What Is Contrology?

Sunny Griffis
Sunny Griffis
Modern Pilates uses fitness equipment such as stability balls.
Modern Pilates uses fitness equipment such as stability balls.

Contrology, also known as Pilates, was developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. This method of the art of control, is a system that focuses on developing the body through exercises that emphasize a mind-body connection. Pilates appropriately called his method of creating control of the body “contrology.” This fitness system uses numerous exercises that people of any age, body type, or fitness level can perform.

Deep breathing is one of the six major principles of contrology.
Deep breathing is one of the six major principles of contrology.

Pilates incorporates exercises generally performed on a mat or using pieces of fitness equipment. Joseph Pilates created a series of exercise routines with the goal to build strength, flexibility, balance, and mental awareness. The apparatuses originally used in contrology consisted of pulleys, platforms, and springs that provided extra resistance for exercises. Modern Pilates also uses fitness equipment such stability balls, foam rollers, and resistance bands.

In some cases, the use of Pilates for scoliosis can reduce the severity of the curve.
In some cases, the use of Pilates for scoliosis can reduce the severity of the curve.

The method of contrology is based on six major principles: breathing, centering, flow, concentration, control, and precision. The principle of breathing correctly is strongly emphasized in Pilates. Contrology demands a focus in proper inhaling and exhaling with every movement. Joseph Pilates taught that deep breathing practices could help cleanse the body and provide well-being.

Pilates incorporates exercises performed on a mat.
Pilates incorporates exercises performed on a mat.

Pilates may offer various health benefits such as improved posture, higher levels of body awareness, increased strength and flexibility, and reduced risk of injury. Advanced Pilates burns roughly 480 calories per hour, and can contribute to weight loss when used as part of a balanced weight loss plan. It creates a stronger core through exercises that emphasize strengthening the back and midsection.

Contrology seeks to identify a person’s imbalances and physical weaknesses, and then works toward correcting them through purposeful movements. The Pilates method uses whole body movements to create a better overall balance, and avoids using isolation exercises. Contrology aims to build personal fitness levels and consequently contribute to well-being and happiness.

Joseph Pilates created contrology out of a desire to ease his numerous physical ailments, such as asthma and rickets. His method focusing on stretching, breathing, core work, and mental focus enabled Pilates to overcome his ailments and develop skills in yoga, gymnastics, skiing, and boxing. He began using his techniques on bedridden World War I soldiers, and later shared his method with boxers and dancers, to improve their mobility.

Pilates classes are widely available and provided by trained instructors. Books and online instruction make learning about the Pilates method convenient. Pilates may complicate certain back problems or pose difficulty during pregnancy, so seek a health professional’s advice before beginning a new program.

Who Influenced Joseph Pilates?

Joseph's father was a mechanic and accomplished gymnast who operated a gym later in life. Some believe that Joseph's athletic inspiration came from his father's physical prowess. His mother was a stay-at-home mom, as most were at the time. She raised nine children, and the demands of domestic work left her sore and tired much of the time. And the desire to help others came from watching his mother find innovative ways to care for his family. Many believe his mother was his first client after developing Contrology.

How Did Contrology Evolve During Joseph’s Lifetime?

Adolescence 

Joseph Pilates was a frail child. He was often sick with ailments like rickets and rheumatic fever, and he wanted to break free of his limiting lifestyle. He tried his hand and excelled at various sports. He also studied varying global ideas on health and wellbeing. Many Eastern philosophies promote a mind-body connection, which Joseph integrated into his work. He started to piece together a new regime that combined stretching, strength, and mental focus.

Young Adulthood

Later, during World War I, Joseph Pilates served by working in a hospital as an orderly. He attended to patients who could no longer walk. He invented apparatuses that included springs to offer limb support for his patients during this time. The springs gave bedridden patients a chance to rehabilitate their injured muscles from a prone position. He continued work with this device and the complementary exercises and developed the "Contrology method." In the early 1920s, he and his wife moved to New York City. They opened a fitness studio to offer their new program to the public. It became very popular with dancers and celebrities. Later, his spring-loaded invention became the Pilates reformer machine, which enthusiasts still use in present-day studios.

When Did Contrology Become Pilates?

In 1967, Joseph Pilates died from late-stage emphysema. He continued promoting his fitness routine late in life, but he always called it Contrology. Though he referred to the actual exercise regime as Contrology, his wellness studio bore his name. After he died, his wife and a protege continued to teach at the studio, and people began to refer to their work as the "Pilates method."

How Did Pilates Evolve After Joseph's Death?

The evolution of the Pilates method did not stop after the death of its creator. Joseph's wife Clara and several former students continued to teach his technique. This group did not budge from the principles of Joseph's teachings. They refer to their approach as "classic Pilates."

Many Pilates instructors in later years took what they learned from classic Pilates and combined it with knowledge from other health and wellness regimes. Those in the fitness community call these adaptations to the original method "modern Pilates." Purists argue that modern Pilates is not authentic. Regardless, the root of both strategies is stretching, strength and breathing.

When Did Pilates Become Popular?

Though it was popular among fitness enthusiasts and New York's elite in the mid-1900s, Pilates would not become a household name until the 1990s. During this decade, celebrities caught on and alerted the masses to their new favorite workout trend. In the 2000s, Pilates studios popped up across the globe.

The training remained popular for years. In-person classes taught in large gyms, boutique specialty studios, and home video workouts were the rage for many years. But, recent years have shown a decline in popularity. An over-saturation of fitness fads in the market may be to blame. But some point to the daintiness of the program. Contemporary workouts are all about sweating and overexertion. Pilates, though difficult, does not produce the red-faced results many are after.

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    • Modern Pilates uses fitness equipment such as stability balls.
      By: Grafvision
      Modern Pilates uses fitness equipment such as stability balls.
    • Deep breathing is one of the six major principles of contrology.
      By: zea_lenanet
      Deep breathing is one of the six major principles of contrology.
    • In some cases, the use of Pilates for scoliosis can reduce the severity of the curve.
      By: Syda Productions
      In some cases, the use of Pilates for scoliosis can reduce the severity of the curve.
    • Pilates incorporates exercises performed on a mat.
      By: Monkey Business
      Pilates incorporates exercises performed on a mat.