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Over the last few decades, Pilates has attracted millions of followers and celebrity devotees. There are over 500 exercises that can be done with (sometimes surprising) equipment. Pilates tones the body with a different approach. Here's Pilates explained…
Over the last few decades, Pilates has attracted millions of followers and celebrity devotees. There are over 500 exercises that can be done with (sometimes surprising) equipment. Pilates tones the body with a different approach. Here's Pilates explained...
Its roots
This method takes its name from a German nurse, Joseph Pilates. Imprisoned during the First World War, he developed fitness techniques in his cell and once released, he opened his first studio in 1926. Pilates has been considered a sport and taught and practised all over the world since October 2000.

What is it?

Like yoga, Pilates is an overall approach to exercising the body, aiming to “develop the body harmoniously, correct bad posture, restore physical strength, and stimulate the mind of the student.”
All the exercises (over 500 altogether) respect the following 8 key points:
-Breathing. Breathe deeply using the thorax, not by inflating the abdomen. This technique tones the abdominals.
-Concentration. Each movement and each breath in and out requires focus and should come from the centre of the body.
-Control. Each movement should be perfectly controlled, in space and in time.
-Alignment. The position should always be perfectly straight, with your weight evenly distributed.
-Flowing movement. The body is almost always moving but the movements are slow because deep muscles are being worked.
-Centring. No matter what the exercise, the stomach is pulled in so that the deep abdominal muscles are worked.
-Precision. The exercises take place in a clearly defined way.
-Relaxation. This relaxes the muscles that have just been worked.
What it involves
Pilates involves adopting poses and making movements in a specific order. The objective is to put all the muscle groups into action, alternating them and sometimes making unusual combinations, with special focus on the trunk (abdominals and buttocks). The majority of Pilates exercises are carried out without equipment, aside from a floor mat. Some do use accessories though:
-Balls.The correct size ball (for example 65cm in diameter if you’re 1m65 tall) makes you adopt the perfect posture in order to keep your balance and not fall over.
-Stretch or resistance band. This allows you to do stretches and resistance exercises.
-Isotoner ring or circle. This is placed between the legs to tone the thighs.
-Foam roller. This thick, long tube helps work the balance.
- And also, in certain specialist studios, you’ll find: the reformer or the Cadillac, beds that contain diverse accessories; or the Wunda chair, a stool designed for Pilates exercises.
Who is it for?
Pilate exercises are drawn-out but gentle: they are low-impact with no jerky movements. Pilates is suitable for everyone:
- For those who do no sport at all as well as those who do a lot.
- For stressed or tired people, anyone suffering from stiffness, pregnant women, new mothers, elderly people, and injured people who are convalescing.
- For people who want to stay in shape without risking injury.
In some cases (pregnant women, fragile people), it’s essential to consult a doctor.

Its benefits

The benefits are both physical and psychological, because Pilates:
- reduces aches and pains by strengthening deep muscles, correctly balancing the pelvis and back, and improving posture.
- shapes the body by toning weak muscles and relaxing those that are tense.
- increases suppleness by stretching out muscles and increasing the range of movement.
- improves breathing, allowing slower and deeper respiration.
- corrects the posture by teaching you to adopt good positions and movements in everyday life.
- limits the effects of ageing by improving coordination.
- combats stress by providing a sense of wellbeing and mental relief.
To find out more
Visit the Body Control Pilates website for more information and to find teachers in your area with a Pilates qualification: www.bodycontrol.co.uk
Tip: There are many books and DVDs available for doing Pilates at home. Nevertheless, it’s best to learn the basics with a trained professional first.
Published by editorial staff Health and Fitness
22 Jan 2008
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