Maintaining Physical Health Through Pilates

Maintaining Physical Health Through Pilates

Pilates is one of the most popular forms of exercise available today. Many different trainers and gurus claim to be Pilates experts and encourage you to get involved. While the benefits of Pilates are undeniable, it can be a challenge to cut through all the information and get down to the most important facts. Are you considering getting involved with this excellent form of strengthening and toning exercise? If you are, you can begin with the information in this resource.


Pilates is named for its originator, Joseph Pilates. He was born in 1883 in the far west of Germany. His mother was a naturopath, or doctor who practiced “all-natural” medicine, which was very common at that time. His father was an accomplished gymnast of a Greek background who emigrated to Germany. The influence of his parents on Joseph Pilates was profound. As a young boy, Pilates was beset by many ailments and conditions, and he wished to develop a way of exercise that would strengthen and improve his own body. He became so physically active and participated in so many forms of exercise that by age fourteen he was frequently hired as an anatomical model. A professional gymnast and weight lifter, he collaborated with others across Germany to refine his theories of health. He moved to Britain, but was imprisoned there during World War I, where he continued to coach others in fitness while interred. After returning to Germany for several years post-WWI, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1925, where he opened the first Pilates studio. His wife, Clara, also became an accomplished Pilates instructor. Upon Joseph’s death in 1967, he had many disciples who created their own unique takes on his exercise and spread it worldwide.


There are six key principles of Pilates that work together to create the ideal Pilates experience. These include Concentration, which centers on mental focus and awareness of the body and its movements, Centering, which implies proper positioning of the “core” abdominal, back, hips and buttocks muscles, Breathing, which requires awareness of and focus on the breath to allow for full and even inhalations and exhalations, Control, which is the effective combination of the three principles above, Precision, which refers to correct form and posture throughout all movements, and finally Fluidity, the avoidance of “jerky” movements and intent to move in a flowing and coordinated manner. Together, these principles give Pilates its effectiveness.


There are many different forms of Pilates machines. The purpose of virtually all of these machines is to encourage proper balance and form while practicing Pilates. The most recognizable Pilates device is called the Pilates reformer. The specific types of equipment you use will depend upon whether you practice classical Pilates or modern Pilates. Classical Pilates makes use of only equipment designed to the specifications of Joseph Pilates himself. Modern Pilates may use other types of devices, including machines associated with other forms of exercise. The Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel, Spine Corrector, and several other devices might be encountered. Some of these are so large and unwieldy as to only be seen at the gym.

Physical Health Benefits

Building core strength through Pilates helps the practitioner in many ways. Core strength helps with virtually all of the movements of the body’s trunk. In a general sense, this reduces the odds of aches, pains, pulls, sprains, and other relatively minor issues. Over time, however, the benefits become more pronounced and noticeable. Developing the core muscles leads to significant improvement in balance, flexibility, agility, and stamina. Such development also encourages more full and effective use of the respiratory muscles due to greater support from the core. This can increase the oxygenation of the blood and the individual’s energy level. Other physical benefits are similar to other exercises: Increased energy, mental focus, discipline, and improved sleep are all correlated with the regular practice of any strenuous exercise.

Mental Health Benefits

Mental health benefits of Pilates are similar to the benefits of other exercises. There are several improvements in cognitive function that are believed to be brought on by regular exercise. These include, for example, enhanced ability to focus and concentrate. Greater oxygen intake and better overall efficiency in the body allows an individual to feel more focused, relaxed, and at ease in a general sense. Improvements in body image can help with confidence issues and give one a greater sense of influence and control within life. All told, mental health benefits of Pilates can be as meaningful and profound as the benefits associated with the physical body.


Regardless of the type of exercise that one intends to do, certain precautions should be followed. In the case of Pilates, form is very important. Pilates exercises focus on the “core” muscle groups which are involved in virtually all movements of the trunk. This being the case, practicing any improper form can lead to pulled muscles, aches, and other issues. While almost anyone can benefit from Pilates, including the elderly, women during some phases of pregnancy, and those with many different medical conditions, it is also important to align one’s practice with one’s level of physical ability and comfort, increasing the practice steadily, as with other exercises. Those who already suffer from serious back pain or related issues should consult a physician.

How to Get Started!

