What Is Pilates?

What Is Pilates?

Pilates is a complete physical system that Joseph Pilates created in the early 1900s. It aims to develop six key areas of your physical , known as the ‘Principles of Pilates’, which are breathing, concentration, control, center, flow, and precision.

Here, we will delve into a detailed overview of Pilates, its history, and its core principles.

The History Of Pilates

Joseph Pilates studied Eastern and Western yoga in his early life and practiced many other popular physical training regimes in Germany during the early 20th century. He also believed that mental and physical health were directly related and that exercise programs should strengthen the human body and mind.

These beliefs and his experiences with the various types of physical training led Joseph Pilates to develop Contrology. This exercise program would enhance a person’s mental and physical health and would later become known as Pilates.

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Joseph Pilates began teaching Contrology in an internment camp on the Isle Of Man, where he was detained during World War I. Many of the people he taught Contrology survived the 1918 flu pandemic, which is widely believed to be due to their enhanced physical health due to practicing Contrology.

After World War I, Joseph Pilates returned to Germany and taught his Contrology method to police officers. He was later pressured into teaching Contrology to the German army and emigrated to the United States shortly after.

Joseph Pilates arrived in the United States during the mid-1920s and then went on to set up a studio in New York City, from which he and his wife taught Contrology to students until the 1960s.

In addition to his practical teachings, Joseph Pilates authored two books on Contrology – Your Health: A Corrective System Of Exercising That Revolutionizes The Entire Field Of Physical Education (1934) and Return To Life Through Contrology (1945). Many of Joseph Pilates’s original students also went on to open up their studios and teach Contrology

Today, there are two main forms of Pilates – Classical/Traditional Pilates and Modern Pilates. Classical/Traditional Pilates is based on the original works of Joseph Pilates, while Modern Pilates adapts these original teachings in various ways that Joseph Pilates does not endorse.

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The 6 Principles Of Pilates

In 1980, Gail Eisen and Philip Friedman published The Pilates Method Of Physical & Mental Conditioning (1980), which contained six principles of Pilates: Breathing, Center, Concentration, Control, Flow, and Precision.

These principles have now been widely accepted as the foundation of the Pilates exercise system. The section below discusses each of these six principles in greater detail:

  1. Breathing: Joseph Pilates stated that proper breathing was cleansing and invigorating and referred to it as ‘bodily house-cleaning with blood circulation’. He believed Pilates practitioners should fully inhale and completely exhale during every breath.  Each inhale should be directed laterally into the back and sides of the lower rib cage, while each exhale should fully engage the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. This breathing technique should be coordinated with each Pilates movement.
  1. Center: Every Pilates movement starts from the center, often called the powerhouse. should flow outward from the center to the extremities.
  1. Concentration: Staying focused while you work is essential for Pilate’s success. Practitioners are encouraged to fully concentrate on what their body is doing. At the same time, they perform each of the movements, as the way the exercises are completed is more important than the actual exercises themselves.
  1. Control: Control was one of the driving principles behind the formation of chronology. Joseph Pilates believed that by fully concentrating on each movement, you could fully control each muscle in your body and not be at its mercy.
  1. Flow: Pilates movements are meant to be flowing and graceful, and during each workout, you should seamlessly transition from one exercise to the next. Every movement should also flow from the body’s center to the extremities.
  1. Precision: Performing with precision ensures that you get the maximum benefit from them. Fully concentrating on each movement helps you to master the proper form and also allows you to carry this precision into the movements you perform in everyday life.

Pilates Apparatus

Pilates workouts involve a combination of mat exercises and exercises that use specially designed Pilates apparatus. This Pilates apparatus uses springs to lengthen and strengthen the muscles in your body, boost your joint flexibility, and enhance your range of motion.

The section below lists the main Pilates apparatus that is used during the workouts:

  1. Universal Reformer (Reformer): The Universal Reformer is probably the most popular piece of Pilates equipment. It allows people to exercise in a horizontal plane which helps to reduce pressure on the joints and properly aligns the body without it being affected by gravitational forces. Joseph Pilates developed over 100 movements that could be performed on the Universal Reformer.
  1. Arm Chair (Baby Chair): The Arm Chair is designed to develop your upper body strength, stability, and posture. It allows people to perform various arm movements from a seated position.
  1. High Chair (Electric Chair): The High Chair can perform various lower body exercises and strengthen your leg muscles while boosting the flexibility of your ankles.
  1. Ladder Barrel (Large Barrel): The Ladder Barrel aims to enhance the flexibility of your spine and strengthen your core. It can be used to perform a range of abdominal and lower back exercises.
  1. Magic Circle: The Magic Circle is another well-known piece of Pilates equipment and one of the most simplistic tools designed by Joseph Pilates. It provides light to medium resistance and can be used to target your arms and legs.
  1. Pedi-Pole: The Pedi-Pole is a long pole with two spring-loaded handles that can be used to perform several different , resistance, and flexibility exercises.
  1. Small Barrel (Half Barrel): The Small Barrel is a piece of Pilates equipment that resembles a half barrel. It’s designed to support your lower back while performing core and leg exercises.
  1. Spine Corrector: The Spine Corrector is a versatile Pilates tool that allows you to stretch out your spine while you exercise.
  1. Trapeze Table (Cadillac): The Trapeze Table can be used to practice a wide range of exercises that target your entire body. It can be used from a lying or hanging position and operated with both your hands and legs.
  1. Wunda Chair: The Wunda Chair is a small box-shaped piece of equipment with a spring-loaded pedal on one side. It can be operated with both your feet and hands and is a great choice for strengthening your arms, legs, and core.


I hope this article has helped you learn a little bit more about Pilates.

If it sounds like something you would enjoy, make sure you check out a local Pilates class and put the 6 principles into action today.

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