Pilates allegro class on the Reformer

Pilates on the barrel

Pilates on the combo chair

Pilates on the combo chair

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History of Pilates

During World War I, Joseph Pilates, a German national of Greek descent, was interned in England, where he trained police officers beginning in 1912. A trained nurse in his native Germany, he was investigating ways that he could rehabilitate bed-ridden victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Thus he created a series of movements that could be practiced within the confines of this controlled environment. The Pilates Reformer (a piece of Pilates equipment) is based on an old hospital bed.

Instead of performing many repetitions of each exercise, Pilates preferred fewer, more precise movements, requiring control and form. He designed more than 500 specific exercises. The most frequent form, called "matwork," involves a series of calisthenic motions performed without weight or apparatus on a padded mat. He believed that mental health and physical health were essential to one another. Pilates created what is claimed to be a method of total body conditioning that emphasizes proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement (The Pilates Principles) that results in increased flexibility, strength, muscle tone, body awareness, energy, and improved mental concentration. Pilates also designed five major pieces of unique exercise equipment that he claimed should be used for best results. Although the two components are often taught separately now, the method was always meant to combine both matwork and equipment exercises. In all forms, the "powerhouse" (abdomen, lower back, and buttocks) is supported and strengthened, enabling the rest of the body to move freely.

Pilates practitioners use their own bodies as weights in training, to build strength, and flexibility. This is targeted without a focus on high-powered cardiovascular exercise. Today, Pilates is used in the rehabilitation process by many physical therapists. Pilates is an old approach to movement re-education that is becoming popular in the field of fitness and rehabilitation. The Pilates environment can be used as an assistive environment that optimizes the acquisition of movement with a reduction of destructive forces and can be used to progress individuals through more challenging movements that represent their day-to-day activities. Pilates' focus on building core muscles and postural awareness are especially well indicated for the alleviation and prevention of back pain. Research and theories in motor learning, biomechanics, and musculoskeletal physiology help support the phenomena experienced by many Pilates-based practitioners; however, the Pilates-based approach needs to be subjected to the rigors of research to better evaluate its efficacy in the field of rehabilitation.

In recent years, many Pilates students have seen important parallels with the Alexander Technique, and the discoveries of F. Matthias Alexander. Pilates has been used to train dancers in flexibility and physical strength. The first official Pilates Studio was opened in New York in 1926. In recent years it has become a popular fitness modality, with many stars attributing their successful weight loss and increased muscle tone to Pilates.

In more recent years Pilates has been the subject of peer review research articles and is now gaining acceptance amongst the medical profession, even for conditions previously contra-indicated such as pregnancy. Adi Balogh wrote a substantial review article in the Journal of the Royal College of Midwives.


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