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Tone up with Pilates

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Iented by a German prisoner of war in the 1920s, Pilates has become one of the hottest exercise regimes ever.

Celebrity gossip columns report that beautiful bodies around the world are singing the praises of Pilates. So what's all the fuss about?

What most people don't realise is that Pilates (pronounced pi-lah-tees) is endorsed by many health professionals, including physiotherapists, who value its importance in the care and prevention of back pain and for the rehabilitation of musculo-skeletal problems.

Pilates Method addresses the entire body systematically-beginning by strengthening the body's core muscles-the abdominal, spinal and deeper stablising muscles surrounding the joints. This process, often referred to as the 'thinking person's work-out', creates a firm central support for the whole body.

Pilates can help overcome injuries and improve muscle balance, flexibility and coordination for everyone from novices to elite sportspeople. It can relieve pain in pregnancy and maintain general body fitness.

There are various ways to perform Pilates exercises; on a floor mat without equipment, and using a specially sprung bench, or reformer, that works upper and lower parts of the back.

The reformer, designed by the method's founder, Joseph Pilates, uses a series of springs to provide varying levels of resistance in commonly used movements. Although some people have described it as a relic from a medieval torture chamber, it's perfectly safe.

Pilates has been around since the 1920s and was developed in England by Joseph Pilates while he was interned during World War 1 in a camp for German nationals. He devised the method to maintain the fitness of fellow inmates, then began treating injured British soldiers, too.

After the war, Pilates emigrated to the USA and opened his first studio in New York in 1926. Eight years later he published the book, Contrology, which outlined his philosophy.

The practice of Pilates has changed slightly over the years, but the key principles of strength, control and flexibility remain the same.

Pilates is now widely taught by specific Pilates Method instructors and in fitness studios as an exercise class. It is popular with people of all ages who are not interested in aerobics or energetic, fast-paced exercises

Maybe all those celebrities are onto a good thing!

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