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Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates in Germany. There are approximately 11 million people who practice the discipline regularly and over 14,000 instructors. The program focuses on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.
The original Pilates repertoire was 34 exercises done on the floor on a padded mat, but Joseph Pilates later invented several pieces of apparatus, each with its own repertoire of exercises. Most of the repertoire done on the various pieces of Pilates apparatus is resistance training since it makes use of springs to provide additional resistance. Using springs results in "progressive resistance", meaning the resistance increases as the spring is stretched.
There are also many props used in Pilates including the Magic Circle, small weighted balls, foam rollers, large exercise balls, rotating disks, and resistance bands. However, some in the Pilates community, particularly the Pilates Method Alliance, maintains that exercises done on any piece of apparatus not designed by Joseph Pilates, such as large or small exercise balls, should not be called Pilates.
Whether using the additional resistance of springs on Pilates apparatus, or the constant resistance of gravity in mat work, the Pilates repertoire builds strength, develops proper alignment and posture, and increases flexibility.
The most common piece of apparatus is the Reformer, but other apparatus you will find in a modern Pilates studio includes the Cadillac, the Wunda Chair, and the Ladder Barrel. Lesser used apparatus includes the Spine Corrector, the Guillotine Tower, the Arm Chair, the Pedi-Pole, and the Foot Corrector.
Pilates claimed his method has a philosophical and theoretical foundation. He claims that his system is not merely a collection of exercises, but a method developed and refined over more than eighty-five years of use and observation. According to practitioners, the central aim of Pilates is to attempt to create a fusion of mind and body, so that without even engaging the mind, the body will move with economy, grace, and balance.