Pilates (/pɪˈlɑːtɪz/; German: [piˈlaːtəs]) is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. It is practiced worldwide, and especially in western countries such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. As of 2005, there were 11 million people practicing the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States.
Joseph Pilates presents his method as the art of controlled movements, which should look and feel like a workout (not a therapy) when properly manifested. If practiced with consistency, Pilates improves flexibility, builds strength and develops control and endurance in the entire body. It puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates’ system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginner to advanced or to any other level, and also in terms of the instructor and practitioner’s specific goals and/or limitations. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions and adapts to the exercises.
Frank Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen, two students of Romana Kryzanowska, published the first modern book on Pilates, The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, in 1980 and in it they outlined six “principles of Pilates“. These have been widely adopted—and adapted—by the wider community. The original six principles were concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.
For practitioners to control their bodies, they must have a starting place: the center. The center is the focal point of the Pilates method. Many Pilates teachers refer to the group of muscles in the center of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and inner thighs — as the “powerhouse”. All movement in Pilates should begin from the center and move outward to the limbs.
Precision is essential to correct Pilates: “concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value”. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Here Pilates reflects common physical culture wisdom: “You will gain more strength from a few energetic, concentrated efforts than from a thousand listless, sluggish movements”. The goal is for this precision to eventually become second nature and carry over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
Pilates demands intense focus: “You have to concentrate on what you’re doing all the time. And you must concentrate on your entire body for smooth movements.” In Pilates the way that exercises are done is more important than the exercises themselves.
“Contrology” was Joseph Pilates’ preferred name for his method, and it was based on the idea of muscle control. “Nothing about the Pilates Method is haphazard. The reason you need to concentrate so thoroughly is so you can be in control of every aspect of every moment.” All exercises are done with control, the muscles working to lift against gravity and the resistance of the springs and thereby control the movement of the body and the apparatus. “The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy.”
Pilates aims for elegant economy of movement, creating flow through the use of appropriate transitions. Once precision has been achieved, the exercises are intended to flow within and into each other in order to build strength and stamina. In other words, the Pilates technique asserts that physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate movements of the extremities.