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Pilates: Definition, History, Principles, Types, Benefits

The Pilates method has been with us for years, taught both in studios, generally with machines, and in gyms, where it is practiced on the floor and with accessories. But nowadays you can start doing Pilates at your home. However, many people still do not know what is Pilates, where this training method has come from, or what is done in class. And if we can’t go outside for workout how to do Pilates at home. To clarify all the doubts that may have regarding the method I’m writing for you to tell you everything you need to know about Pilates.

Definition of Pilates

Pilates is a method that is used to train from the combination of various disciplines, such as yoga, gymnastics. Created by Joseph H. Pilates at the beginning of the 20s of the last century, it is a set of exercises whose purpose is to exercise the body and mind, since by practicing it, in addition to improving our physical condition, we increase our ability to control and focus. It is also known by the name of ‘Contrology’.

It is based on exercises that help improve the toning of the muscles through a succession of fluid movements. Its essence lies in the use of the brain to control the body, promoting balance. As Joseph H. Pilates says,

“Not only is health a normal condition, but it is our duty not only to attain it but to maintain it.”[1]

By systematically practicing specific exercises along with breathing patterns, Pilates has proved invaluable not only for people who want to maintain their physical condition but also as an important complement to sports and physical rehabilitation of all kinds.

The Pilates Method is not Just Exercise

Pilates is a series of controlled movements for the body and mind, performed on a mat or specially designed devices. This innovative mind-body exercise system dramatically transforms the way your body looks, feels and acts. Increase strength without excess volume, creating an elegant and harmonious body with slim thighs and a flat abdomen.

Pilates Method is not Just Exercise

It teaches us to know the body better, maintains a better posture and achieves an easier and more elegant movement. Pilates improves flexibility, agility, and economy of movement, and can help alleviate back pain, as well as other illnesses.

Rather than performing many repetitions of each exercise, Joseph H. Pilates prefers fewer, more precise movements, requiring proper control of how we perform it. It focuses on the participation of the “Powerhouse”: the abdomen, lower back, buttocks, and thighs.

These support and improve movements, allowing the rest of the body to move freely. And because the mind is forced to collaborate with the body to perform movements correctly, it experiences a new awareness of muscle function and control.

History of Pilates

The Pilates Method, as its name indicates, is a working method created by Joseph Hubertus Pilates, in Germany and England, at the beginning of the 20th century, and which later developed widely in the United States. Initially, he named his method Contrology and the original principles are collected in his two books “Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education” (1934) and “Return to Life through Contrology” (1945).

History of Pilates

In 1934 Joseph Pilates publishes “Your Health”, a book in which he expresses his concern for the health of the body and the mind. This is important since when he talks about taking care of ourselves, he is not only referring to exercising and feeding ourselves correctly, it also affects being aware of what we think. Body-mind balance is important to him.

It describes health as the natural condition for the human being, a condition that we are losing due to the modern conditions in which we live, incorrect habits and having distanced ourselves from nature.

These ideas are part of his philosophy and he gives them life through Contrology, the name that he assigned to his method.

History of Pilates

In his book “Return to Life through Contrology” he tells,

“Contrology is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. Through Contrology, you first purposefully acquire complete control of your own body and then through proper repetition of its exercises you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities. This true rhythm and control is observed both in domestic pets and wild animals–without known exceptions.”[2]

Joseph also says, we must choose wisely our lifestyle in the modern era, which includes constant struggles, such as pushing, crowding and rushing for everything.

That accelerated pace is of course reflected in our daily functions, such as how to position, stand, sit, eat and even speak, resulting in a chronic situation on the edge from morning to dusk. Many times we end up depriving ourselves of sleep, which is very important.

The Principles of the Pilates Method

Pilates is based on 6 fundamental principles to apply during each movement to reap the full benefits of the practice. The six essential principles of this method are concentration, control, the center, precision, fluidity, and breathing. In this sense, Pilates refers to a specific area of ​​the body called the “center of force”, which is also known as the “mansion of power”. This area formed by the abdominal muscles, the base of the back and the buttocks allows with its strengthening to exert an action on the rest of the body.

Principles of the Pilates Method

By applying these principles to his practice, each person will end up developing good physical shape. “Fitness is the first condition for happiness” to quote Joseph Pilates, the founder of the method.

The only way to develop good physical shape is through regular practice (ideally daily) over the years. Good things take time to develop so you have to approach the practice with patience. The mentality of everything and immediately will bring nothing absolutely positive.

The miracle “recipes” that promise lots of good things in a month or two are all untrue and totally ineffective, powdered eyes. So be patient to achieve the best of yourself. Once a good level of form has been reached, one should always continue to practice, otherwise, the body will lose this hard-to-acquire form. This is why we must invest in the long term.

As K. PattabhiJois (founder of Yoga Ashtanga) said so well, everything is 99% practical, the remaining 1% is just theory.


To fully appreciate the benefits of Pilates it is necessary to focus attention entirely on the body, movements, and breathing, being aware of what is being done. Thus a rapport between the mind and the body is achieved.


