Joseph Pilates and his Method.
Millions of people around the world now practice Pilates and the number is growing day by day. Why has this system of exercise become so popular? How does it appeal to such a wide spectrum of people, from dancers and athletes to those starting exercise or rehabilitating from injury? The fact is no matter what your age or physical condition everyone can benefit from practicing Pilates.
Born in 1880 near Düsseldorf, Joseph Pilates was not always the model of health and vitality. He was a sickly child, troubled by asthma and rickets. He developed his system of exercise in order to strengthen his frail body and became both strong and flexible with extraordinary muscle definition. Using his technique he become a proficient skier, gymnast, diver and bodybuilder, well known for his work as a circus performer, boxer and selfdefense instructor. He left Germany for England, and during World War I was interned as a German National; it was during this period that he started to develop some of his innovative pieces of equipment. He was dedicated to improving the health of internees in camps and hospitals through exercise, and his methods helped many to rehabilitate physically and mentally.
The Pilate’s exercise philosophy incorporates a wonderful blend of concentration on body awareness; breathing; and fluid, controlled, precise movements,. His technique requires a mental as well as physical approach to exercising. Pilate’s believed that in order to achieve happiness it is imperative to gain mastery of the body. He wrote a book in 1945 to explain his theories - Return to Life – in which he claims that Mind/Body exercise, in particular his system of conditioning, can reawaken the body through movement and the mind through conscious thought. The combination resulting
Spotlight on the Health Benefits The reason for the expanding number of Pilates sessions in specialised studios, health clubs, village halls and hospitals is that the Pilates technique works. It can be practiced just about anywhere and, due to its concentrated multi-muscle nature, is time efficient. Just what the exerciser of the Millennium wants and needs.
Modern research into the results of practicing the techniques confirms what Pilates converts have long reported. One study on how Pilates movements such as the Hundred, the Roll- Up, the Double Leg Stretch, Criss Cross and Teaser compare with the basic Gym Crunch illustrate the effectiveness of doing Pilates. As reported by Michele Olson, PhD, FACSM with Carrie Myers Smith in their article, ‘Pilates Exercise: Lessons From the Lab’, it was found that the Pilates movements, with the exception of the Hundred, were more effective than the Gym Crunch (by significant percentages) in stimulating an increase of the muscles maximal output in terms of Rectus Abdominis and the External Obliques. It is also significant that the authors refer to the importance of modifying some of the movements, such as the Teaser and the Roll Up, to reduce the risk of injury to the lower back and hip flexors. This reseach shows that Pilates can be effective in training the abdominal tunic, but that this is not the most important result of doing Pilates regularly and correctly.
One of the key benefits has been seen in the area of lower back ache/injury - one of the most debilitating conditions in modern society and a common cause of visits to the doctor and days lost at work. A study at Florida Atlantic University, Graves, S.,et al. 2005, ‘The influence of Pilates-based mat exercise on chronic lower back pain, et al' produced interesting data. It reported on a group aged between 46 and 52 years that took Pilates mat exercise twice a week for 12 weeks, and a control group aged 34 to 43 that did not practice the method. All had experienced lower back pain previously. The results indicated that those practicing Pilates gained muscle strength in the lower back muscles, improved their flexibility and range of motion. There was also a significant change in body composition in those practicing Pilates. The group reduced body fat content! Researchers are quick to say that more studies need to be done on how effective Pilates can be in helping with lower back issues, but many Pilates instructors are amazed at how the technique can provide relief and rehabilitation for back and hip problems.