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What is Pilates?

By Staci Amend
February 1, 2014

Curious about trying Pilates? Along with walking, it’s one of the most flexible, accommodating exercise methods out there—almost anyone can do it, and routines can be accommodated for any level of fitness or physical limitation. So what exactly is Pilates, and why should you give it a try?

Strength & healing
The Pilates Method (now known simply as “Pilates”) was invented by German national Joseph Pilates—an accomplished boxer and acrobat—in England during World War I. As a political prisoner confined to extremely cramped quarters, Pilates devised a method of exercising all the major muscle groups on a small mat, using only his body weight as resistance. He taught these exercises to other prisoners, caught the attention of his British captors, and was eventually removed from the prison barracks to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers. After the war, Pilates moved to the United States, where he continued to develop and refine his restorative and strength-building exercise methods.

Simplicity & precision
Part of the Pilates appeal lies in its simplicity—all the exercises are purposely simple, so that participants can focus on doing them mindfully, using precise and proper alignment. When the method first gained wide popularity in the American market in the early 1980s, Pilates stood out in stark contrast to the frenetic activity of aerobic and step classes. People wondered, “Can a routine that moves so slow actually get me fit?” Yes! While Pilates doesn’t offer the same level of cardio training that a faster-paced class might, it gives you a different way to challenge your muscles.

Toning & strengthening
Pilates is the original core workout. All movements originate in the center of the body, just below the belly button—it’s the place where several major muscle groups connect, and the area that gives vital support to your spine and major organs. Whether you’re on your mat at home or working with a private instructor on various Pilates machines, there will always be a strong emphasis on breathing, flexibility, concentration and controlled, flowing movement. This not only helps to prevent the injury that can result from wild, sudden moves…it forces you to activate more muscles during each exercise. The result is a challenging all-over workout that gradually tones, strengthens and lengthens your muscles.

Sound appealing?
Give it a try! Pilates is a great option for those who are totally new to exercise. But don’t be fooled by the leisurely pace and low-impact routines. Pilates is also a great complement to vigorous exercise, such as running or circuit training. Start with a beginner’s mat class or DVD and go from there!

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