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The Pilates Method (or simply Pilates), is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates[1]. As of 2005 there are 11 million people who practice the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States. [2]

Pilates called his method Contrology, because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles.[3] The program focuses on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.


Pilates was formed by Joseph Pilates during the First World War with the proposal to improve the rehabilitation program for the many returning veterans. Joseph Pilates believed mental and physical health are essential to one another. He recommended a few, precise movements emphasizing control and form to aid injured soldiers in regaining their health by strengthening, stretching,and stabilizing key muscles. Pilates created "The Pilates Principles" to condition the entire body: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.

Joseph Pilates wrote two books concerning the Pilates method: Return to Life through Contrology and Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education.


Pilates claimed his method has a philosophical and theoretical foundation. It claims not merely to be a collection of exercises but a method developed and refined over more than eighty years of use and observation. One interpretation of Pilates Principles: Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breathing, and Flowing Movement, is similar to yoga

According to practitioners, the central aim of Pilates is to create a fusion of mind and body, so that without thinking about it the body will move with economy, grace, and balance. The end goal is to produce an attention-free union of mind and body. Practitioners believe in using one's body to the greatest advantage, making the most of its strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances. The method requires that one constantly pay attention to one's body while doing the movements. Paying attention to movement is so vital that it is more important than any other single aspect of the movements.


Joseph Pilates believed in circulating the blood so that it could awaken all the cells in the body and carry away the wastes related to fatigue. For the blood to do its work properly, he maintained, it has to be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through proper breathing. Full and thorough inhalation and exhalation are part of every Pilates exercise. Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation. “Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry, he is reputed to have said.Breathing, too, should be done with concentration, control, and precision. It should be properly coordinated with movement. Each exercise is accompanied by breathing instructions. Joseph Pilates stated, “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly.


Pilates called the very large group of muscles in the center of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – the “powerhouse.” All energy for Pilates exercises begins from the powerhouse and flows outward to the extremities. Physical energy exerted from the center coordinates one's movements. Pilates felt that it was important to build a strong powerhouse in order to rely on it in daily living. Modern instructors call the powerhouse the "core".


Pilates demands intense focus. For instance, the inner thighs and pelvic floor may be assessed when doing a standing exercise that tones the triceps. Beginners learn to pay careful attention to their bodies, building on very small, delicate fundamental movements and controlled breathing. 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 .[4]


Joseph Pilates built his method on the idea of muscle control. That meant no sloppy, uncontrolled movements. Every Pilates exercise must be performed with the utmost control, including all body parts, to avoid injury and produce positive results. Pilates emphasizes not intensity or multiple repetitions of a movement, but proper form for safe, effective results.


Every movement in the Pilates method has a purpose. Every instruction is vitally important to the success of the whole. To leave out any detail is to forsake the intrinsic value of the exercise. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Eventually this precision becomes second nature, and carries over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.


Many exercises are contra-indicated for pregnant women and the use of Pilates in pregnancy should only be undertaken under guidance of a fully trained expert.[5]

Legal action

In recent years the term "Pilates" worked itself into the mainstream and, following an unsuccessful intellectual property lawsuit, a US federal court ruled the term "Pilates" generic and free for unrestricted use.[6] While this ruling prevented artificial restrictions on the use of the term "Pilates", it also permitted many untrained or under-qualified practitioners to capitalise on the name. Consumers now face extensive and conflicting information about what Pilates really is, how it works, and what credentials they should seek in an instructor.[7]


  1. Pilates, Joseph (1945 - Re-released 1998). Pilates' Return to Life through Contrology. Incline Village: Presentation dynamics. ISBN 0961493798. 
  2. Ellin, A. (2005-07-21). Now Let Us All Contemplate Our Own Financial Navels. New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-09-20.
  3. Pilates, Joseph (1945 - Re-released 1998). Pilates' Return to Life through Contrology. Incline Village: Presentation dynamics. ISBN 0961493798. 
  4. MSNBC,Pilates may give relief for Parkinson's patients 2006.
  5. Royal College of Midwives (2005). Pilates and pregnancy (.pdf) (English). Volume 8, Number 5, pp. 220-223. Royal College of Midwives. Retrieved on September 11, 2007.
  6. US District Court - Southern District of NY, Opinion 96 civ. 43 (MGC) October 2000
  7. Wall Street Journal, Is your Pilates Instructor a Health Hazard, March 15th, 2005 [1]

Selected Sites:

  • Pilates Method Alliance *Cool Site* - An international not for profit organization focused on preserving the legacy of Joseph H. and Clara Pilates. Includes membership information, details on this exercise form, member search, news, and annual conference information.
  • About.com - Pilates - Essential information, sample exercises, FAQs, product reviews and articles on topics such as equipment and certification.
  • All About Pilates - On line guide to Pilates, the exercises, the equipment and the Pilates community.
  • Beyond the Movement: The Pilates Podcast - Podcast dedicated to providing insight and exploration into the body's awakening as you progress beyond the movement.
  • Easy Vigour - Instructions for using pilates for back pain relief. Sample exercises with illustrations.
  • The Ellie Herman Studio - Provides details of training and classes in California and new York, as well as background information and a directory of studios in several countries.
  • Lifelong Pilates with Mary Bowen - Method "elder" describes her background, workshops offered at diverse locations, and studios in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Online sales of a video by Joe and Clara Pilates.
  • Michael Miller Pilates - This site offers information by way of on-line training courses, videos, and photos of the exercises plus Pilates databases.
  • Pilates Fitness Journal - Pilates Magazine online with articles and news about pilates information, exercises, methods, videos, and books.
  • Pilates Kingdom - Articles and illustrated sample exercises. Instructions for using pilates for arthritis rehabilitation.
  • Pilates on Tour - Provides continuing education workshops around the United States. Includes list of upcoming events, and details of instructors.
  • Pilates Pregnancy - Contains downloadable articles about the use of this method in the pre- and post-natal period.
  • Polestar Pilates - Includes description of the philosophy, information on education, newsletter and class finder.
  • Ultimate Pilates Guide - A comprehensive directory for the Pilates community listing studios, certification programs, workshops and equipment and product guides.
  • Yahoo Groups: Stott Pilates - A group for discussion and to support and encourage each other in this method of body conditioning.


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