Pilates Anatomy


In recent years, a profound evolution of Pilates has occurred. The Pilates industry seemed to reach a tipping point (a point of critical mass) in the mid- to late 1990s, whereby it morphed from a little-known form of exercise with a devout but small following including dancers, singers, circus performers, and actors to a mainstream fitness regimen practiced in many households. It suddenly started appearing in Hollywood movies and television commercials, in cartoons and comedy shows, and on late-night television. It became synonymous with going to Starbucks and indulging in a low-fat triple-shot soy latte (no whipped cream please!).

How this happened, why this happened, and to what this phenomenon can be attributed remain somewhat of an enigma. However, few can dispute that the growth of active participants in the United States from approximately 1.7 million in 2000 to approximately 10.6 million in 2006 is a phenomenon. Worldwide participation also has exploded.

Of course, all growth comes with growing pains, and the Pilates industry is no exception. The accelerated education, which is often a part of rapid growth, has certainly taken hold in Pilates. Although we favor a more comprehensive approach, the accelerated approach has been one part of the expansion of Pilates that has led to a multitude of positive outcomes, such as Pilates’ filtering into many new arenas including fitness clubs, training programs for athletes, and medical facilities.

Understanding Pilates requires some knowledge of its history. Joseph Pilates was born on December 9, 1883, near Düsseldorf, Germany. He died on October 9, 1967. Unfortunately he didn’t live to see the realization of his dreams. He adamantly believed that his approach to total well-being should be embraced by the masses and certainly by health care professionals. He hoped that contrology, as he called his system, would be taught in schools throughout the United States. He intended his method to be a mainstream form of conditioning for men, and initially it was practiced more by men, although it is largely women who have kept the flame alive all these years.

It is fortunate that several early students of Mr. Pilates and his wife, Clara, whom he met on his second trip to the United States in 1926 and who became his lifelong partner in his work, survived them and became exceptional teachers in their own right. These first-generation Pilates teachers, taught directly by Joseph and Clara Pilates, have played a profound role in the evolution of the Pilates industry. Rael Isacowitz has had the distinct privilege of studying with several members of this unique group over the past 30 years. Ms. Kathleen Stanford Grant must be singled out as having a particularly powerful effect on this author’s development and teaching style.

Joseph Pilates did not leave extensive written materials to guide future generations of Pilates professionals. The limited archival material—photographs, films, and texts—have been very valuable. However, mainly word of mouth and the universal language of movement have been used to pass much of his teachings down from first generation to second and on to following generations. Mr. Pilates did write two short books, and one of them, Return to Life Through Contrology, served as the primary reference for Pilates Anatomy. The decision to use the exercises as they appear in Return to Life Through Contrology as the basis for the primary descriptions of most exercises in Pilates Anatomy was an important one. Our goal is for Pilates Anatomy to transcend teaching styles, individual approaches to Pilates, or any particular school of Pilates. This book is written to be universal in its appeal, just as anatomy itself is universal. Using Return to Life Through Contrology brings the work as close to the source as one can get, with the intent that Pilates Anatomy can serve as a bridge for the many different approaches to Pilates that have emerged and can offer a meeting ground for all Pilates professionals and enthusiasts from every part of the Pilates spectrum and all corners of the globe.

Today Pilates can be found in every conceivable environment. Pilates is taught in private studios, academic institutions, fitness centers, and medical facilities. It is used with clients ranging from elite athletes to people with limited capacities due to disease or injury. Age groups ranging from kindergartners to folks in their 90s enjoy the benefits of Pilates. Is there another method that can accommodate such a wide variety of users? This is the magic of Pilates. It is so extremely adaptable. This is certainly one of the reasons for the boom in popularity.

Pilates Anatomy is the work of two authors with much in common but with different expertise to bring to this book. Over the past 30 years, Rael Isacowitz has done extensive study in Pilates, which has included work with the most highly respected early Pilates teachers. He developed an acclaimed Pilates center, and for the last 21 years has designed and directed an internationally renowned Pilates education organization. His knowledge and skill has earned him invitations to travel the world teaching and lecturing. Karen Clippinger has 30 years’ experience in teaching anatomy at prominent centers and universities. Her keen ability to make anatomical concepts applicable is well known and has led to her lecturing internationally at many prestigious venues. In the last 17 years, her work has emphasized bringing Pilates to rehabilitation and academic settings, establishing her as a leader in the field. Both of them have rich backgrounds in exercise science and substantial experience as dancers and athletes. Combined they have more than 60 years’ experience in study, performance, practice, and teaching, and philosophically they share much in common. Their paths crossed more than 17 years ago, and they have enjoyed a vibrant, often spirited, and always inspiring professional dialogue ever since.

Traveling extensively, presenting, and teaching in many parts of the world gave them a firsthand international perspective on how Pilates is being embraced in so many countries. From China to Russia, from Australia to South Africa, and from the United States to Europe, they have connected with people and contributed to the growth of the industry. There are few countries today in which Pilates is not present. They hope Pilates Anatomy will serve as a tool to connect Pilates professionals and enthusiasts alike as an international community speaking an international language.

The direction the expansion of Pilates has taken demands that Pilates professionals have sound knowledge of anatomy. Yet everyone should be able to benefit from the information in this book. ThePilates Anatomy approach is designed to be inclusive and not exclusive of any school of Pilates teaching, offering basic anatomical exercise descriptions that can be applied easily to different variations or modifications used by a given approach or for a specific participant. It should be useful for beginning students as well as for physical therapists and others with extensive knowledge of human anatomy. The complementary use of drawings showing targeted working muscles, lists of key muscles, and anatomical information within technique cues and exercise notes will allow the reader to use the information at different levels, in accordance with current knowledge and movement experience. The intention is to offer everyone a solid anatomically based foundation on which to practice Pilates with integrity. Most important, be safe and enjoy!