Andrea Young in her Corefit studio

Andrea Young
the clinical Pilates and
functional movement specialist

History of Pilates

So what exactly is Pilates?

Many people have some idea of what Pilates is about though few could explain in any detail. Here we talk about what Pilates is, how it developed and what to expect from a Corefit Pilates class. We also look at Modern Pilates (on which Corefit Pilates teaching is based) and see how that differs from Pilates’ original work.

The origins of Pilates

Pilates is an exercise method named after its creator Joseph Pilatesopens in external window, who started to develop the method in the 1920s. Originally called Contrology, it did not become known as Pilates until after his death in 1967. His original matwork revolved around 34 exercises — the classical exercises — and a set of six principles. Pilates also developed several mechanical apparatus, collectively known as reformers, on which exercises can be performed. Variations of these, such as the ‘cadillac’, are in use today.

Working in New York with his wife Clara, he gained a strong following with the likes of dancers, choreographers and other performing artists. Much of Pilates work was never actually written down and little visual archive material is available. What we do have is a set of exercises that were broadly taught to dancers, boxers, athletes and gymnasts. He was truly exceptional in his approach to movement and fitness and there was vastly more to him than the 34 exercises which now take his name.

However, I firmly believe that if he were alive today working with the general population — particularly those of middle-age and upwards — he would not be teaching many of the classical 34 exercises as they are simply inappropriate for many health conditions experienced by the average person. I’m sure that as a man of vision he would be constantly modifying his work, to ensure the best possible outcome for his clients.

It is without question that he brought attention to one of the most significant bio-mechanical strategies for safe, healthy, effective and efficient movement. Specifically that if one engages what is now termed the ‘core’, then the tasks and movements we perform, whether in everyday life, exercise or work, become easier, more efficient and safer.

Pilates today

In recent times the face of Pilates has evolved. It was commercially introduced into the UK from the 1970’s onwards. Its overall appeal of a slower, more intelligent approach to exercise, was welcomed by many. There are many different schools of Pilates, all of them based on Pilates’ original, work but differing in varying degrees in how closely aligned they are with his original teachings.

Today the best teachers understand the classical exercises and the principles, but also appreciate the advances made in what is known about how the body works. They appreciate how to combine the benefits of the original exercises with newer variations, and how best to prescribe those in line with current exercise and physiology knowledge. It should be remembered that when Pilates got to the point of crystallising his 34 exercises, he was working with the likes of athletes and dancers; most of us are not. As such we need to break down, modify and prescribe the exercises that fit the needs of clients and their goals and limitations.

The Modern Pilates method

Pilates teaching is divided into two principal groups, classical and contemporary. Modern Pilatesopens in external window is a contemporary form. It is, of course, based on the foundational work done by Joseph Pilates. Whilst many exercises are familiar to classical followers, others have been modified based on up-to-date knowledge and research in fields such as physiotherapy, bio-mechanics and sports science. This makes Modern Pilates appropriate for almost everyone; from people requiring the most challenging of core exercise and control, to more frail clients with rehabilitation needs or spine and joint conditions.

Modern Pilates was developed over a number of years by fitness experts Christine North-Minchellaopens in external window (from what was, at the time, the UK’s Northern Fitness and Education), Cherry Bakeropens in external window, leading physiotherapist Christopher Norrisopens in external window. Christine now oversees all Modern Pilates courses.

It is literally a ‘modern approach’ to Pilates, and its principles are based on up-to-date research from the world of physiotherapy and other holistic forms of exercise. The exercise programme is designed to develop balance throughout the body and build strong stable muscles that are also flexible and correctly aligned. The aim of Modern Pilates is to teach clients how to use these methods in their life both at work and play.

The essence of the programme is on precision, not repetition or momentum. It addresses trunk stability, shoulder girdle stabilisation, maintenance of neutral alignment and form of the spine, along with correct muscle recruitment.

Many clients attend classes not only because of the physical benefits but also for the relaxation and mental focus that each session is designed to provide. We believe that each client deserves individual attention, and so each class and each individual exercise has been planned with the health and well-being of each class member in mind. For this reason small class numbers are encouraged.