Pilates continues to increase in popularity. A look at this versatile discipline and what it might do for you.
Although Pilates studios have begun multiplying over the past decade as more and more people discover the benefits of this full-body workout, it doesn’t quite have the mainstream popularity of its better-known cousin, yoga. But that may change as this balanced, fun and challenging method of exercise continues to grow and gain dedicated adherents.
The basic premise of Pilates is that all movement done during exercises should radiate outward from the core. This helps to promote an even and balanced musculature and to stretch and strengthen the body. Along with this main goal, Pilates concentrates on focused breathing rhythms, controlled body movements using precise form and a strong mind-body connection.
Benefits of a regular Pilates practice can include increased flexibility, balance and coordination, greater core and abdominal strength, better posture and alignment, decreased body fat percentage, greater range of joint motion, reduction in low back pain and improved lung capacity and circulation. Pilates is low-impact and appropriate for just about any age group, and it can be adapted and customized for each individual’s needs and fitness level.
Joseph Hubertus Pilates developed his namesake workout in Germany and England in the early 20th century with the goal of a creating an exercise system that would help users achieve the classical Greek ideal of becoming balanced in body, mind and spirit. He brought his method to the U.S. in 1926, and it quickly became popular among the dance community, including the prestigious New York City Ballet. Several of his protégés opened their own studios, and after Pilates’ death in 1967 at the age of 87, still more of his former students continued to spread the benefits of the Pilates form of fitness far and wide. It took off as an in-vogue exercise in Hollywood in the 1970s and became even more widespread after resolution of a lawsuit in the 1990s resulted in the lifting of restrictions on the use of the term “Pilates.” It has continued to gradually grow in popularity to this day, with over ten million Americans practicing some form of the exercise.
So why has Pilates endured for so long and why does it continue to be discovered by new generations of exercisers?
The versatility of Pilates is hard to beat. It’s modifiable for most ability levels, and its focus on deep core strength — the development of the abdominal muscles close to the spine — benefits a range of users from beginner to elite athlete. Pilates can also be easily adapted for individuals with injuries and is used in many physical therapy and rehabilitation clinics.
Pilates can be practiced on the floor (called “mat Pilates”) or using specialized equipment called a Pilates Reformer. Mat Pilates utilizes the body’s own weight as resistance, while the Reformer uses pulleys and springs to create tension and resistance. While both methods provide similar benefits, the reformer adds versatility, offering a wider variety of exercises and resistance levels, and some users find using the equipment more enjoyable. However, it can also add cost, as users will likely need to attend group or private classes to utilize the apparatus. Mat Pilates can be performed in a gym or studio, often at lower cost than Reformer training, or even at home with the assistance of a DVD or streaming classes.