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Pilates (/pɪˈlɑːtz/;[1] German: [piˈlaːtəs]) is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, and popular in many countries, including Germany,[2] the United States and the United Kingdom. As of 2005, there were 11 million people practicing the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States alone.[3]

Pilates called his method "Contrology" (from "control" and Greek -λογία, -logia).[2]

Benefits of Pilates[edit]

Pilates is a body conditioning routine that may help build flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance in the legs, abdominals, arms, hips, and back.[4] It puts emphasis on spinal and pelvic alignment, breathing, and developing a strong core or center, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates' system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginning to advanced. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions and adapts to the exercises.[4]

Photo demonstrating a Pilates Teacher using verbal and tactile feedback to ensure proper form

A 2013 systematic review found only inconclusive evidence that Pilates was beneficial to people with lower back pain.[5]


Pilates was designed by Joseph Pilates, a physical-culturist from Mönchengladbach, Germany. During the first half of the 20th century, he developed a system of exercises which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body. Pilates believed that mental and physical health are interrelated.[6]

In his youth, he had practiced many of the physical training regimes available in Germany, and it was from these he developed his own work. It has clear connections with the physical culture of the late Nineteenth Century, such as the use of special apparatuses and claims that the exercises could cure ill health. It is also related to the tradition of "corrective exercise" or "medical gymnastics" as typified by Pehr Henrik Ling.

Pilates published two books related to his training method: Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education in 1934, and Return to Life Through Contrology in 1945. In common with early twentieth century physical culture, Pilates had an extremely high regard for the Greeks and the physical prowess demonstrated in their Gymnasium.

His first students that went on to teach his methods and open studios, and most prominent include: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Jay Grimes, Ron Fletcher, Maja Wollman, Mary Bowen, Carola Treir, Bob Seed, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel,[7] and Mary Pilates, Joseph's niece. Contemporary Pilates includes both the "Modern" Pilates and the "Classical/Traditional" Pilates. Modern Pilates is partly derived from the teaching of some first generation students, while Classical preserves and promotes the original work as Joseph Pilates taught it.

The method was originally confined to the few and normally practised in a specialised studio, but with time this has changed and Pilates, in whatever form, can now be found in community centres, gyms, and physiotherapy rooms, and many other fitness services offered by Pilates-inspired businesses who have mixed their own understanding of Pilates with other disciplines. A variety of “modern” schools of Pilates, heavily influenced by a physiotherapeutic approach to Pilates, have adapted the Pilates system in different ways for reasons unknown to and unapproved by its creator, Joseph Pilates, and by the contemporary schools of Authentic Pilates who continue teaching his method. Joseph Pilates died as sole master of his own method and still controlling the intellectual property of it, including his apparatus: a fact that only changed with the Lawsuit of October 2000.[8]


Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen, two students of Romana Kryzanowska, published the first modern book on Pilates, The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, in 1980 and in it they outlined six "principles of Pilates".[9] These have been widely adopted—and adapted—by the wider community. The original six principles were concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.


Pilates demands intense focus: "You have to concentrate on what you're doing all the time. And you must concentrate on your entire body for smooth movements."[10] This is not easy, but in Pilates the way that exercises are done is more important than the exercises themselves.[10] In 2006 at the Parkinson Center of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon, the concentration factor of the Pilates method was being studied in providing relief from the degenerative symptoms of Parkinson's disease.[11]


"Contrology" was Joseph Pilates' preferred name for his method and it is based on the idea of muscle control. "Nothing about the Pilates Method is haphazard. The reason you need to concentrate so thoroughly is so you can be in control of every aspect of every moment."[12] All exercises are done with control with the muscles working to lift against gravity and the resistance of the springs and thereby control the movement of the body and the apparatus. "The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy."[13]


For practitioners to control their bodies, they must have a starting place: the center. The center is the focal point of the Pilates Method.[14] Many Pilates teachers refer to the group of muscles in the center of the body—encompassing the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and inner thighs—as the "powerhouse". All movement in Pilates should begin from the powerhouse and flow outward to the limbs.

Flow or efficiency of movement[edit]

Pilates aims for elegant sufficiency of movement, creating flow through the use of appropriate transitions. Once precision has been achieved, the exercises are intended to flow within and into each other in order to build strength and stamina. In other words, the Pilates technique asserts that physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate movements of the extremities: Pilates is flowing movement outward from a strong core.[15]


Precision is essential to correct Pilates: "concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value".[16] The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Pilates is here reflecting common physical culture wisdom: "You will gain more strength from a few energetic, concentrated efforts than from a thousand listless, sluggish movements".[17] The goal is for this precision to eventually become second nature, and carry over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.[18]


