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Pilates (//; German: [piˈlaːtəs]) is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. Pilates called his method "Contrology." It is practiced worldwide, and especially in western countries such as Canada, 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.
There is limited evidence to support the use of Pilates to alleviate lower back pain, improve strength, and prevent elderly people from falling. It has not been shown to be effective treatment for any medical condition.
In his book Return to Life through Contrology, Joseph Pilates presents his method as the art of controlled movements, which should look and feel like a workout (not a therapy) when properly manifested. If practiced with consistency, Pilates improves flexibility, builds strength and develops control and endurance in the entire body. It puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates' system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginner to advanced or to any other level, and also in terms of the instructor and practitioner's specific goals and/or limitations. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions and adapts to the exercises.
Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, from Mönchengladbach, Germany. His father was a prize-winning gymnast and his mother a naturopath. He studied Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga.
During the first half of the twentieth century, he developed a system of exercises which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body. Pilates believed that mental and physical health were interrelated.
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. Joseph Pilates, like many Germans, was interned in Britain during World War I. On the Isle of Man, he started teaching other interned Germans about Pilates.
Joseph Pilates accompanied his method with a variety of equipment, for which he used the term "apparatus." Each apparatus was designed to help accelerate the process of stretching, strengthening, body alignment and increased core strength started by the mat work. The best-known and most popular apparatus today, the Reformer, was originally called the Universal Reformer, aptly named for "universally reforming the body." Eventually Pilates designed other apparatus, including the Cadillac, Wunda Chair, High "Electric" Chair, Spine Corrector, Ladder Barrel and Pedi-Pole.
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.
His first students went on to teach his methods, including: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Jay Grimes, Ron Fletcher, Maja Wollman, Mary Bowen, Carola Treir, Bob Seed, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel, 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 aims to preserve the original work as Joseph Pilates taught it.
Frank 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". 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." In Pilates the way that exercises are done is more important than the exercises themselves.
"Contrology" was Joseph Pilates' preferred name for his method, and it was 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." All exercises are done with control, 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."
For practitioners to control their bodies, they must have a starting place: the center. The center is the focal point of the Pilates method. 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 center and move outward to the limbs.
Pilates aims for elegant economy 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.
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". The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Here Pilates reflects common physical culture wisdom: "You will gain more strength from a few energetic, concentrated efforts than from a thousand listless, sluggish movements". The goal is for this precision to eventually become second nature and carry over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
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". 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." He advised people to squeeze out the lungs as they would wring a wet towel dry. In Pilates exercises, the practitioner breathes out with the effort and in on the return. 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."
In 2015 the Australian Government's Department of Health published a review of alternative therapies that sought to determine if any were suitable for being covered by health insurance; Pilates was one of 17 therapies evaluated which was found to have insufficient medical evidence for treating any specific health conditions. For the treatment of lower back pain, there is limited evidence that Pilates may provide greater benefits than other types of exercise, and there is some evidence it can help with the conditioning of the abdominal muscles of healthy people.
In October 2000 "Pilates" was ruled a generic term by a U.S. federal court, making it free for unrestricted use
As a result of the court ruling, The Pilates Method Alliance was formed as a professional association for the Pilates community. Its purpose was to provide an international organization to connect teachers, teacher trainers, studios, and facilities dedicated to preserving and enhancing the legacy of Joseph H. Pilates and his exercise method by establishing standards, encouraging unity, and promoting professionalism.
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- Pilates, Joseph (1998) . Pilates' Return to Life through Contrology. Incline Village: Presentation Dynamics. pp. 12–14. ISBN 0-9614937-9-8.
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- "PMA Quick Facts - Pilates Method Alliance". Retrieved 2015-07-30.
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- "About the PMA - Pilates Method Alliance". www.pilatesmethodalliance.org. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
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