It is important that the brain controls any movement, to avoid fast, uncontrolled, automated and, ultimately, incorrect movements, which can lead to physical injury. Initially, its creator called the method “Contrology” because of the relevance of this factor.

The Center

The center designates the entire abdominal strap: from the bottom of the ribs to the top of the hip as well as the back. Basically, the whole waist. All attention during each movement should be brought to this area to verify its correct placement and shape.

The abdominals must be kept under pressure and sheathed during the entire session to absorb the navel (or dig the belly).

To properly feel this sensation of absorbing the navel, try to press the lumbar against the ground while lying on your back with straight legs (very good exercise to realign the spine in passing which will be very useful for example during inversions and balances).


It is obtained thanks to the control that each movement requires. Each movement has a purpose, so it is key to execute it precisely so that it meets its objective. If it is not taken into account, it is possible that a bad posture is adopted and this can cause injuries, stiffness or pain, so that the benefits of the method are not fully exploited.


Fluidity is understood as making movements constantly, without stopping between them. There are breaks, but they have a certain place in time and duration that must be respected, as well as the natural flow of the body and the time necessary for the exercises to be carried out properly.

Flexibility is essential in the fluidity factor, to make safe movements and avoid those that may be violent or spasmodic, and that generate pauses and interruptions. The muscles gradually become more flexible.


To quote Joseph Pilates: “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it. Since we cannot live without breathing it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions and millions who have never mastered the art of correct breathing.”[3]

Therefore, breathing is the most important principle of Pilates, it must be paid special attention.

This breathing should be deep by filling the lungs to the maximum of their capacity with each inspiration and by emptying them completely with each exhalation.

Each movement must therefore imperatively follow the breathing and not the reverse. It is the breathing that will give the rhythm which the body will follow. All Pilates movements have phases of inspiration and expiration to be followed to the letter.

Correct breathing as Joseph Pilates understands is done through the nose and not through the mouth as too many Pilates training and clubs teach. The main reason for breathing through the nose is that it filters a good part of the impurities and particles in the air in addition to warming and hydrating it for better assimilation in the lungs.

The second reason is that many people cannot breathe through their noses and therefore forcing themselves to do so is an exercise in itself on the long road to mastering the art of breathing. We learn to breathe well by doing it through the nose.

Another factor in favor of breathing through the nose is that it requires greater solicitation of the center (transverse abdominal muscles in particular) during the expiration phase to evacuate the air making at the same time your abdominal strap more powerful.

Besides, breathing through the nose allows us to know if we keep good control of the movement or if this movement is adapted to our current physical condition: if the posture is difficult at the limit or beyond our possibilities the mouth will automatically take the relay as if we were going to suffocate. It is a sign that the movement in question is not yet mastered. While still breathing through your mouth there is no way to measure this very important factor.

By adding all the reasons for breathing through the nose, we see that this specific breathing requires applying the 5 other principles of Pilates:

  • Center by a deeper activation of the transverse
  • Concentration to be able to maintain this breathing when it is not still automated
  • Control to force yourself to maintain this nasal breathing
  • Fluidity so that each respiratory cycle is linked and stalls on the previous one while keeping a constant non-jerky rhythm
  • Precision to get the air through the right place: nose and not by mouth.

Nasal breathing is also essential for practitioners of martial arts and qi gong, in particular for conditioning the cashing of strikes (a full face strike with open mouth and it is the teeth that jump or the tongue that is cut) and to keep its calm in an assault, avoid having the breath that goes up and tire too quickly, breathing through the nose promotes respiratory and muscular relaxation to better release strength at the right time.

Pilates is an excellent physical complement to a martial practice, so we can continue to improve our breathing techniques.

Types of Pilates

There are different types of Pilates that help improve posture, strengthen the back, tone the body, and relax the muscles and much more. Let’s discover.

Types of Pilates

The Pilates Reformer

The creator of the method, the German nationalized American Joseph Hubertus Pilates, not only invented a discipline but also design Pilates machines, the most famous of which is still the Reformer.

It is a device made up of a structure with a flat platform that moves from one side to the other through a frame. In turn, the frame has ropes, springs, and springs. The purpose of those elements is to generate resistance. That is added to that exerted by the weight of your body. It should be noted that the resistance can be adjusted, so you can work at the intensity level you want.

The advantage of the Reformer is that it allows you to work on different muscle groups and body parts at the same time. And it should also be noted that having to coordinate your movements with those indicated by the machine helps increase your ability to concentrate.

1. Checkout the 11 Best Pilates Reformer with Tower.

2. Checkout the 28 Professional Pilates Reformer Machines.

Power Pilates

Power Pilates was created in 2000 by a group of students who had been taught by a direct disciple of Joseph Pilates.

It is a method that includes more than 500 controlled and precise movements. Those movements were designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles, without the need to lift the weight. It is a method very faithful to the original principles of Joseph Pilates.

The exercises and movements are mainly focused on working the trunk to increase the strength and endurance of the body as a whole. It takes nothing more than a mat on the floor to practice this discipline.

