Developed early in the 20th century by German/Greek innovator Joseph Pilates, the method Pilates concentrates on the link between mind and body, and emphasizes proper breathing and strengthening of the deep core muscles of the hips and torso. Pilates' system was originated to help returning World War I veterans recover and build strength. In later years, it was adopted by dancers and other fitness enthusiasts, and gained great popularity from the 1980s on.
Method Pilates focuses on postural alignment, deep breathing, core muscles, concentration, control, and precision. As a philosophy, it strives for a balanced body that has strength and flexibility without added bulk. The breathing aspect of the method involves deep, controlled breaths with forced exhalations that use a specific rhythm and accompany each part of the exercise routine.
According to Pilates' philosophy, the core muscles are the powerhouse of the body, with power emanating from the midsection to the extremities. By toning, strengthening, and stretching the deep abdominal and back muscles, method Pilates seeks to build a balanced body by working them in conjunction with the shoulders and pelvic girdle. The concentration, control, and precision aspects of the Pilates approach propose that every movement of the exercises has a purpose. Each movement, regardless how small, should be integral to the whole exercise session. The goal is for the economy of motion to become second-nature, so much so that it carries over into everyday life.
Pilates' early experiments involved using bedsprings for progressive resistance, meaning that the further the spring was stretched, the more effort was required. Most of the method Pilates exercises still involve progressive resistance rather than weights, with fancifully named devices, such as the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Guillotine Tower, and the Spine Corrector. Using certain items, such as balance balls, weighted medicine balls, and resistance bands, Pilates exercises seek to build strength and flexibility at the same time. Even upper body exercises using the Pilates ring or other devices are designed to connect to the core muscles and strengthen them as well. The classic Pilates method calls for the exercises to be performed in a certain sequence, thereby working muscle groups station by station.
Generally, Pilates has proven to be useful for all ages and physical conditions. It also has found uses in rehabilitation, where instructors make adjustments in the routine to compensate for physical limitations. The concentration aspect of Pilates has even proven useful for Parkinson's sufferers. Regardless, Pilates has caught on as a popular and effective exercise regimen and lifestyle.