What is Pilates?

Is Pilates the latest fad? Like the ball shaped like a bean? Like the electrical belt to give you 6-pack abs? How about the weight that shakes?  Actually, Pilates has been around for over half a century. The New York Times reported that in 2005, 11 million people in the across the nation practice Pilates regularly.¹

Pilates is a form of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, and improve overall general health.

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany 1883.  In his youth, he was often sick which made him weak.  So in the first half 1900’s, he explored different ways to improve his own health.  He understood that exercises can help cure illnesses, and that there was a connection between the mental and the physical health.  Improving flexibility and strength by controlling movements efficiently seems to relax the mind.  Joseph Pilates first developed 34 mat exercises in his first book “Return to Life” in 1945.  Then he invented several apparatuses, such as the Reformer, the Cadillac, and the Chair to provide progressive resistance using springs.

Benefits of Pilates:

There are reasons why this is the exercise of choice for dancers and gymnasts.

By performing Pilates, you can develop strength and flexibility, in order to prevent injuries.  Research has shown that Pilates is beneficial for people with low back pain.² Pilates addresses the whole body with movement through 6 basic principles.

Pilates Principles:

There are 6 principles in Pilates: breathing, concentration, control, centering, precision, and flow.

1) Breathing: Cleanses the body and increases the circulation throughout the body.  Proper breathing allows for proper engagement of core muscles.

2) Concentration: Focusing on what your entire body is doing.  This increases your body’s awareness to perform each exercise properly.

3) Control: Muscles control all movements against gravity or resistance. 

4) Centering: The center is where you control all your movements from.  Movements flow from the center.  Abdominals, hips and thigh muscles, and back muscles encompass your center and form your core.

5) Precision: Performing the correct movement is essential to achieve the maximum benefit of the exercise.

6) Flow: Movement flows fluidly outward from a strong core.

What is the difference between Mat and Apparatus Pilates?

Mat Pilates

Mat Pilates is usually performed in a group.  The group size can vary from a small group, more commonly at private owned studios to a very large group as seen in large gym facilities.  These classes are about an hour long and taught by one instructor.

Exercises classes can be offered for different student levels: beginners, intermediate and advance students.  But, most large group classes consist of a mixed class.  During the class, the instructor may utilize Pilates’ rings, straps, and foam rollers.  It is recommended that you bring your own mat to the class.

Apparatus Pilates

Apparatus Pilates uses equipment to implement Pilates movements and principles.  Some apparatus offer resistance using springs.

There are four different types of apparatus:

  1. Reformer: This the most common-some studios may have this
  2. Cadillac: This is also known as the trapeze table
  3. Barrel
  4. Chair

Apparatus Pilates is usually private 1:1, semi-private 1:2, or small groups.

Some common questions before trying Pilates:

How do I find a Pilates class?

Pilates has become very popular.  Pilates is offered at gyms, private Pilates studios, schools, and even hospitals, like our Wellness Pilates Program: Pilates Beyond Therapy.

I’ve heard Pilates is good for me but I’m recovering from an injury.  What is better for me? A group class or one on one session?

I usually recommend beginning with one on one sessions for at least 4 sessions before attempting to participate in a group mat class. Working with an instructor one on one definitely has its advantages.  You’ll be given constant feedback regarding the technique of the exercise and for your safety.  If you are pregnant, Pilates can be beneficial, but make sure that you are under the guidance of a fully trained expert.

How do I find a Pilates instructor?

A Pilates instructor’s training can vary from someone who teaches Pilates because they have been doing Pilates to someone who has been fully trained and certified.  Some Pilates instructors have a kinesiology background and biomechanics training.

Do not be afraid to interview and ask instructors what type of Pilates background and training they have.  If you are recovering from an injury, ask the instructor if they have any experience with this type of injury.


1. ^ Ellin, A. (2005-07-21). “Now Let Us All Contemplate Our Own Financial Navels”. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/21/business/21sbiz.html. Retrieved 2007-09-20.

2. Body-Mind-Spirit Review – March, 2007 Pilates-Based Exercises for Lumbar Spinal Stenosis


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