Pilates. Famous celebrities swear by it, naming it as the secret to their well-sculpted thighs and toned abs, while athletes praise its rehabilitative properties. In recent years, Pilates has become so popular that everyone seems to know someone who’s doing it. But it’s not just another fad invented by millennials that’s likely to lose traction anytime soon.
Pilates is a collection of over 500 low-impact exercises structured to strengthen the body with a focus on core strength. But while it strengthens, it also lengthens muscles, making it the choice of people who want to get toned without bulking up.
People also turn to Pilates to help them recover from injuries or deal with health conditions like scoliosis since the exercises help improve one’s balance, flexibility, and posture while being easy on the joints.
And like yoga, Pilates nourishes the connection between mind and body by heightening one’s spatial awareness and promoting specialized breathing techniques.
The most attractive thing about Pilates is its modifiability. A routine can be altered according to a person’s fitness levels. For example, a beginner level is centered on body weight exercises without any equipment, while a more advanced Pilates class uses resistance bands to provide more muscle-building tension.
Pilates might be catering to a huge and diverse base now, but this wasn’t always the case. Before becoming mainstream, Pilates crossed countries and centuries.
The humble beginnings of Pilates
Pilates takes its name after its inventor and first practitioner, Joseph Hubertus Pilates. He was born a sickly child in 1883 Germany, suffering from ailments such as asthma and rickets. Growing up, he turned to exercise to battle his physical afflictions. He was also fascinated with Greek history and the idea of the perfect man: a person who is balanced in body, mind, and spirit.
During WWI, Joseph interned in Britain as a nurse and began experimenting with the exercises and movements that would come to be known as Pilates. He named his technique “contrology” at first because it involved controlling and isolating small muscle groups through isometric exercises. He also used readily available equipment, most notably bedsprings, to enhance resistance exercises.
Joseph’s first patients were wounded soldiers who needed strength and mobility therapy. Eventually, the exercises reached the dance community, whose members were prone to injury due to the nature of their work. And when Joseph went to the United States in 1926, it was also the dancers of New York who first caught on to the exercise. It became especially popular with ballerinas who wanted to maintain their lean muscles while gaining strength.
By the 1960s, Pilates had been picked up outside the dance community. Theater actors, models, and stunt performers were all doing Pilates to regain or maintain muscle strength and joint flexibility. Therapists had also started to recommend the exercise to people with back problems.
Joseph Pilates died in 1967, but his legacy lived on. His students carried out classes, first in New York, then in other parts of the US. Finally, in the 1970s, Pilates was introduced to Hollywood. Ron Fletcher opened the first Pilates studio in Beverly Hills and it was an instant hit — young stars who wanted to have ballerina bodies flocked to his space and became devout Pilates practitioners.
By the 1980s, Pilates had trickled down to the level of ordinary people — it wasn’t just a work out for Hollywood actors anymore, but for everyone. Studies about its benefits also multiplied, and Olympic trainers started including Pilates in athletes’ routines. Now, more than 10 million Americans practice Pilates, a number that continues to grow by the day.
Pilates has been trusted for generations because it's been proven to make people stronger and more flexible. Ready to join the millions of people who have benefitted from the exercise? C2 Body is your prime Pilates studio in Boston and Dedham. Book a class today.