Although it may look like any type of floor exercise class, the Pilates method is different. The low-impact conditioning program was developed by German-born Joseph Pilates, who sought to combine eastern and western forms of exercise, including yoga and Zen.
"It puts your body in different positions you normally wouldn't do, and that's what helps lenghthen the muscles," says Carrie Cohn, an instructor at Health Plus, one of the first fitness centers in Kansas City to introduce the Pilates workout.
Cohn says what makes this workout different is that the movements are slower and more controlled. Those practicing the method concentrate on achieving greater balance, coordination, flexibility, joint mobility and improved posture.
"It really concentrates on [abdominal muscles] and on the lower back," Cohn says.
The Pilates method is nothing new. It's been an intregal part of dance conditioning since the 1920s. Today the technique is becoming popular throughout the country, "probably because people in Hollywood are doing it," says one woman who uses the technique.
Although the method is low-impact, another Pilates exerciser says, "It's alot more strenuous than you would think as an observer. You have to contract muscles a lot and hold positions which creates muscle burn."
Others recognize the eastern influence adapted into the technique.
Says one woman mid-stretch: "It's almost a relaxing way to use your muscles."