The Pilates (puh-LAH-teez) Method (usually just called pilates, and originally called Contrology) is an exercise
system designed to increase flexibility
throughout the entire body without building muscle bulk
. It does this by developing a high degree of abdominal
and back strength, paired with many different exercises performed in a low number of repetitions. It is considered low-impact and is often recommended for people recovering from injuries
and for pregnant
women, as the exercises can be modified to fit almost any level of ability. The exercises can be performed on a variety of specialized equipment, or on the floor with no equipment but a mat.
The system was developed by a man named Joseph Pilates. Born near Dusseldorf in Germany in 1880, Pilates overcame a sickly childhood through strength training and exercise, eventually becoming one of Germany's top fitness experts. He was one of the first westerners to study eastern techniques such as yoga. When he was imprisoned in Lancaster, England during WWI, he wanted to find a way to keep himself in shape within the small confines of his prison cell. His techniques caught on among the other prisoners and eventually among the guards and prison authorities, who later credited the regular exercise as the reason why theirs was the only prison where people weren't regularly dying of disease. Pilates was also an early advocate of exercise to speed recovery from injury, and he installed springs on the beds of patients in the prison hospital so that they could do resistance training in bed.
After the war he emigrated to the United States, eventually rising to fame and fortune as the trainer of some of America's most famous dancers, especially Martha Graham and her troupe.