Pilates: Popular Workout's Benefits and Costs

Written by Kate Halse
Updated September 9, 2015
A workout class in session
Pilates is a workout routine that strengthens core muscles and conditions the rest of your body. (Angie's List)

Wonder what Pilates is? Well, learn by reading an overview of the popular workout, what it focuses on, its benefits, what classes cost and how it all began.

For several years, a Pilates workout has been popular among women, especially dancers and gymnasts. The exercise that’s now a fad among Hollywood actors, it was originally used to help rehabilitate World War I wounded soldiers who were bedridden or immobilized.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a conditioning workout that strengthens and boosts muscles while toning your whole body. It focuses on extensive stretching and developing the core. Millions of Americans regularly do Pilates exercises to also create more coordination, endurance and flexibility without bulking up.

How Pilates began

Joseph H. Pilates, born in Germany, created Pilates. His childhood health issues, including asthma, spurred him to study several areas, including anatomy, bodybuilding and gymnastics. He eventually became a physical trainer and created a series of challenging exercises that included resistance.

During World War I, he spent time in England. Depending on what you read, he either was a nurse who helped injured English soldiers or was an imprisoned internal enemy who helped other interred German nationals, including wounded soldiers.

For the injured, he rearranged springs on hospital beds to allow exercise. These contraptions were the forerunners of his exercise machines, like the Pilates Reformer.

Pilates’ benefits

Pilates is about building your physical and emotional self rather than focusing on intensity and weight loss. When he was developing exercises, Pilates based his movements on an array of exercises from around the world, including the mind-body structure of yoga as well as Chinese martial arts.

Originally, Pilates strictly emphasized movements and exercises that focused on the torso. Ultimately, activities and movements were developed around principles that mental and physical health are often connected.

The results included moves that emphasize breathing, concentration, control, flowing movements and precision, as well as working the abdomen, inner and outer thighs, lower back, obliques and more. The emphasis is on coordination, good posture, muscle balance and strength.

Types of Pilates

There are generally two types of Pilates workouts. Many people prefer mat exercises, which involve floor and mat training. These primarily consist of using your body's own weight and resistance to improve coordination, flexibility and strength in a controlled and gentle manner.

The other workout uses a Pilates machine, which help strengthen and tone the body through resistance, rather than heavy weights. This nicely tones and builds muscles without adding bulk. For most people, machines are done after they have mastered mat exercises.

Costs of classes

The cost of a class varies, depending on your location, but typical classes at a fitness center generally range from $15 to $55. Private sessions can cost from $55 to $100. You can get started by checking Angie’s List for fitness centers that have a suitable class near you.

If you want to start at home, the basic equipment and essentials shouldn’t cost more than $100.