When Joseph Pilates originally set out to teach his unique exercises to German internees during World War I, little did he know that one day hundreds of fitness professionals would teach his techniques, and infomercials would sell products based on his methods. But as popular as Pilates exercise has become over the last two decades, until now no research has been conducted to scientifically validate its effectiveness. This article will look at what the first study to date has to say about the claims modern-day instructors make about the method.
In particular, the following questions will be addressed:
* How many calories does a Pilates workout burn?
* Does Pilates exercise raise the heart rate enough to qualify as a cardiovascular fitness workout?
* Does Pilates exercise really target the core muscles? Specifically, how does it compare to the gold standard for abdominal exercise--the gym crunch?
Joseph Pilates was born in a small German town in 1880. A sickly child, he sought ways to improve his health and strengthen his body, and by the age of 14, he was modeling for anatomy charts. In England at the start of World War I, he was placed in a camp for German nationals.
While there, he began teaching some of his fellow internees the methods and exercises he had developed over the years, honing them into a system that he would later call "contrology" (now referred to as "Pilates mat exercise"). After being transferred to another camp, he began working with the ill and injured internees held there, rigging up beds and springs and designing apparatus that would allow even the bedridden to perform the exercises.
Joseph Pilates eventually emigrated to the United States. In 1926 he opened a gym in New York with his wife, Clara. Because the gym shared a building with dance studios, dancers quickly became his top clientele, although he still worked with the medically challenged, including victims of polio. And so the Pilates method spread--from the medically infirm to dancers and eventually to the general exercise population.
Pilates Meets the Laboratory
I first began taking Pilates classes a few years ago. I could clearly feel the benefits of the workouts, and my body was telling me that many of the claims I had heard about Pilates exercise might be true. (For claims that are a bit sketchy, see "That's Stretching It!" on page 43.) But as a scientist, I wanted to take Pilates on in the lab to see if I could find real proof. So I gathered a team of researchers and hit the lab with 12 test subjects.
Feel the (Calorie) Burn
The first thing we set out to determine was how many kilo-calories (kcal) a Pilates workout burns. Workouts were divided according to level and intensity (beginner, intermediate and advanced). Over the testing period, the 12 subjects completed all three workout levels in a randomized order, following pre-recorded video workouts (from the STOTT PILATES[TM] video series), while being measured for cardiovascular output. All the routines...
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