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Author: Stan Reents, PharmD
Original Posting: 08/22/2008 11:08 AM
Last Revision: 12/10/2018 05:54 AM

Though Pilates exercise has recently become very popular, it originated in 1926 when Joseph Pilates opened his studio in New York, where he trained professional dancers. In the 1970s, a former student of Pilates opened a studio in Los Angeles to teach his strength-training technics. The February 28, 2000 issue of Newsweek magazine stated that 5 million people were doing Pilates at that time.


So, what is "Pilates" exercise? Basically, it is a method that integrates stretching, resistance exercise, and flexibility into a single routine. While Pilates "mat" exercise programs exist, classic Pilates routines utilize spring-loaded machines with names like "Reformer", "Wunda", and "Cadillac". The machines utilize a combination of springs and pulleys. Thus, it is a non-impact style of exercise. It is definitely different than working out on a typical weight-machine.

Pilates exercises emphasize "core" strength training. In other words, the muscles of the abdomen, back, and torso are toned and strengthened. Pilates exercise also emphasizes correct posture, and building abdominal and torso strength to attain and hold that posture. It is harder than it first looks.

Joseph Pilates developed over 500 specific exercises using 5 specific pieces of equipment. However, instead of doing many repetitions, Pilates instructs you to perform few repetitions, emphasizing proper form and control.


It is difficult to reach a conclusion on whether Pilates exercise offers health or medical benefits beyond simple muscle strengthening and a feeling of satisfaction. Even though the Pilates technique has been around since 1926, very little hard data on its benefits exist in the medical literature.  A search of the term "pilates" on the National Library of Medicine's PubMed search engine revealed only 24 citations, however a similar search on Google obtained 31,800,000 hits (both searches performed 8/22/08).

Pilates and Relaxation

Joseph Pilates was adamant about proper breathing during exercise, so modern Pilates classes emphasize not only proper breathing, but, also, a mind-body connection. Many Pilates enthusiasts feel that this style of exercise is relaxing and stress-relieving.

Pilates and Relief of Back Pain

The jury is still out on whether Pilates exercise is beneficial for back pain. One case report published in the chiropractic literature states that Pilates treatments were helpful in a patient with pain and immobility due to scoliosis (Blum CL. 2002). However a recent review of low back pain published in the orthopedic literature cautioned against recommending or using Pilates techniques since there was no evidence to support this for back pain (Maher CG. 2004).

The Performing Arts Physical Therapy and Pilates Studio of Los Angeles ( integrates Pilates techniques into their physical therapy program.  They bill themselves as one of the first in the world to integrate traditional Pilates exercise with orthopedic rehabilitation.


  • PeakPilates® ( manufacturers the patented MVe Fitness Chair, which is sort of a cross between a platform and a mini-table.  This piece of exercise equipment allows the user to perform a variety of Pilates-like exercises.
  • Pilates Studio ( certifies and licenses instructors after they complete a rigorous training program.
  • Stott Pilates ( sells Pilates equipment, Pilates DVDs, and Pilates instruction.
  • US Pilates Association ( is the official web site of USPA.
  • Mari Winsor ( is a personal trainer for Hollywood celebrities. She opened her first Pilates studio in 1990.

Readers may be interested in the following related stories:


Stan Reents, PharmD, is available to speak on a variety of exercise-related topics. (Here is a downloadable recording of one of his Health Talks.) He also provides a one-on-one Health Coaching Service. Contact him through the Contact Us page.


Blum CL. Chiropractic and Pilates therapy for the treatment of adult scoliosis. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2002;25:E3.  Abstract

Maher CG. Effective physical treatment for chronic low back pain. Orthop Clin North Am 2004;35:57-64.  Abstract


Stan Reents, PharmD, is a former healthcare professional. He is a member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). In the past, he has been certified as a Health Fitness Specialist by ACSM, as a Certified Health Coach by ACE, as a Personal Trainer by ACE, and as a tennis coach by USTA. He is the author of Sport and Exercise Pharmacology (published by Human Kinetics) and has written for Runner's World magazine, Senior Softball USA, Training and Conditioning and other fitness publications.

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