Joe Pilates – Real Strength Now Master Series


If you're not healthy at 30, you're an old man or old woman. If you're healthy at 60, you're a young man or a young woman. I guess that's provided you don't chain smoke cigars.

Anyway, the man I'm going to talk about today is Joe Pilates. Pilates was born in Germany in 1883, and, like many of the people I've studied and whose methods I've used in my own training, Pilates was a sick child: asthma, rickets, rheumatic fever. I think it was through this that he realized that health was really our greatest wealth. He began studying body weight exercise, boxing, Chinese martial arts, and, as he grew older, he moved to England from Germany. There, he became a self-defense instructor for the British Police Department, Scotland Yard.

Then, World War I came along, and, like many Germans, Joe Pilates was put in an internment camp. In this camp, he had no access to barbells, weights, or any other kind of resistance equipment. Instead, he developed body weight exercises, promising the other people in that camp, "If you do these exercises with me, you'll come out of this place stronger than when you went in." During that period, influenza spread through the camp; killing hundreds of people, but through his training and his concentration on health, Joe Pilates stayed well and kept many of the people interned in that camp alive.

Upon his release, he had developed a system of exercise that he called contrology, which is the control of the body, the awareness of movement and the concentration on correct breathing. In fact, he said the greatest crime we commit is forgetting how to breathe, particularly as we get older and the breath tends to rise into the chest, becoming rapid and shallow. As far as Pilates was concerned, breathing was the glue that held everything else together, every movement of the body.

Joe Pilates moved to New York City, and continued to develop the Pilates Method. While in New york, he invented a series of resistance machines, many of which I've used during my training,

All these were developed with the idea of controlled movement, in conjunction with the breath. One of the principles that Pilates stressed was the precision of movement and the development of the fluidity, which means flowing from one exercise to the next with the emphasis on form.

When you go to a gym now, any gym, and you see people banging up and down with their dumbbell curls or pushing out fast bench presses, doing their threes sets of eight reps, with no concentration on breath or form, remember Joe Pilates. If he was watching, he'd say, "You're wasting your time. Do one set of that exercise with complete bodily awareness and correct breathing, that’s worth three sets- Well, it's worth more than your three sets of doing nothing, because doing nothing is just that, doing nothing.”

Now I'm going to read a couple of pages- these come from my book Real Strength Now, I have a chapter on Joe Pilates as I do on many people who influenced me and the way I train and teach. I'll just read a couple of pieces from him. Well, one of them I'm looking at right now: "Faulty breathing is the basic cause of ill health." This is about exercise: "Concentration: You have to concentrate on what you're doing all the time, and you must concentrate on your entire body for smooth movement." Everything with Pilates flows into the next thing.

"Nothing about the Pilates method is haphazard. The reason you need to concentrate so thoroughly is that so you can be in control of every aspect of every movement." That not only applies to the Pilates method. It applies to yoga, to weight training, to sport, tennis, to boxing: awareness. "Control is enabled by conscious breath," and control means fewer accidents, fewer falls in the house, fewer injuries in the gym: awareness.

"Centering: The center of the body is the powerhouse." This is really interesting to me because, so many trainers talk about the core of the body. I wonder if all of them know what the core actually is. The powerhouse is the core of the body. That was what Pilates termed the core. What was it? The abdomen, the lower and upper back, the gluteus maximus, which is the butt, and the abductor muscles of the thighs. Basically, the core of the body is anything beyond the arms and the legs. It's the part of the body, including the back, the spine and back muscles that keep us upright and able to walk.

"Economy of movement: Fluidity requires relaxation, and relaxation is a product of controlled breathing. Precision: Concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise." And, finally, about breathing: "Breathing is vital to all training”, and Pilates calls it 'bodily housecleaning with blood circulation.'"

What I have done over the past thirty years is taken a lot of the methods and the principles of Pilates training and applied them to my own work. The exercises I do, my method, is an eclectic method, but, at the heart of it, as is at the heart of the Pilates Method, is breathing, complete diaphragmatic breathing using the pelvic floor.

Remember I talked about cigars in the beginning. Another thing Joe liked to say is, "You should be in your prime in your 70s and not even think about old age until you're 100." He probably could have done it, but Joe had one weakness: He was a chain cigar smoker. I believe he died at about 83. Bless you Joe Pilates.


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