What Is Pilates?

Regardless of your level of physical fitness activity, you have no doubt heard of Pilates. Developed by Joseph Pilates nearly a century ago, Pilates has become one of the most popular fitness methods in the world. A system of exercises designed to increase flexibility, strengthen the body and provide greater mental focus, it has also been embraced by professional athletes and physical rehabilitation experts for its numerous benefits. Read more about those benefits here.

For much of his childhood, Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, yet he was determined to improve his physical health. He studied yoga, qigong, gymnastics and body building, and developed exercises to increase his strength and flexibility, balance and alignment.

During World War I, Pilates was interned in a camp on the Isle of Man. There, he used springs removed from hospital beds to assist in the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers, developing techniques to increase their range of motion. In 1926, Pilates emigrated to the United States and opened the first Pilates studio in New York City. Among his clients were famed dancers George Balanchine and Martha Graham, though the benefits of Pilates were quickly realized by the New York society elite, theater performers, and gymnasts.

Joseph Pilates created over 600 exercises during his teaching career. He further developed the crude equipment originally constructed with used hospital beds and springs into equipment still in use today: the Reformer, Cadillac, Ladder Barrel, Wunda Chair and Spine Corrector. He believed that his exercises and equipment were not simply a fitness program, but rather a path toward total body wellness and health. His method, called Contrology, was designed to train the entire body and, by doing so, correct body alignment and balance issues.

Several approaches to the Pilates method have spread during the past century. The BASI Method, developed by founder Rael Isacowitz, aims to continue the essence of Pilates’ work while integrating more modern equipment and contemporary scientific concepts. During a typical Pilates session, a client will be led through progressive exercises in the Block System, including a Warm Up, Foot Work, Abdominal Work, Hip Work, Spinal Articulation, Stretches, Full Body Integration, Arm Work, Leg Work, Lateral Flexion/Rotation, and Back Extension.