Today, around 9.7 million Americans practice Pilates. Though the trend has been gradually increasing in popularity since the 80s, you might be surprised to learn that it actually dates back to the early 20th century.

You also may not know that the exercise's name is no foreign or made up word but the last name of its German founder Joseph Pilates. He developed the system beginning in around 1912 as a way to fight his personal physical ailments and to create a form of exercise that balanced the mind, body, and spirit.

In 1926, he immigrated to the US and opened a New York studio, where his "Pilates" (Joseph's original name for the exercise was "Controlology," or “Corrective Exercise,”) quickly caught on, especially with the dance community.

Some of Joseph's students began opening their own studios, and the media attention that ensued after some well-known celebrities began to experiment with Pilates eventually made it into a bona-fide trend.

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The six original principles of Pilates were concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing. Later practitioners now sometimes add stamina, postural alignment, and relaxation.

The form emphasizes core strength, but it works the entirety of the body with exercises like pelvic curls, scissor kicks, and hip dips. Though it can be challenging, especially in its advanced versions, it is also low impact since it relies on slow and controlled movements rather than chaotic ones.

However, that doesn't mean it can't bring you some serious health and fitness benefits! For instance, one study showed that a group of women new to Pilates increased their flexibility by twenty percent in only 20 Pilates sessions!

Other research showed that women who undertook 36 weeks of Pilates training strengthened their core abdominal muscles by 21 percent, as well as eliminated imbalances in those muscles. Pilates has also been shown to boost immunity by improving lymphatic flow.

The improved core strength, posture, and bodily awareness that can come with Pilates have also made it a popular choice for combating back pain, even those who have failed to find relief via traditional medical treatment. Research has even shown that subjects may begin to experience relief after only four sessions!

Pilates may even be able to boost your brainpower! One study found that just ten weeks of Pilates training led to a significant improvement in subjects' "alpha peak power," which is associated with better memory and improved cognitive performance.

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The correction of muscular imbalances, relief of muscle tightness, and increased strength that can come with Pilates training may also help athletes improve their sports performance and reduce their risk of injury.

This is why it's been adopted by elite athletes working at the top of their field in sports like football, basketball, and baseball. Some musicians have even found the improved posture and lung capacity offered by Pilates useful as well.

Additionally, though about half of its original practitioners were men and plenty of male athletes utilize the form today, Pilates has become especially popular among women because it builds long, lean muscles as opposed to bulky ones.

Other female-specific benefits of Pilates include that its emphasis on building strong pelvic floor muscles can make childbirth easier and increase women's capacity for sexual pleasure!

Pilates is somewhat similar to yoga and the two even share a few moves, but they differ in Pilates' emphasis on strength over flexibility and yoga's more direct spiritual focus. There's no reason not to dabble in both!

More or less anyone can do Pilates, and though moves require exercise balls or more specialized equipment like the "Pilates reformer," there are plenty of them that require only yourself and a mat!

While taking a Pilates class is probably your best option for mastering the form, you can also easily it on your own, with help from workout video, youtube, or even specialized sites like PilatesAnytime and Yoopod.com.

You may be glad you did! Besides all these other perks, research has also associated Pilates with substantial weight loss! You can expect to burn about 175 calories in a 50 minute beginner Pilates class and 250 in an advanced one.

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