Pilates was designed by Joseph Pilates, a physical-culturist born in Germany in 1880. He developed a system of exercises during the first half of the 20th century which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body. Joseph Pilates believed that mental and physical health are inter-related.*
He had practiced many of the physical training regimes which were available in Germany in his youth, and it was out of this context that he developed his own work, which has clear connections with the physical culture of the late ninteenth century such as the use of specially invented apparatuses and the claim that the exercises could cure illness.*
The first generation of students, many of them dancers, who studied with Joseph Pilates and went on to open studios and teach the method are collectively known as The Elders. Modern day pilates styles, both “traditional” and “contemporary”, are derived from the teaching of these first generation students.
The method was originally confined to the few and normally practiced in a specialized studio, but with time this has changed and pilates can now be found in community centers, gyms, dance studios, and in physical therapy offices.
Method and apparatus
The Pilates method seeks to develop controlled movement from a strong core and it does this using a range of apparatuses to guide and train the body. Joe Pilates originally developed his method as mat exercises but, in common with many other physical culture systems from the first part of the twentieth century, he used several pieces of apparatus to help people “get the method in their bodies”. Each piece of apparatus has its own repertoire of exercises and most of the exercises done on the various pieces of Pilates apparatus are resistance training since they make use of springs to provide additional resistance. Using springs results in “progressive resistance”, meaning the resistance increases as the spring is stretched.
The most widely used piece of apparatus, and probably the most important, is the Reformer, but other apparatus used in a traditional Pilates studio include the Cadillac (also called the Trapeze Table), the high (or electric) chair, the Wunda Chair, the baby Chair, and the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector (Step Barrel) and small barrel. Lesser used apparati include the Magic Circle, Guillotine Tower, the Pedi-Pole, and the Foot Corrector.
In contemporary Pilates other props are used, including small weighted balls, foam rollers, large exercise balls, rotating disks, and resistance bands. Some of the traditional apparatuses have been adapted for use in contemporary pilates (e.g. splitting the pedal on the wunda chair).
*Sources from Wikipedia