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What is Pilates?

Many people have heard the term “Pilates” or seen celebrities expounding the virtues of Pilates on television, but what is it exactly?

Born in Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates was a sickly child who educated himself in various exercise forms including gymnastics, martial arts and boxing to increase his health and physique. By the time he was 14 he was posing for anatomical charts and had developed a system that he named “Contrology” to develop the core and strengthen from the inside out.

Originally created as mat exercises, Joseph Pilates fashioned makeshift equipment from hospital beds while interned in England during World War I. He worked as an orderly and was asked to rehabilitate individuals in internment camps who were too weak to stand. He took springs from the beds and began resistance training. The Reformer used today looks very much like it did in the early 1920s.

After World War I, Pilates opened a fitness studio in New York City, next door to the New York City Ballet. Many dancers worked out at “Joe’s Place” while recovering from injuries, and for many years Pilates existed primarily as a dancers’ fitness regimen.

In the 1960s, one of his students moved to Hollywood and brought the technique to the movie stars. Here, Pilates began its journey into the public eye.

Instructors today are certified through many different organizations, ranging from a weekend course to year-long programs. When looking for a Pilates studio, ask about the background and training of the instructors and if they modify exercises to accommodate for individual needs. Anyone should be able to perform Pilates when appropriate modifications are made.

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