Pilates is an exercise system or “method,” as it is known, for improving flexibility, strength, and body awareness, without building bulk. It is a series of controlled, precision movements on a floor mat or on specially designed spring-resistant exercise apparatus (the Reformer, the Cadillac, Spine Corrector, Ladder Barrel, and the Wunda Chair).
The method is resistance exercise, not cardio, although your heart rate will rise if you are not in shape. But it is closer to weight training than it is to jogging, biking, or other aerobic training and should be considered resistance exercise.
Joseph Pilates (1880-1967) had a lifelong interest in body conditioning. Starting out as a frail youngster, he built up his body through exercise and later became a skier, diver, gymnast, boxer, and martial artist.
In England during World War I, he trained and became a nurse and designed exercise apparatus for immobilized patients by attaching springs to hospital beds. This system formed the foundation for his style of conditioning and exercise devices.
He opened his first studio in New York in 1926. Today, in the United States alone, more than five million people practice his method, including many dancers, members of sports teams, and fitness enthusiasts.
Key Workout Elements
Two of the key elements of the method are core strength and spinal alignment. (“Core” is favorite word in fitness circles today. It refers to the spine, abdomen, pelvis, hips, and the muscles that support them). Some of the main core muscles are the erector spinae (in your back along your spine), the traverse abdominis (located deep in your gut), the rectus abdominis (your “six-pack,”), and hip flexors (in your pelvis and upper leg).
During a workout, an instructor reminds you to concentrate deeply on your core muscles, your breathing, and the contraction of your muscles. The quality of your movements is paramount. The objective is a coordination of mind, body, and spirit, something Joseph Pilates called “contrology.”
How effective is Pilates as a workout?
The method has a huge following and in some circles it reaches an almost cult-like status (the same thing is often said about Apple computer owners). This is not meant as criticism. It can be a great workout for strengthening muscles and improving flexibility. It can also be intense training because the movements are slow, controlled, and deliberate.
Some of the claims often found on web sites and in the method literature, however, may be based mostly on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific test results. Some of the frequently heard claims are . . .
Other claims include . . .
Although some have not been substantiated by scientific studies, there is no shortage of anecdotal evidence that it is a valid and worthwhile form of resistance exercise.
There is no single agency certifying the method instructors (of course, the same applies to other personal fitness trainers).
The Pilates Method Alliance (an international nonprofit professional association) suggests that instructors should be able to . . .
Most large fitness centers with aerobics programs offer Pilates mat classes. Some may have specialized equipment and machines. And most fairly large cities have independent Pilates studios.
If you are looking for a different and challenging workout to strengthen and also loosen up your muscles, Pilates may be a system you will enjoy. It is taught in classes, or privately, or at home following a DVD or video.
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