Pilates in action may not be exciting to watch, but the results certainly
are. This exercise routine features slow, controlled movements and focuses
on breathing and the mind-body connection. In some ways, it's similar to yoga.
But there are key differences.
"It has some similarities to yoga and was originally partially inspired
by yoga," explains Laura Helsel, a Pilates studio owner. "But Pilates focuses
more on strength over flexibility. It doesn't work in such extreme ranges
Today's fitness craze goes back to its creator, Joseph H. Pilates. He developed
the system in Germany in the 1920s. After a move to New York, Pilates opened
a studio near the New York City Ballet in 1926. Soon, dancers were enjoying
the benefits of his system.
The phrase that keeps coming up to explain Pilates is "core stability."
People who do Pilates also say that it helps make their bodies longer, leaner
and stronger. This is what drew those early dancers to the exercise routine.
"The basic premise of Pilates is to promote elongation of the spine and
improve muscular flexibility and balance," says Daniela Moretti, an instructor
and studio owner. "You also strengthen the core by learning to engage abdominal
Today, Pilates is more popular than ever. There are studios that specialize
in Pilates and other similar exercises. Many regular gyms are also adding
Pilates to their programs.
You can take group classes or private sessions. Or stay at home and use
an instructional video. There are many ways to begin your journey.
"Videos are a great option for those who do not have access to a Pilates
studio, or who are on a budget," says trainer John Garey.
"There really is no substitute for good instruction, however. It is highly
recommended that you do at least a few sessions with a certified...instructor
before trying it on your own."
Both Moretti and Helsel agree with Garey's advice.
"Most videos, even beginner ones, are quite advanced for many people,"
Helsel points out.
"You should always attend a class," says Moretti. "Too many people come
to me with bad backs after trying tapes. Tapes don't cater to different body
types and levels of understanding."
Not in the best of shape? Don't worry -- Pilates is a form of exercise
that is suitable for everyone.
"Pilates is an excellent starting point if you've never exercised, are
recovering from injuries or have limitations," says Helsel. "We have clients
with partial paralysis, MS, osteoporosis, scoliosis and other health conditions."
"Pilates is great for the physically challenged as long as there is medical
clearance and the instructor is knowledgeable of the condition," agrees Garey.
Still want to try Pilates? You're not alone. The activity continues to
grow and those involved believe it will continue to do so.
"There will always be new trends," observes Helsel. "But I would hope that
Pilates would withstand trends by constantly adapting to core stability and
biomechanical research. It would therefore stay both current and safe."
"Pilates is so popular because it produces great results for people of
all ages and fitness levels," adds Garey. "Many people are interested in toning
their bodies and becoming more fit. I see the trend growing both in the near
and the far future."
Female practitioners dominate Pilates. Males currently make up an estimated
30 to 35 percent, but that figure is growing.
If you want to become one of the many people who are benefiting from Pilates,
here is some advice from the experts.
"Private sessions at a specialty studio are certainly the most expensive,"
notes Helsel. "But gyms and the YMCA can offer much cheaper mat classes. The
quality will certainly vary, though. Invest in a private session or two to
"Get involved -- do Pilates through your gym department," advises Moretti.
"Get a program started in your high school."
"Decide on your own personal goals. Research the studio you are thinking
of joining, or the video you're thinking of buying," adds Garey. "Make sure
that the instructor you're working with is certified. Check their credentials."
And don't be fooled by fancy equipment. Equipment-based workouts offer
different rewards but are not necessary to a good Pilates session.
"It is not necessary but it is helpful," says Helsel. "The equipment is
generally big, expensive and not appropriate for home use."
Once you add Pilates to a well-rounded health plan that includes good diet
and some cardiovascular exercise, you can expect remarkable results.
"The greatest benefits of Pilates come from strength and flexibility,"
And if you stay in it long enough, you can pass on those benefits to your
own students. Helsel says that there is always a need for top instructors.
By starting young, you can reach that level faster and ensure that Pilates
continues to benefit others.
Pilates Method Alliance
An international association dedicated to the teachings of Joseph
Read the FAQ section
Features a quick overview of what Pilates is and what benefits
you can expect