Breathing is important in the Pilates method. In Return to Life, Pilates devotes a section of his introduction specifically to breathing "bodily house-cleaning with blood circulation".[19] He saw considerable value in increasing the intake of oxygen and the circulation of this oxygenated blood to every part of the body. This he saw as cleansing and invigorating. Proper full inhalation and complete exhalation were key to this. "Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation."[20] He advised people to squeeze out the lungs as they would wring a wet towel dry.[21] In Pilates exercises, the practitioner breathes out with the effort and in on the return.[22] In order to keep the lower abdominals close to the spine; the breathing needs to be directed laterally, into the lower rib cage. Pilates breathing is described as a posterior lateral breathing, meaning that the practitioner is instructed to breathe deep into the back and sides of his or her rib cage. When practitioners exhale, they are instructed to note the engagement of their deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles and maintain this engagement as they inhale. Pilates attempts to properly coordinate this breathing practice with movement, including breathing instructions with every exercise. “Above all, learn to breathe correctly.”[23]


Students are taught to use their “powerhouse” throughout life’s daily activities. According to Joseph Pilates, the powerhouse is the centre of the body and if strengthened, it offers a solid foundation for any movement. This power engine is a muscular network which provides control over the body and comprises all the front, lateral and back muscles found between the upper inner thighs and arm pits.

The Powerhouse is activated effectively by hollowing of the deep abdominals, by drawing the navel back into the spine in a zipping-up motion, from the pubic bone to the breast bone thereby engaging the heels, the back of the inner thighs, the deep, lower-back muscles, and the muscles surrounding the sitting bones and tailbone area without inhibiting the natural function of the diaphragm—that is without the practitioner holding their breath either from lifting the chest upwards or contracting the chest.

In the sitting position the power engine elevates the torso and places the center of gravity at its highest and most efficient position; in prone position it elongates the body bidirectionally to reduce weight in the upper body; in supine position it elongates the body bidirectionally and places the center of gravity again at its highest and most efficient position.


Safety is always involved in every aspect of the Pilates work-out, therefore there are precautions, modifications and protocols developed over decades within the knowledge of Pilates itself, that a fully qualified Pilates instructor should know and follow when working-out people with certain conditions, e.g., during pregnancy, after birth, or with specific issues with their body. Safe teaching involves additional comprehensive inspection of the Pilates apparatus regularly and the way it is set up prior to a lesson.[24]

Pilates in recent years[edit]

In recent years the term “Pilates” has entered the mainstream. Following an unsuccessful trademark lawsuit, a U.S. federal court ruled the term “Pilates” generic and free for unrestricted use.[25] As a result, anyone in the United States, trained or untrained, can offer “Pilates” to the public.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pilates – pronunciation of Pilates by Macmillan Dictionary". Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Pilates, Joseph (1998) [1945]. Pilates' Return to Life <3 through Contrology. Incline Village: Presentation Dynamics. ISBN 0-9614937-9-8. 
  3. ^ Ellin, A. (21 June 2005). "Now Let Us All Contemplate Our Own Financial Navels". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-20. 
  4. ^ a b Mayo Clinic Staff (2012). "Pilates for Beginners: Explore the Core of Pilates". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  5. ^ Wells, Cherie; Kolt, Gregory S; Marshall, Paul; Hill, Bridget; Bialocerkowski, Andrea (2013). "Effectiveness of Pilates exercise in treating people with chronic low back pain: A systematic review of systematic reviews". BMC Medical Research Methodology 13: 7. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-13-7 . PMC 3563510. PMID 23331384. 
  6. ^ Studioequilibrium.com.br
  7. ^ Lolita San Miguel
  8. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pilates&action=submit#cite_note-38
  9. ^ "The Pilates method book". Retrieved 2 February 2011. 
  10. ^ a b Friedman and Eisen 2005, p. 13.
  11. ^ "Pilates may give relief for Parkinson’s patients". MSNBC, 2006.
  12. ^ Friedman and Eisen 2005, p. 14.
  13. ^ Suzanne Farrell, cited in Freidman and Eisman 2005, p. 15
  14. ^ Friedman and Eisen 2005, p. 15.
  15. ^ Romana Kryzanowska cited in Freidman and Eisen 2005, p. 16
  16. ^ Return to Life through Contrology, "Bodily house-cleaning through circulation" p. 14
  17. ^ Barnarr MacFadden, Muscular Power and Beauty, chap VI, p. 47
  18. ^ Return to Life through Contrology, "Bodily house-cleaning through circulation" p 14
  19. ^ Return to Life, p. 12ff
  20. ^ Freidman and Eisen 2005, p. 16
  21. ^ Return to Life through Contrology, "Bodily house-cleaning through circulation", p. 13
  22. ^ Romana Kryzanowska cited in Friedman and Eisen 2005, p. 17.
  23. ^ Return to Life through Contrology, "Bodily house-cleaning through circulation"
  24. ^ http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/pilates-equipment-liability-and-safety-part-2-of-2
  25. ^ U.S. District Court – Southern District of NY, Opinion 96 civ. 43 (MGC) October 2000, pilates.com

Further reading[edit]