The power of Pilates

 

Pilates exercise is based on stretching and strengthening the body to improve balance, flexibility, posture and muscle strength. It focuses on precise movements to target specific body parts and it is about the complete co-ordination of body, mind and spirit. Taking its name from the man who developed it, the story behind its creation is quite extraordinary.

Joseph Hubertus Pilates

Born in Monchengladbach, Germany in 1883, Joe’s father was a prize winning Greek gymnast, his mother a German naturopath who believed in stimulating the body to heal itself. A sickly child, he turned to exercise and athletics to battle his ailments. He came to believe that modern lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing are amongst the roots of poor health and became totally enamoured by the classical Greek ideal of man being balanced in body, mind, and spirit. After developing his own exercise system based on these concepts, in 1912 he arrived in England, where he worked as a self-defence instructor at Scotland Yard.

Interned during World War I, he encouraged his fellow internees to follow his regime to stay healthy, while to help injured German prisoners of war he rigged springs to their hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that led to his later equipment designs. In the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, which killed more people than all the casualties of World War I, none of Joe’s internees died. This, he claimed, testified to the effectiveness of his system.

After his release, Joe returned to Germany and his exercise regime gained favour in the dance community, but when he was approached to instruct the army, he decided to emigrate to America. After arriving in New York in 1926, Pilates as a global exercise phenomenon then began.

The Pilates principles

Centring, Concentration, Precision, Control, Flow & Breath are the key factors to integrate mind and body.  A low-intensity workout – and brilliant for posture – Pilates is adaptable for all ages and works for people of all levels of fitness. As it is a gentle low-impact form of exercise, injuries are rare. A perfect workout for a dancer, it stresses excellence of movement, strong sculpted muscles and flexibility. Indeed, Joe could count many New York dancers among his clients, with the aesthetic in dance coexisting in Pilates exercises.

Other benefits to be gained from including Pilates in your fitness routine
  • Personal awareness – how you sit, stand and move your body, and being able to relate these habits to aches, pains and injuries.
  • Symmetry – Pilates teaches the mind to build symmetry and co-ordination in the body. By taking control you are practicing willpower.

“A flexible muscle is a strong muscle” – by combining Pilates with weight training you allow your muscles to balance and become flexible, allowing your body to function correctly. Moreover, Pilates works the whole body in synergy rather than focusing on muscle group isolation.

Great for men and women, it often helps neglected muscle groups, builds core strength while also forcing us to pay attention to breathing whilst working through each movement and concentrating on proper form. As Pilates strengthens the core and pelvic floor, this brings obvious benefits to both sexes.

There is even some evidence Pilates could provide pain relief for people with non-specific lower back pain.  However, for the exercises to be effective they need to be taught by a qualified Pilates Instructor. Find a qualified teacher and a class suitable for your level of fitness.

 

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Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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