Whether it is because all things "retro" are destined to become new, or humans are forever in search of the ultimate exercise regimen, or actors and athletes alike are proclaiming its virtues, Pilates is hot. It's in. It's it. It's the new new thing. Actually, given that this fitness program was developed almost a century ago, it's the new old thing.
- Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-teez) is a form of exercise and body conditioning developed by Joseph Pilates, who was born in Germany in 1880. As a child, Pilates contended with various diseases including asthma and rickets, a condition characterized by abnormal bone formation. A determination to overcome physical limitations through physical fitness sparked his interest in creating an exercise program that was engaging and refreshing and that left the body invigorated rather than exhausted. In doing so, he drew on personal studies from a range of "mind/body" disciplines including body building, gymnastics and skiing, in addition to yoga and Zen meditation.
- Pilates wanted to create a form of exercise that could build strength and improve flexibility. In the 1920s, after he opened a fitness studio in New York City, some of his most devoted clients were prominent dancers. But his clients also included actors and athletes.
- Pilates never put his ideas down on paper to create an exercise instruction manual; rather the regimen was kept alive by disciples, some of whom developed their own interpretation of the method. So what remains today is largely that - various interpretations of the Pilates exercise approach.
Achieving balance is key
The objective of the regimen is to achieve a balance between flexibility and strength; increasing muscle size is not a goal. In developing his method, Pilates emphasized "contrology" or the science and art of coordinated body-mind-spirit development through natural movements. He combined the eastern approach to exercise (calmness, centeredness) with the western approach (motion, muscle tone and strength) to develop what he considered the ultimate form of fitness: exercise without strain that cultivates power and grace. Pilates also designed various apparatuses to accommodate the hundreds of exercises he developed over time.
Some of the principles that guide the Pilates method include concentration on each movement, use of the abdomen and low back muscles, flowing movement patterns that are precise and not jerky and a steady and controlled breathing. Depending on the exercise, Pilates routines can be performed on specially-designed apparatuses or on a mat or blanket. In addition to its ability to build physical strength and improve flexibility, the Pilates method has been credited with helping to strengthen the immune system, decrease stress and alleviate body ailments like back or neck pain. Performed correctly (and at least initially, under the supervision of a certified Pilates instructor), the Pilates exercises are safe for adults, seniors, pregnant women and children.
In some respects, Pilates conditioning is like yoga. Both are considered disciplines that engage the mind and body in the exercise ritual; both emphasize deep breathing and smooth, long movements that encourage your muscles to relax and lengthen; both can build strength and improve flexibility. While yoga requires moving from one static posture to the next without repetitions, however, Pilates involves "flowing" through a series of movements that are more dynamic, systematic and anatomically based.
Pilates and Heart Disease Prevention
The best type of exercise for primary and secondary prevention of heart disease is aerobic exercise. Although the Pilates system is not considered to be aerobic in nature, it is an excellent adjunct to a regular aerobic program (such as walking, cycling, or swimming). In particular, its potential stress reduction features promotes long term heart health.
Other Pilates benefits are:
- Improves balance, coordination and circulation
- Improves performance in sports (e.g., golf, skiing, skating, dance)
- Streamlines and lengthens the body
- Improves postural problems; can alleviate back pain
- Increases core strength/stability and peripheral mobility
- Helps prevent injury
- Enhances ease of movement
- Balances strength and flexibility
- Heightens body awareness
- Easy on the joints because it is low impact
- Can be customized for a broad range of fitness and ability levels, from rehab patients (including cardiac rehab patients) to elite athletes
- Strengthens the immune system
To make an appointment with an exercise specialist or to join a cardiac rehabilitation program, contact the Cleveland Clinic Preventive Cardiology - 216.444.9353 or 800.223.2273 ext. 9353.
Revised from, "Old" Exercise Regimen is New Again, Health Extra, and reviewed by Robert J. Rosneck, MA, RRT, Exercise Specialist, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitative Services