Pilates is an exercise method created by Joseph Pilates which is rooted in Six Principles: Centering, Control, Concentration, Flow, Breath and Precision. The original name of Pilates was Contrology or The Art of Control. The method was created in the 1900's and developed over the course of Joseph Pilates' lifetime. After Joe passed away in 1967, Contrology was renamed Pilates. Joe believed that by moving with control, following a specific order of exercises and using your breath properly you could rid yourself of chronic pain and instabilities. The method focuses on core strength, flexibility, stability and balance. A steady practice of Pilates improves every functional aspect of your life.
Pilates can be performed on your own. There are wide variety of books, DVD's and online websites with classes that you can use. Ideally Pilates is performed in a studio where you can experience all the apparatus as Joe originally intended, but many gym's only offer mat classes. More gyms are introducing the Pilates equipment due to it's increasing popularity not only to improve clients performance but to aid clients who experience pain, require more one on one assistance or are rehabilitating.
Pilates teachers are not physical therapists. Additional education is required to receive this certification.
During a Pilates workout you will perform a wide variety of exercises that seem extremely unusual like The Hundred which requires big deep breaths, arm pumps and a very stable strong body position. The Hundred is a warm up exercise to get the blood circulating in your body. You inhale fresh air and exhale stale air. You engage the lungs and diaphragm along with your transverse abdominals to their maximum capacity. You recruit every single muscle in your body, more specifically the Powerhouse muscles which can be found shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. If you move from a strong and supple Powerhouse you will notice over time many changes in your body.
Pilates Mat Classes take place only on the mat, maybe a yoga mat. You might use some small props like hand weights or therabands. During these classes you use your own body weight to provide a variety of muscular challenges helping you resist gravity, while stretching and strengthening your entire body. This is generally a group class where you work out with other clients in unison.
Pilates Tower Classes (also known as the Wall Unit) use a variety of springs and bars creating resistance in a variety of different movements that you might recognize from mat class and some that are very different. The springs act as your extra muscles and create resistance in a variety of directions helping you build strength, stability and flexibility. You will find it challenging to control your body and the springs in the beginning but with regular practice you will see that you develop more control, strength and flexibility. This is generally a group class environment as well.
Pilates on equipment like the Reformer, Cadillac and the Chairs still follow a specific order of exercises but provide the client with different challenges as the stationary mat used in Mat Classes and Tower Classes is now smaller and slides on tracks or is at an angle on springs thus challenging the client. Sometimes there is a small seat with a much smaller pedal. You focus on the same elements as the mat and tower classes but the exercises on the equipment, otherwise know as the apparatus, require more oppositional and complex movements. For example Snake and Twist on the Reformer require you to extend your body so the springs extend while you take your body into extension and rotation utilizing a very specific breath to facilitate proper movement. Depending upon how many springs are attached this exercise can be a little easier or a little harder.
There are many styles of Pilates and many manufacturers of Pilates equipment. You can go to one Pilates teacher or studio and have a very different experience than another teacher or studio. What style and studio you like is a very personal choice. Feeling supported and satisfied with your experience is very important to the benefits of Pilates so no matter where you go you should always leave your class feeling refreshed, maybe even like you had a full body massage. Every cell in your body should feel awake and alive.