Pilates: A Strength Training Method for Almost a Century
Towards the end of World War I, Joseph Pilates created exercises to strengthen the body and the mind. Almost 100 years later, the success of his method continues to grow, with over 11 million people currently practicing.
The Background Details
Joseph Pilates was born in Germany to a mother who was a naturopath and a father who was a professional gymnast. As a child, he was ill, weak, and frail. Perhaps from using his own inner-determination along with his parents as models, Joseph was able to heal and thrive. He himself grew to become an adept gymnast, as well as a proficient skier.
The family moved to England, where he worked as a circus performer and then a self-defense instructor. But he was eventually placed in an internment camp for “enemy aliens” when the First World War broke out. Joseph worked as an orderly and created special apparatus to help mobilize wounded soldiers. He literally attached springs to hospital beds and designed exercises. His famous piece of equipment, the “Cadillac” was born there.
A Few Years Later…
Joseph immigrated to the United States, and it was on his voyage where he met his third wife, Clara. They were partners in love and business, and in 1926, they opened their first “body-conditioning gym” in New York City.
By then, Joseph had transformed one of his contraptions to help injured dancers. It was called the Universal Reformer, which is now the “Reformer,” one of the best-known apparatus used in Pilates.
Joseph’s method, called “Contrology” incorporated more than just his machines. He integrated three essential principles, which created the base for his exercise philosophy. They were (and still are):
Mind, Body, and Spirit
Joseph Pilates developed a system of exercises that engaged the whole body through controlled movements. Self-resistance is at the core of the movement—also known as dynamic tension. He defined Contrology as “the comprehensive integration of body, mind, and spirit.”
Each exercise requires complete focus. Traditionally, each movement should involve:
Many who studied with Joseph in the early days recall him being the mastermind, but Clara was the true teacher. She was the partner who adapted the exercises to best fit the needs of each individual client. That’s a tenant of the method that still exists today.
Another effective approach that continues today with the Pilates method is the “hands on” style used by instructors. That was actually developed by fortunate accident. Since neither Joseph nor Clara spoke English well, they were fairly non-verbal during instruction and guided students’ bodies with their hands.
Back in New York when the studio first opened, many celebrity dancers visited the gym. They spread word quickly amongst their peers about how Contrology helped them recover from dance injuries. Jerome Robbins and Martha Graham were part of that crew and the buzz got around about this new form of exercise.
Then again, in the 1970s, celebrities touted the benefits of the Pilates Method. (In 1967, Joseph died and his “elders”—those who continued to teach the method—changed the name from Contrology to Pilates.)
Ron Fletcher opened a Pilates studio in Beverly Hills and word spread quickly. Fletcher was identified as an elder, and can be attributed to moving the moves to a mat. He literally took the exercises to a vertical position. No more equipment necessary. Just a mat and a floor.
By 1975, Pilates became well known in the Hollywood circle with such actors as Barbara Streisand, Ali MacGraw, and Candice Bergen. Even Nancy Reagan practiced and spread the good word.
By the 1980s and After…
Pilates studios began springing up everywhere—with machines and without. After a four year lawsuit, in October of 2000, the courts decided that the term Pilates could not be trademarked.
After that, the exercise method no longer belonged to just the elite. Pilates had finally entered the mainstream fitness trend.
Pilates in 2016
Using self-resistance, the movements in Pilates are designed to elongate muscles, improve joint flexibility, decrease risk of injuries, increase core strength, improve balance, shed inches, and realign posture.
There are fundamental exercises in which one should practice before moving forward. The method is called a “practice” for a reason. As you develop strength and increased concentration, you will be able to manage more and more challenging movements, and watch your body sculpt itself naturally.
Pilates benefits the mind and spirit as diligently as it does the body. Some of today’s celebs practicing a form of the method are: Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kate Hudson, among many, many others.
You don’t need to be in the spotlight to feel like a star. Pilates is worth checking out if integrated and whole-body health is of interest to you.
For more articles on Pilates, check out GetThrive.com