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100+years of Pilates

Updated: Apr 2

The Pilates Method, originally known as Contrology was initially developed by German emigrant to Britian, Joseph Pilates during WWI when he was interned on the Isle of Man. He developed a sequence of exercises to improve his fellow internees’ mind & body health. It’s said he used bed springs to assist the movement of injured men, in the early precursor to the large Pilates apparatus (Machines as he called them) seen today.

After the war, Joseph relocated to New York where together with his wife Clara, they developed Contrology further in the 1920's, whilst serving the dance and boxing communities. 

Joseph & Clara Pilates (Pilates Anytime)

It was only after Joseph’s death in his late 80’s that his students named the 34 exercises he had developed, the Pilates Method. They started to spread Pilates Method initially throughout the US and eventually into Europe and the UK in the 1970s.

Alan Herdman, from London School of Contemporary Dance was the first to set up a Pilates Studio in the UK. But it only became mainstream in the 1990’s when the method was updated with a greater understanding of biomechanics/ kinesiology (study of movement). The Classical Method is still practiced by some, but Contemporary or Modern Pilates as it’s known, is more accessible to a much wider range of abilities, whilst maintaining the key principles of Joseph Pilates’ work. 

Pilates is now an extremely popular form of exercise that's used around the world to improve flexibility, balance and core strength and function. Today, there are many different schools and interpretations of Pilates.  Typically, you perform Pilates exercises on a mat using your own bodyweight. Small equipment such as stability balls, resistance bands, weights and Pilates circles can also be used to adapt exercises and make them easier or more challenging as required.

The Large Apparatus based on Joseph Pilates “Machines”, is an additional element to Pilates with equipment called Cadillac, Pilates Chair, Ladder Barrel & the increasingly popular Reformer. These Apparatus use springs and sliding carriages to either assist in the case of rehab work or increase the effort when used for fitness.

Regardless of the type of Pilates you do, what has stood the test of time are the key principles of the Pilates Method. Although it may take a while to master these key principles, we try to instil them in every movement:

  • Breathing - according to Joseph Pilates, “taking a breath is the first and last thing we do in life”. In a more modern take, breathwork helps to improve control, precision & flow whilst improving our mental well-being

  • Concentration – concentrating on the movement to ensure engagement & alignment is key to getting the most out of Pilates 

  • Centring - mat-based Pilates exercises begin by initiating the movement from the core/ centre of the body

  • Control - it's important to master slow controlled movement

  • Precision - performing exercises with the correct “form” or alignment is critical to achieving the best results

  • Flow - Pilates exercises should flow outwardly from the core and be performed smoothly….. it feels wonderful when you can flow through the movement.

Modern Pilates is accessible to everyone, and you'll be able work at a level that suits you, whether,

  • you're already very active and wanting to complement your regular workouts.

  • you've not exercised for some time & want to focus on improving balance & flexibility.

  • you're recovering from joint pain, joint replacement surgery or cancer treatment.

  • or dealing with a long-term condition like MS, Parkinson's, a stroke, Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis

Each exercise can be modified to increase or reduce the level of difficulty, as required.

A measure of Pilates effectiveness is that medical professionals routinely recommend Pilates to manage back pain and joint issues.

Pilates is also equally valuable for injury prevention, ensuring that your body is strong & balanced to allow you to be your best whether a serious sports person or a keen gardener. 

The likes of Andy Murrey, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Serena Williams are known to practice Pilates to improve their games and increase the longevity of their careers.

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