Another interesting aspect of Power Pilates is that it includes a lot of meditation and connection between body and mind. In that sense, it is quite similar to yoga. However, it is a much more dynamic, systematic and anatomy-based discipline than yoga.

The Stott Pilates

Moira Stott (currently Moira Merrithew) was also a student of RomanaKryzanowska. She went to her studio for a neck injury that was done when she was a young dancer. However, he discovered that the original Pilates method did not fit the needs of his injury.

He concluded that the traditional method did not always conform to modern principles of postural alignment. That gave him the idea to do a more flexible sequence of exercises. From those ideas and other insights, he developed a modernized Pilates method known as Stott Pilates.

In general, it is considered to be a softer version, adapted to all types of morphologies and all ages. It is usually recommended to combine it with the cardiovascular activity if it is not too soft to keep fit.

Pilates Yoga

It is clear that both activities have many points in common. Some of the movements practiced in Pilates are also common in yoga. That discipline, a fusion of the two philosophies, combines the flexibility and strength required in Pilates exercises with the slowness, softness and meditation characteristic of yoga.

The practice of Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates designed a minimum of 200 basic exercises.  Each of them can be modified according to the person for whom it is intended and gives rise to a whole series of exercises centered on the basic exercises.

All these exercises are performed according to the principles established by Pilates. There is a need to coordinate both movement awareness and breathing, as well as movement control and precision.

Pilates practice is mainly divided into two fundamental styles: Pilates on the floor, on a mat and Pilates with machines.

Practice of Pilates

The concentration for combining the mind and body to be effective in each exercise. The fluidity of each movement and the strengthening of what Joseph H. Pilates called powerhouse, located in the lower part of the abdomen gives part of the force to all movements of the body.

The great idea of ​​Pilates is based on working with the stabilizer of the deep muscles, instead of working the superficial muscles. The largest muscle stabilizer is located in the abdomen, it is called transverse to the abdomen. This type of work considerably strengthens the low back pelvic area.[4]

Benefits of Pilates

We can overlook another important series of benefits of Pilates, such as these:

The first, and one of the most important, would be the benefit of being aware of our own body. Know how to dissociate movements by working the different parts of the body separately, reducing and eliminating tension while executing the exercise.

Benefits of Pilates

Activating the proper muscles is of utmost importance to have good body control. This control is perfectly applicable to our day to day, in any daily activity, only in this way can we acquire good postural hygiene to prevent back injuries.

The second benefit is derived from our first principle: the work of the core. The center, abdominal muscles, and lower back are activated at all times. We are not only talking about the rectus abdominals and lower back but about the muscles that are part of the midsection. These are the multifidus or the transverse, the pelvic floor and diaphragm.

By working with the pilates method, we are going to improve our position. Another basic principle for achieving good muscle and joint health.

Another benefit is breath control. It will guide the rhythm of the exercises and determine their degree of difficulty. Knowing how to coordinate breathing and movement also benefits us in other sports such as running.

Finally, the work of the pelvic floor helps women to prepare for delivery and to recover better in the postpartum period. Pregnant women, since they manage to reduce the symptoms they experience to the stress that knowing that a great responsibility is about to come to their lives can cause. All this without forgetting that it is a great alternative to prepare your body for delivery, gaining flexibility and strengthening what is the pelvic floor.

Does Pilates lose weight? Myth or Reality?

It is a regular question to which it is difficult to make a simple answer with yes or no because Pilates is a super complete discipline.

Does Pilates lose weight?

The first objective of Pilates is deep muscle strengthening and correction of posture. Pilates exercises aim to tone the muscles, especially in the abdominal region, by shaping them. To do this, it is necessary to stimulate the deepest muscles, which requires a large energy expenditure, which inevitably consumes calories and burns installed fat.

But pilates is not a fat burning method since it is not a cardio sport. If Pilates does not allow you to burn fat directly, it can help you lose weight in several ways:

The increase in muscle mass allows an increase in the basic metabolism and therefore more calories burned!

Regular Pilates can quickly restore a flat stomach. Indeed, the method is mainly based on strengthening the muscles of the “center” and in particular the deep abs.

Stretching and lengthening the legs allows you to refine your figure, especially your waist and thighs.

The release of stress thanks to the Pilates method makes it possible to avoid the uncontrolled excesses of “food-compensation”, where one eats to reduce one’s stress.

Improving one’s concentration and self-awareness promotes the installation of new, healthier lifestyle habits.

Ideally, the Pilates session will be complemented by a cardio session and accompanied by a healthy and balanced diet.[5]


Knowing this method thoroughly is a long process and the Pilates method has been so successful for a few years already. Pilates helps to become more aware of your body and to obtain visible results without sweating too much.

This method based on strengthening deep muscles, and gentle gymnastics, Pilates sessions combine stretching, body awareness and of course bodybuilding. In fact, in Pilates classes, it is the whole body that is strengthened, and therefore that one can also slim down because mobilizing the muscles burns energy, therefore calories. Finally, through Pilates, we manage to reclaim our body, to discover inner well-being by finally reconciling body and mind.