercise equipment developed by Joseph Pilates. The Pilates workout equipment generally utilizes pulleys and resistance from the participant's own body weight on the machine and graduated levels of springs. The reformer is probably the best-known piece of resistance equipment that you will encounter at a Pilates studio.

Joseph Pilates

The Pilates Method of the exercise was developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. It was originally used as a rehabilitation program for prisoners of war and was later found to be of great benefit to anyone seeking a higher level of fitness. The work was kept alive over the years by a small group of Pilates' devoted students until its popularity blossomed in the past couple of decades. Exercise science caught up with the principles that Pilates had been teaching all along, and now you can enjoy the rich evolution of the Pilates work available today.

Get Started in Pilates

Pilates is best learned through a combination of classes and home workouts. You can get started right away with a Pilates beginners program.

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