PILATES IS AN EXERCISE SYSTEM that focuses on stretching and strengthening the whole body to improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and posture. It was created by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900’s and incorporates elements of yoga, martial arts, boxing and gymnastics. Initially adopted by professional dancers in New York as an effective workout, Pilates has steadily gained popularity and is now practiced all over the world. There is still much to learn about the many benefits of this discipline, but rest assured there is much more to it than simply developing nice glutes and abs.
see also History of Pilates
Joe started developing the foundations of his technique during the First World War as a rehabilitation program for injured soldiers. He developed a series of exercises based on the needs of his patients and even created personalized apparatus with limited resources by dismantling and reassembling beds and tables. He focused on strengthening, stretching and stabilizing key muscles by using just a few but precise movements that focused on control and technique rather than repetition. He believed that mental and physical health went hand in hand and ended up developing what is known today as total body conditioning.
Pilates uses alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, fluidity and proper breathing to establish a perfect working body from the inside out. Pilates done properly builds strength, flexibility and lean muscle tone. It focuses on lengthening the body and aligning the spine, rather than bulking and shortening the muscles.
Pilates helps you control your core which is basically your body's powerhouse. Your core is the area from your shoulders down to your pelvic floor and all the muscles within. The essential intrinsic core muscles are your transverse abdominals, pelvic floor and multifidus muscles which we learn to control and develop using the Pilates method. The core muscles are also the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back. When the core muscles are strong and do their job as they are trained to do in Pilates, they work together with the more superficial muscles of the trunk to support the spine and aid movement.
Pilates helps you discover how developing your core strength helps you develop stability throughout your entire torso as well. This is one of the ways Pilates helps overcome back pain. As the trunk is properly stabilized pressure on the back is relieved and the body is able to move freely and efficiently.
Because of its focus on the core, Pilates is also popular in rehabilitation. Strengthening the core and improving postural awareness are essential for the alleviation and prevention of back, neck and joint pain.
There are many studies on health benefits of Pilates. Sara Allegri has been studying and teaching Pilates for over 15 years and is a Master Pilates Mentor certified by the PMMP (Lolita San Miguel) and the PMA (Pilates Method Alliance).
Sara says Pilates can help improve posture, muscle tone, flexibility, core strength and joint mobility. And she can also prove that it helps people with slipped discs and can relieve stress and tension caused by work or other activities.
There is evidence that specific exercises in Pilates can provide relief for people with severe lower back pain. And for these exercises to be effective they need to be laid out specifically for the individual and taught by a qualified teacher.
Pilates can also help you lose weight properly if you combine it with a healthy diet and aerobic activity, such as swimming, walking and cycling.
Pilates is suitable for people of all ages. When working with adults, most instructors tend to focus on balance, posture, co-ordination and breathing. In many cases it is wiser to perform simpler exercises that target weaknesses and improve mobility gradually rather than engaging in an intense workout off the bat.
Pilates is suitable for people across the fitness spectrum and can be adapted to raise levels of someone less active, as well as challenging someone physically fit. In any case scenario it is advisable to seek advice from your doctor or a health-care professional if you have any concerns, such as a heart condition or an injury, before starting any exercise system like Pilates.
Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise and injuries are uncommon. However it is important that you find a qualified instructor capable of adapting a routine suitable to your level and ability.
Once again, always consult your doctor before starting a session.
People often compare Pilates with Yoga and that is ok since they might actually be considered distant cousins. Both Pilates and yoga focus on developing core strength, balance, flexibility, posture and good breathing technique. The main components of yoga are posture and breathing (a series of movements designed to increase the strength and flexibility of the whole body). Both disciplines encourage unity of mind and body but yoga has a more meditative side whereas Pilates focuses on results.
Pilates also uses a special breathing technique and its exercises focus on precise movements to target specific parts of the body. The best Pilates classes are in small groups where the teacher can develop sessions to suit each person's strengths and weaknesses.
Joseph Pilates designed his exercises to be performed on specialized apparatus, and later developed mat exercises to allow his students to practice at home. On the mat, you will immediately discover your strengths and limitations and figure out how to overcome them with your own mind and body sometimes using small props such as elastic bands and weight balls.
For certain medical conditions, apparatus-based Pilates may be more suitable. Attending private sessions means an exercise program can be designed for your individual needs. Small classes using apparatus offer a higher level of individual attention but they are generally more expensive. The apparatus is used to provide resistance to challenge or support your body depending on your needs.
There are several internationally recognized levels of qualification with associations around the world. The PMA (Pilates Method Alliance) is very well known and qualified. Then there are trainers that want to amplify their skills and knowledge to the top level by going directly to schools like the USPA (United States Pilates Association School of Romana Kryzanowska) or the PMMP (School of Lolita San Miguel a living disciple of Joe Pilates). In these schools you will truly understand Joe’s mission and profound insight.
There are many ways of becoming a Pilates trainer. Not all teachers necessarily have a recognized qualification. Most health and fitness providers like gyms and health clubs require their instructors to be certified by the PMA to ensure they meet the fitness industry's national occupational standards. This will also give you peace of mind since you can check the credentials of any registered instructor on the PMA website.
Finally, it is very important to choose a teacher and routine that suits your physical needs, whether it is a health condition, fitness level or budget. Other things to consider are the teacher's training and teaching experience. I think you should choose a teacher you connect with. This is definitely the best way to ensure that you are going to enjoy the class while getting the best results out of your Pilates experience.
Written by, Joe Sopala
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