By Robin Martin
New exercise fads are born and die quickly. The exercise phenomenon known as Pilates is not just a trend, but has a history that has kept it growing since World War I.
“I think it is a trend that will continue to grow,” said Mindy Simons Human Resource Director for Gold’s Gym corporate offices. “We have hired a lot of new instructors for Pilates classes. I know I would like to try it.”
Lynette Felsted, owner and president of all Gold’s Gyms in the Utah area, said she recognizes Pilates as a trend in the fitness industry but It will stick around because it gives results.
“First it was kick boxing, then yoga and now it is Pilates,” Felsted said. “Pilates is the hottest thing out there. It strengthens and tones, it burns body fat, yet is a low impact exercise.”
Kathy Thomas, a part time faculty member at BYU, became interested in Pilates after experiencing a foot injury. She now is a registered Pilates trainer and practices in the new Dance Medicine Facility in the Richards Building.
“Pilates is not just popular with dancers,” Thomas said. “I began to use Pilates along with massage therapy on my clients. They recovered better, had more movement and returned less for re-injuries.”
Thomas received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from BYU in dance, specializing in rehabilitation and dance injury.
At the age of 30 Thomas’ foot surgery would keep her from dancing for six months.
“I was crying because I knew I couldn’t make a come back after not dancing for so long,” Thomas said. “Another faculty member, Shani Olsen, told me to try Pilates (pronounced Pul-LAH-teez). It was the first time I had ever heard of it.”
At the end of the six months Thomas was back in the dance studio and hadn’t lost any of her dancing ability.
“My range, flexibility and turnout had all increased, and I hadn’t been dancing,” Thomas said. “I thought there must be something to this.”
Thomas defines Pilates as a re-education process for the human muscles. Pilates is a strategy for using the muscles and getting them organized to build a strong core. If people use the strategy with other aspects of exercise all physical exercise becomes more beneficial, Thomas said.
“I used to think Pilates would grow like any craze, then die out,” said Ruth Bennion a fitness and wellness major from Los Altos, Calif. “But now I am excited to do more with Pilates.”
The history of Pilates is the defining characteristic that makes it more than just a fitness fad.
Pilates is named after its creator, Joseph Hubertus Pilates, who was born in Germany in 1880.
As an intern in England during World War I Pilates, using old hospital beds and springs,, designed a number of exercise machines and began to practice his rehabilitative ideas on patients.
In 1926, he immigrated to New York with his wife, Clara, where he opened a body-conditioning studio.
Pilates quickly became popular with dancers such as Martha Graham and George Balanchine, because of the focus on flexibility and overall strength instead of bulk.
In 1964, The Herald Tribune in New York wrote, “In dance classes around the United States, hundreds of young students limber up daily with an exercise they know as ‘pilates’ without knowing that the word has a capital ‘P’ and a living, breathing namesake.”
After Pilate’s death at the age of 87, Clara continued to operate their studios.
The strategy of Pilates can be applied through many techniques. This is why Pilates can be such a growing trend while not dying out.
“I remember using the techniques of Pilates when I was little,” said Felsted. “Now they are just used in different ways.”
“We tend to live in our bodies without thinking about them very much, and most of the time injuries come back to haunt us,” Thomas said.
Pilates is not meant to replace aerobics or weight lifting. Pilates strengthens and builds muscles in a leaner way to aid flexibility and to develop the muscles in both directions. Pilate does not build bulk.
There are different forms of Pilates that include the use of balls, mats, the body and the machine; all are part of the overall strategy. Any Pilates workout uses muscles in new ways and challenges the muscles to work in that new way.
“The equipment helps people find the muscles faster and figure it out quicker,” Thomas said. “Then you move on to the ball and other techniques. It is about finding your real movement center and then using it.”