This movement-based exercise technique was originally developed for dancers about a century ago by Joseph Pilates, a German boxer and gymnast. But just about anyone can benefit from it—especially for core training. Incorporating aspects of martial arts, yoga, dance, and gymnastics, it consists of about 500 precise, controlled movements that you can do on mats or specially designed devices, or with weight bars, exercise balls, flexible rings, or other equipment. The exercises not only increase core strength and stability but also range of motion, flexibility, and muscle balance.
Pilates has long been used for injury rehabilitation in dancers and is often recommended for back and neck pain, arthritis, scoliosis, disc herniation, shoulder problems, and knee and other joint injuries.
There are studios devoted to Pilates; many health clubs, spas, and community centers also offer instruction. One-on-one sessions (about $75 or more an hour) or small classes ($15 to $30, depending on the type of equipment used) are best—at least in the beginning, especially if you are older or prone to injuries. Try to avoid large classes where you get less individual attention.
You can even find aqua Pilates, cardio Pilates, and other Pilates-inspired programs, which can all be beneficial. What’s key is to find a well-qualified instructor who has had extensive training and, if this applies to you, experience working with people with injuries or other conditions. (Be wary of instructors who were certified simply by taking a weekend or Internet course.) The Pilates Method Alliance, a nonprofit professional association, has established a national certification test for instructors who meet eligibility criteria, such as 200 or more hours of training. To find a PMA-certified or other qualified instructor near you, go to PilatesMethodAlliance.org.