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What Is Pilates?


Pilates is a method of exercise that was created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. Originally called “Contrology” by Pilates, it has become one of the fastest-growing methods of exercise. Pilates was a German who was interned in a prison camp in England during World War I. Some say that Pilates created the exercises that we now know to help keep his fellow detainees fit and healthy during the war.

After the war, Pilates moved to New York City, where he opened his first studio and mostly trained boxers. Because his studio was also in close proximity to many dance studios, eventually many dancers came to him looking for rehabilitation for different injuries. Pilates continued to teach out of his studio for many years until his death in 1967.

Pilates has mat exercises that can be done anywhere and focus on using one’s own body weight to engage and strengthen the “powerhouse” (the core) and other parts of the body. There are also pieces of apparatus that were created by Pilates and are still used today, including the Universal Reformer, Cadillac and more. Each apparatus uses spring-loaded resistance to offer a more challenging strength and endurance workout.

Pilates is, at its heart, a physical fitness routine that builds core strength and flexibility. Focus is put on spinal and pelvic alignment, breath, concentration and control of the core muscle group through body- based movements. Pilates improves muscle tone, provides better spinal health, improves balance, helps to correct imbalances in the body, supports correct posture and creates greater body awareness, while building flexibility, lean musculature, strength and endurance.

Recent studies even show that Pilates can help alleviate lower back pain more than other therapies. In fact, a recent Italian study “found an important improvement of pain, disability and physical and psychological perception of health in individuals who did the daily sessions of Pilates.” The results of the study showed that Pilates was better at reducing pain in individuals with chronic lower back pain than the standard treatment methods.

As you can see, the physical benefits of Pilates are many. However, there is also a wonderful mind- body connection in Pilates, similar to that achieved with yoga. Pilates is like a moving meditation. The precision of movement that flows with both grace and strength, whether on a mat or equipment, cannot be beat. It can be a very mindful practice.

Although popular now with Hollywood stars and athletes such as Lea Michelle, Emma Watson, Jake Arrieta, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady and a few other NFL players, Pilates is indeed for everybody, regardless of your age, body type, fitness level and any injuries or medical conditions you may have. In my teaching, I have many special conditions that I work with, and all of these clients have seen amazing benefits from a regular and consistent Pilates practice.

Pilates is not only great for building core strength and helping athletes to improve their games, but it can help the “everyday” person to alleviate pain and build strength and flexibility.

I work with many clients who struggle with persistent aches and pains, spinal issues such as scoliosis, chronic pain such as sciatica and breast cancer survivors, as well as those in rehabilitation for past injuries or recovering from surgeries such as knee and hip replacements. My clients range from the young to the elderly, from athletes to people rehabbing from injuries or dealing with chronic conditions. Pilates can help you achieve your fitness and wellness goals.

Christopher Roberts is a Certified Pilates Teacher and owner of Worcester Pilates. Worcester Pilates is a boutique Pilates studio offering private instruction on the Pilates equipment.

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By Christopher Roberts

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