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Pilates exercise method


The Pilates method is an exceptional physical exercise discipline. It stretches and strengthens the muscles and improves elasticity, balance, respiration, posture and alignment. One learns to recognise one’s strengths and to understand and correct one’s weaknesses. With this method the whole organism acquires vigour and balance. Pilates aims to reinforce the centre of the organism by using the abdominal muscles and the deep muscles. Pilates helps concentration and gradually improves the general level of awareness, coordination and alignment. The idea behind Pilates is that it should be combined with other disciplines because it reinforces, balances and realigns the body, thus improving awareness and therefore reducing the risks of lesions and traumas which are so frequent in other forms of motorial activity. It is always advisable to do Pilates integrated with other types of exercise and not as a substitute; even the most assiduous Pilates gymnast would do well to include some cardiovascular exercises in his or her weekly programme. Lastly, since all the exercises can be modified to meet individual needs, one of the most interesting aspects of Pilates is that it is suitable for everyone, regardless of age, size or level of fitness. It is very good for people who have never done any form of gymnastics or who wish to regain their form after an accident.


The Pilates technique is split into two categories, mat work and apparatus work. Like the discipline of Yoga, it can be taught in many different ways but in spite of the numerous variations of the exercises we can list the following principles as the eight principles of Pilates Technique.

The mind/body task of this technique is to remove all other thoughts in order to be focused on movement – think before moving.

Breathing covers a large part of this technique. The basic rule is to breathe out when the effort is greatest. It is the most complex and difficult aspect to achieve.

Searching for the centre:
The chest and the back are the most important points of attention. In order to sit correctly we must improve our balance or find the centre of the chest zone. In the exercises based on the Pilates method the centre of the chest is the “Power House” (it corresponds to the area in front of the 3rd / 4th lumbar vertebrae, behind the navel). Every exercise is controlled by the contraction of the abdominal muscles.

Working against the force of gravity in the exercises based on the Pilates Technique strengthens the body. The slower the movement, the greater the force developed, the greater the stress on the muscle fibres.

Beginners will find it difficult to put their bodies in certain precise positions but practising the technique leads to a greater control of the movement and thus to a correct execution of the exercise. The purity of the movement is the result of repetition.
Fluidity of movement:
he exercises based on the Pilates method are characterised by continuous movement, at the same speed for the whole cycle and breadth of the movement. The movement is unbroken and is harmonised by the respiration. 

The exercises based on the Pilates method offer different challenges to each individual because every body type is different and every modality of alignment develops a different force, thus we have different strengths and different weaknesses. The educational side of the technique leads us to learn to know the structure of our body and, through the balancing effects of the technique, to develop greater control in isolating the various groups of muscles.

By repetition and frequency the ability to execute the exercises improves.


Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880. As a child he suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever but his infirmities led him to dedicate his whole life to physical training in order to become stronger. In his youth, Pilates became a good culturist, diver, skier and gymnast. In 1912 he moved to England where he earned his living as a boxer. At the outbreak of World War 1, Pilates joined the army, working in Lancaster and then on the Isle of Man as a nurse and as a physical training instructor for the other soldiers. His training method was acclaimed when none of the soldiers instructed by him was taken ill during the flu epidemic which killed thousands of people. After the war, Pilates continued to teach his fitness programmes in Hamburg where he worked for the city police. In 1926 he decided to go to America and on the ship to New York he met his future wife, Clara.

Soon after his arrival in New York, Joseph set himself up in a studio at 939 Eighth Avenue. By the end of the 40’s Joseph was well-known among the dance community in New York.  An article in the February 1956 issue of the magazine “Dance” said, “almost every dancer in New York, and certainly all those who studied with him submitted themselves with humility to Joseph Pilates’ instruction.

By the end of the 60’s the Pilates husband and wife team had several New York dancers among their clients. The choreographer George Balanchine trained at “Joe’s”, as Pilates’ studio became known and he asked him to train the young dancers in the New York City Ballet.
During his life Jospeh never thought of patenting his method, he neither registered the method in his name nor did he take any other action to make Pilates a recognised trade name.  When Joseph Pilates died in 1967, his method  was not well-known beyond a small group of dancers, actors and wealthy clients who trained in his studio. Joseph believed passionately in his work and hoped that his method could be taught in every school. His dream was that one day the word Pilates would be a household name. “I’m 50 years ahead of my time” he used to say. Currently more than five million people follow the Pilates method and the number is growing.


A recent decision by the federal court has declared that Pilates, like yoga and karate, is an exercise method and cannot be registered as a trade name. It is a foundation stone of trade mark law that a name which is, or has become, generic is not protected by trade mark law.  By generic we mean a name which does not identify a specific product, but is synonymous with that product. Imagine that you were a teacher of yoga, but were not allowed to use the word yoga.

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