Pilates: the man behind the exercise revolution
June 7, 2007
Pilates is one of my great passions in life. I had always been involved in sports and fitness, but it wasn’t until five years ago that I was introduced to the Pilates (Pu -LAH -teez) method by Laurie Holtzclaw of Proactive Fitness in Tacoma, Wash., that I noticed real changes in my body.
Pilates is a form of strength and flexibility training that can be done by anyone at any fitness level. The exercises can be adapted for people who have limited movement and who use wheelchairs.
It is an engaging program most people want to do because it promotes a feeling of physical and mental well-being and also develops inner physical awareness.
Because this method strengthens and lengthens muscles without creating bulk, it is particularly beneficial for dancers, actors and most athletes. Pilates also helps prevent injuries, is good during rehabilitation and improves posture, as well as increases flexibility, circulation and balance.
According to Joseph Pilates, “You will feel better in 10 sessions, look better in 20 sessions and have a completely new body in 30 sessions.”
What’s all the fuss about?
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Pilates seems to have burst out on the scene in the last 10 years. After decades as the workout of the elite, Pilates has finally entered the fitness mainstream. The story behind how Pilates began and its “overnight success” is fascinating.
The Pilates method of exercise was created by Joseph Pilates, who was born in 1880 near Düsseldorf, Germany. As a child he endured asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. As a young adolescent he made a life-altering decision to restore his health. He studied yoga and martial arts, blending them with Western forms of physical activities such as bodybuilding, gymnastics, boxing and recreational sports.
At 14, he had sculpted his physique so well that he was posing for anatomical charts. As a young man he moved to England, where he became a boxer, circus performer and self-defense instructor. In 1912, Pilates was working as a self-defense instructor for detectives at Scotland Yard. While interned in England during World War I for being a German citizen, Pilates became a nurse. During this time, he designed a unique system of hooking springs and straps to a hospital bed in order to help his disabled and immobilized patients regain strength and movement. It was through these experiments that he recognized the importance of training the core abdominal and back muscles to stabilize the torso and allow the entire body to move freely.
This experimentation provided the foundation for his style of conditioning and the specialized exercise equipment associated with the Pilates method. One of his designs is the Reformer. At first sight it can be intimidating.
Despite the somewhat medieval name, the Reformer is an amazingly elegant machine. The Reformer provides finely-tuned exercise resistance that allows one to work precisely with alignment, core strength and all of the Pilates exercise principles.
An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands of people. Not one of Pilates’ trainees died – despite the camps being hit the hardest. This, he claimed, proved the effectiveness of his system.
When German officials asked Pilates to teach his fitness system to the army, he left Germany for good.
Pilates gains popularity
In 1926, Joe immigrated to the United States. During the voyage he met Clara, whom he later married. They opened a fitness studio in New York, sharing an address with the New York City Ballet.
By the early 1960s, the Pilates family counted many New York dancers among their clients. George Balanchine studied “at Joe’s,” as he called it, and also invited Pilates to instruct his young ballerinas at the New York City Ballet.
Two books Pilates wrote about the method are: “Return to Life through Contrology” and “Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education.”
Pilates continued to train clients at his studio until his death in 1967, at age 87.
In the late 1980s, the media began to cover Pilates extensively as word circulated about Hollywood-types using this technique. “I’m 50 years ahead of my time,” Pilates once claimed. He was right. No longer a workout just for the elite, Pilates has entered the fitness mainstream.
Today, more than 10 million Americans practice Pilates – and the numbers continue to grow. Today, healthcare professionals are studying and implementing his work into their healing therapies. Medical doctors are writing Pilates prescriptions for their patients.
– Rhonda Beckham is a nationally certified personal trainer, with teaching certificates in Pilates and kick boxing.
Beckham is owner of Help Me Rhonda and Perfect Pilates, a Pilates instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College and Sierra Athletic Club, as well as a personal trainer operating out of Sierra Athletic Club and the Tahoe Keys Marina Dance Studio. She may be reached at (530) 208-6369, http://www.TahoeTrainer.com and email@example.com.
Pilates classes offered
Traditional Pilates mat classes on the South Shore:
Summer classes begin July 2
Lake Tahoe Community College
Lakeshore Beach class
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 p.m.
Kahle Community Center
Private Reformer classes:
Offered through Perfect Pilates in the Tahoe Keys Marina. Call (530) 208-6369 to schedule an introductory session.
What’s it good for?
Because of the core strengthening, Pilates is especially beneficial for those who participate in:
— mountain climbing
— water sports