Joseph Pilates was the kid whose physical limitations made him your last choice for team sports. Tired of being that kid, he developed an exercise technique that helped him overcome his disabilities. Known as "Contrology," the method that Joe built turned him into a super athlete. Pilates eventually came to New York and opened a studio. After his death, a group of his students, now called Pilates elders or first-generation Pilates teachers, carried out his work. They developed a special terminology based on his writings.
Principles of Pilates
The principles of Pilates, which include breathing, concentration, centering, flow, precision and control, form the foundation of the method. Concentration, or mindfulness, links these principles together. Its siblings, precision and control, promote movement accuracy and efficiency. These factors distinguish Pilates from other systems. The side leg raise, performed in group exercise classes, might resemble a similar Pilates series, but mindless, momentum-powered leg lifts do not make it so. Some yoga postures also resemble Pilates, but forget about striking a pose in Pilates class. Instead, your body maintains a constant state of motion, with each movement flowing into the next.
Good old Joe knew about core training long before it became a fitness trend. He just had a different name for it. The "powerhouse" describes a muscle team that includes the deep and superficial abdominal muscles, along with the muscles of your lower back, pelvis and glute region. He believed that all movements must initiate from this area. This girdle of strength stabilizes your pelvis and protects your lower back. Common Pilates cues for engaging your powerhouse include "scoop your abs" and "draw your navel toward your spine."
Who knew that a simple exhalation could create stronger abdominal contractions? Pilates figured this out decades ago. The stability ball illustrates this idea. Blowing it up with air makes it big and round. To flatten it, pull the plug and press against the surface to expel the air. During exhalation, your deep core muscles do the same thing to your diaphragm. The Pilates exhalation occurs when you need the most powerful core contraction, but there's this pesky inhalation problem. The yogic Buddha-belly inhalations won't cut it, because a flaccid core can't protect your back. Enter the lateral breathing technique, which sends the breath into your outer ribs, instead of your belly.
Pilates mat work describes the exercises performed on the floor, whereas the apparatus refers to his innovative line of equipment. The Reformer is a complex system of springs, straps and pulleys which team up with a gliding platform. Even more sophisticated is the Cadillac, also called the "Trapeze Table." It consists of a raised table with a four-post frame to which a selection of bars, straps, springs and levers are attached. The Pilates chair is a box with a pedal, which accommodates standing, seated and prone exercises. A set of springs supplies resistance. Smaller pieces of apparatus include a barrel-shaped device, appropriately called the barrel, and a flexible metal ring known as the fitness circle.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.