Review of "Pilates Anatomy"

By Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippinger
Human Kinetics, 2011
Review by Beth T. Cholette, Ph.D. on Aug 2nd 2011
Pilates Anatomy

Pilates Anatomy is the latest offering from Human Kinetics publishing group.  It is part of a series of anatomical guides (previous releases include Yoga Anatomy and Stretching Anatomy) providing detailed, full-color illustrations of the muscles involved in particular movements.  For this project, Human Kinetics recruited Rael Isacowitz, a prestigious Pilates instructor who was trained by several "first generation" Pilates teachers (i.e., those who studied directly under Joseph Pilates himself) and who will be known to some from his appearances in Pilates DVDs as well as Pilates Style magazine.  His co-author, Karen Clippinger, M.S.P.E., has a master's degree in exercise science and worked for over two decades as a clinical kinesiologist; she currently teaches Pilates certification and continuing education programs.  As noted in the book's Preface, together, Isacowitz and Clippinger have more than 60 years combined Pilates-related experience.

This manual is extremely comprehensive.  Not only does it provide an in depth look at the mechanics involved in Pilates matwork, but also it offers an introduction to the discipline itself.  Furthermore, because the authors recognize that their readers may not be coming from a scientific background, they include a review of basic anatomical concepts.  Chapter 1 opens with the six key principles of Pilates (breath, concentration, center, control, precision, flow), with simple drawings illustrating how the breathing in Pilates takes place.  In Chapter 2, there is a discussion of the spine which involves diagramming the regions of the spine and defining the major movements of the spine.  The muscles of the "powerhouse" are also presented here, from the abdominals to the spinal extensors to the quadratus and iliopsoas; proper spinal alignment is addressed as well.  The final introductory chapter (Chapter 3) provides an analysis of joints, muscles, and the types of movements involved with each.

Chapters 4 through 9 focuses on specific Pilates mat exercises.  The exercises are divided into foundational moves, abdominal work, flexible spine moves, functional spine moves, and core work.  The authors note that for each exercise, they have tried to provide the original name used by Joseph Pilates in his book Return to Life Through Contrology, and they rate the difficulty level of each exercise as fundamental, intermediate, or advanced.  Step-by-step instructions for performing the exercises are also provided.  This includes information on Technique Cues and Exercise Notes; some entries have optional sections on Modifications and Variations.  Finally, the targeting and accompanying muscles are both listed and highlighted in the series of illustrations which correspond to each exercise. 

Because the authors have attempted to stay as true to Joseph Pilates' original system as possible, readers who are familiar with contemporary practice may notice some differences.  The first is in the terminology.  For example, certain Pilates exercise names such as "Rolling Like a Ball," have become so iconic that Mr. Pilates' original phrasing has been long since discarded.  In other respects, it is the actual execution of the movement which has changed.  The exercises Teaser and Open-Leg Rocker are both illustrated here with a slightly rounded, or C curve lower back, although a straight back is shown as a variation.  However, I have only ever seen the latter performed in modern-day instruction.  (For an example of this, see the cover of Brooke Siler's book The Pilates Body; Ms. Siler, another Pilates instructor who was schooled by first-generation teachers, is holding an open-leg rocker with a straight back.)

Despite the minimal confusions which might arise related to the changes in the Pilates system over time, overall, the exercise descriptions are clear, straightforward, and informative.  I found the final chapter, "Customizing Your Pilates Program," to be less useful.  First, it simply seemed out-of-place in a book mainly focused on anatomy and which does not, in other respects, purport to be a practice manual.  Second, the tables provided were not particularly user-friendly.  The same is true for the rather paltry "Exercise Finder" tacked on at the end; this was a poor substitute for an index, something this book sorely needs.  In the main, however, this is an excellent resource on the musculature related to Pilates movement, and for that reason, I would highly recommend it.


© 2011 Beth Cholette


Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.


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