Balancer Spotlight: Pilates
With thousands of instructors and millions of people practicing it regularly, Pilates has become a worldwide phenomenon. But this unique fitness system isn’t just a passing fad. From core strength to balance and flexibility, Pilates covers the basics needed for a great workout routine.
A brief history of Pilates
Pilates was originally developed during World War I. German-born Joseph Pilates created the basis for the system while interned in a prison camp. The exercises he developed helped his fellow camp inmates with both physical ailments and psychological issues. After the war, he used his system to help rehabilitate injured soldiers.
Joseph’s father was a gymnast, and his mother was a naturopath. Their professions seemed to have a strong influence on his fitness method. For example, the exercises he developed utilize apparatuses and focus on strengthening the core. Additionally, he believed that physical health and mental health were interrelated.1
The physical ailments Joseph experienced as a child also influenced his method. Suffering from asthma and other health issues, he turned to studying and practicing various exercise techniques for relief. By the time he reached adulthood, Joseph was healthy, fit, and no longer beset by illness.
After moving to the United States in 1926, Joseph opened up a fitness studio and trained many professional dancers and ballerinas. Many of his students would go on to open up their own studios and spread Pilates throughout the country.2
Pilates techniques and exercises
Joseph Pilates defined his method as “the art of controlled movements, which should look and feel like a workout when properly manifested.” His system incorporates resistance exercise that strengthens the body from the core muscles out. Six essential principles of Pilates were established to maximize the effectiveness of each exercise. They are:
- Centering – Focusing on the center of the body
- Concentration – Full attention and commitment
- Control – Conscious, deliberate movements
- Precision – Alignment, trajectory, and appropriate placement
- Breath – Deep-belly breathing in sync with the exercise
- Flow – Fluid, graceful movements3
There are two forms of Pilates exercise: one that uses Pilates equipment, and another that only requires a Pilates mat. The equipment utilizes springs and pullies along with the person’s body weight to provide resistance. Smaller pieces of equipment include magic circles, resistance bands, and weights. Larger pieces include the Pilates tower, Cadillac, chairs, and the Reformer, which is perhaps the most widely used piece of Pilates equipment.
Pilates mat exercises also use the person’s body weight for resistance, just without all the fancy equipment. While there are various Pilates mat routines out there, Joseph Pilates developed a specific order in which to do them. The first of these exercises is “The Hundred,” which involves lifting the legs up at a 90-degree angle and moving the arms up and down. The last exercise is The Push Up. These are like regular push-ups, only slower. They also include walking out to a plank and walking back to a leaned-over position.4
Classical Pilates includes this mat routine and other specific exercises developed by Joseph Pilates. But there are also modern versions of Pilates, which are collectively referred to as contemporary Pilates. Influenced by modern research as well as bio-mechanics and physical therapy, contemporary Pilates adds several exercises to the core routines developed by its founder.5
The benefits of Pilates
Pilates offers a number of health benefits that have been backed up by research. One study found that participants of an 8-week traditional mat Pilates program improved their body composition and muscular endurance while significantly improving flexibility.6 Another study revealed that Pilates-based exercise improved dynamic balance in the test subjects.7
In addition to these benefits, Pilates can also be used to effectively reduce pain—particularly lower-back pain. One randomized trial found that Pilates was an effective replacement for anti-inflammatory drugs and can help improve overall quality of life.8 Due to their focus on building the body’s core, Pilates may also help improve posture and stabilize the spine.
Of course, Pilates doesn’t have only physical benefits—it’s also good for your mental health. While exercise in general stimulates the brain, many have experienced specific psychological benefits from practicing Pilates, including:
- Boosted self-esteem
- Greater strength
- Better sex life
- Enhanced self-awareness
- Improved relaxation9
Pilates vs. yoga
Due to their popularity and the fact that they both use a mat, Pilates is often compared with yoga. These two methods of exercise share some of the same characteristics, but they have a number of key differences as well.
First, both yoga and Pilates focus on balance, flexibility, and core strength. Breathing and alignment are also critically important to both exercises. Furthermore, yoga and Pilates emphasize strengthening the mind-body connection.
Although similar, yoga is a much older practice—dating back thousands of years compared to only about 100 years of Pilates. Unlike yoga, Pilates may also incorporate various equipment. And while yoga is more of a meditative practice, Pilates places more of an emphasis on strengthening the muscles. Lastly, the exercises differ in that yoga poses are typically held longer, while Pilates has shorter movements with fewer repetitions.
Is Pilates right for you?
Pilates is a more intense workout for your body compared to exercises such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong. However, it’s not so intense that only fitness junkies can practice it. People of all fitness levels can do Pilates, and it can be a great starting point for those looking to get into more intense workouts down the road.
If you are older or have health problems, you may want to check with your doctor before practicing Pilates. Pilates routines, however, can be modified to be less intense if you fit into one of these two categories.
Because it requires precise form and control, it’s best to do Pilates under the supervision of an instructor. Just make sure the Pilates instructor you choose went through a comprehensive training program and trained under other experts. You should also ask if a Pilates trainer can accommodate you if you are elderly or have health issues.10
Remember also that Pilates shouldn’t be a “be-all, end-all” exercise that replaces all your other forms of exercise. That being said, it assists in more areas of fitness than many other types of exercise. And furthermore, Pilates can even enhance your performance in other exercises and athletic endeavors.
Pilates balancer Virtual Item
With ZYTO technology, you can scan for your preference, or what we call biological coherence, to the Pilates exercise program. The digital signature that represents this exercise is available to scan in the Services library, as well as in the ZYTO library.
In the ZYTO library, Pilates is categorized under the Exercise category. Within this category, Pilates also fits into the Balance, Flexibility, and Strength sub-categories. You can scan for these specific categories as a whole as well as the actual items. In the Balance category, for example, items in addition to Pilates that you can scan for are:
- Core training
- Balance training
- Tai Chi
By adding the Pilates Virtual Item to your ZYTO bioscan, you can see not only whether it is biologically coherent, but also the degree to which your body prefers this unique fitness system.
1. Lange, C., V.B. Unnithan, et al. “Maximizing the benefits of Pilates-inspired exercise for learning functional motor skills.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 4, no. 2 (2000): 99-108.
2. “Pilates Origins.” Balanced Body. Pilates.com.
3. Reynolds, Sam. “A Look into the Six Principles of Pilates.” Muscle Prodigy. Muscleprodigy.com.
4. “On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises…” Andrea Maida. Pilatesandrea.com.
5. Swiger, Devra. “Classical or Contemporary Pilates? Does It Matter?” Pilates Bridge. Pilatesbridge.com.
6. Rogers, K., & A.L. Gibson. “Eight Week Traditional Mat Pilates Training-Program Effects on Adult Fitness Characteristics.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 80, no. 3 (2009): 569-574.
7. Johnson, E.G., A Larsen, et al. “The effects of Pilates-based exercise on dynamic balance in healthy adults.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 11, no. 3 (2007): 238-242.
8. Natour, J., L. de Araujo Cazotti, et al. “Pilates improves pain, function and quality of life in patients with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial.” Clinical Rehabilitation 29, no. 1 (2014): 59-68.
9. “6 Psychological Benefits of Pilates.” Exploring your mind. Exploringyourmind.com.
10. “Pilates for Beginners.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Mayoclinic.org.