Getting started with Pilates is relatively simple. Because Pilates draws a distinction between “machine work” and “mat work,” you do not need any equipment to begin. Instead, you simply need an exercise mat and sufficient space to spread it out and maneuver comfortably. While most people will get started with Pilates at a yoga studio or at a gym, this is not necessary if it does not suit your style. If you practice Pilates at home, you will need enough space to lie down on your mat and extend both your arms and legs to the maximum extent in all directions. Basic Pilates instruction can be found for free online. You should begin with materials that focus on the basic postures and movements of Pilates, avoiding any “fusion” exercises with yoga or other disciplines. Basic or “essential” Pilates does not require a flex band, fitness circle, or other item. You can advance to these techniques as you become more comfortable.

  • The History and Origin of Pilates: Did you know that the exercise we now call Pilates was actually named after its originator, Joseph Pilates, who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s? This page provides his story and more information about how he created his revolutionary exercise.
  • History of Pilates and Contrology: As young man, Joseph Pilates suffered from many different health problems and ailments. This page details a bit more about his personal quest to devise a new form of exercise that would help him and people like him. “Core strength” was so important to Pilates that his exercise was originally known as contrology!
  • The Basic Principles of Pilates Summarized: From Northern Illinois University, the basic principles of Pilates are discussed and related to one another as a cohesive whole. The article covers precision, flowing movement, concentration, centering, control, and breathing so that practitioners can benefit from each one.
  • The Philosophy and Principles of Pilates: The different principles of Pilates are described in even greater detail in this page. Go to this page in order to see Pilates not only as an exercise, but as a coherent philosophy of the body and movement intended to help you reach maximum health in a low impact and effective manner.
  • Pilates Methods, Studios, and Equipment: An illustrated salute to the different forms of Pilates equipment, including some special material such as a glance at the first Pilates studio and a look at canine equipment for a Pilates-inspired fitness regimen for dogs. Vintage videos of the exercise’s originator in action are also available!
  • About Pilates Machines, the Pilates Controversy, and More: An overview of many topics related to Pilates, including the division of the exercise school into several different philosophies, and more on the different kinds of machines and equipment used, as well as the difference between what is called “machine work” and “mat work.”
  • The Benefits of Medical Pilates: Pilates can have benefits outside of the gym, such as for people who are about to undergo surgery or who are recovering from injuries. Visit this link to learn more about how Pilates and related exercises can be used to enhance overall health in ways that go beyond traditional notions of fitness.
  • Articles on Pilates and Their Benefits: A number of recent research articles describing the benefits of Pilates for overall health and fitness as well as their benefits for certain segments of the population, such as their benefits for ballet dancers and others. Provided by Goucher College as a public service to interested parties.
  • Reformer Pilates (PDF): A reformer is a very popular type of Pilates machine seen in many Pilates studios. This brochure from the University of Michigan Health System describes the benefits of using a reformer Pilates machine in detail, and also touches on the potential value of the exercise for general wellness and post-hospital recovery.
  • Effects of Pilates on Core Strength: “Core strength” is said to be one of the most important aspects that will improve when you undertake Pilates regularly. Now, university academics have confirmed what Pilates trainers have believed for many years. There are marked improvements for regular Pilates users which you can read about here.
  • Core Strength to Eliminate Back Pain: From the Sydney Morning Herald, an article concerning the value of core strength in preventing back pain, even chronic back pain that has existed for some time. This article contains some important precautions about ensuring your Pilates form is correct and avoiding the trauma associated with overtraining.
  • Armchair Pilates for Senior Citizens (PDF): While Pilates can be extremely valuable for maintaining the health and quality of life of the elderly, it can also lead to damage if not practiced correctly. This gentle, low-impact method of Pilates is practiced in an armchair and has been suggested to improve health outcomes in older individuals.
  • Active MSers: Pilates Precautions for Multiple Sclerosis: While exercise and regular physical activity are valuable for many forms of disability, including Multiple Sclerosis, some precautions should be taken. This is a detailed article for Multiple Sclerosis sufferers who would like to adopt or maintain a Pilates regimen. Much of the advice also applies to other conditions.
  • Prenatal and Postpartum Pilates: Physical activity can help to maintain health during and after a pregnancy. However, to practice safe exercise during a pregnancy, certain steps should be taken and realistic goals should be adopted. This article covers the expectations and limitations of exercising while pregnant and provides step-by-step advice.
  • American College of Sports Medicine: What is Mind-Body Exercise?: Pilates, as well as many other forms of exercise, benefit your mind as well as your body. This article explains more about the mental health connection in exercise and how you can expect to benefit psychologically from remaining active. There is a special focus on Pilates and yoga.