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IT'S THE ULTIMATE EXERCISE CLASS; TRAINING METHOD INVENTED BY GERMAN PRISONER OF WAR Sports historian and university lecturer PETER DAVIES takes a close look at the regime which promises strength and endurance, improved physical appearance, well-being, mobility and flexibility.


ZOE Green is zealous about Pilates - the latest 'big thing' in health and fitness.

She says it's the new buzz word in exercise and gives the ultimate mind and body workout.

"It focuses both on strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight areas," she said. "Osteopaths, physiotherapists and general practitioners recommend Pilates as one of the safest forms of exercise today. It can be beneficial for just about everyone, regardless of age and fitness level."

And Zoe, 36, from Fenay Bridge, is a busy person.

She teaches a range of classes.

On Mondays she's at the Bridgehouse Clinic, Shepley, and Shelley Village Hall, on Wednesdays at Shepley Methodist Church and on Thursdays at Shelley Village Hall again - with the first starting at 6.30pm and the second an hour later.

And she's a massive evangelist for Pilates.

"It promotes good posture," she said. "And it can change the way you look, feel and move. It can reshape, re-balance and realign the body, making it longer, leaner and more supple.

"It's suitable for elite athletes and exercise novices alike and is beneficial to any age group."

And when she lists its benefits and effects, she has to take a deep breath.

"Greater muscle strength and endurance, improved physical appearance, holistic well-being, mobility and flexibility, improved sleep and lifestyle, fewer injuries and reduction of back pain.

"Plus improved function and efficiency of the pelvic floor, improved circulation, better function of the lungs and improved co-ordination and concentration.

"And it also aids relaxation and reduces stress levels."

Her early-evening class at Shelley Village Hall on Thursdays is well-attended.

Zoe gets there early, does a bit of cleaning, and then puts an exercise mat down for each class member.

The class, although open to all, is 100% women of all ages. They roll up just before 6.30pm and bag a mat in their favourite corner of the hall.

Most come ready for action - although the toilets act as makeshift changing rooms for those who aren't.

Then its socks and shoes off - and Zoe takes charge, sometimes with her sound system playing appropriate music in the background.

The international organisation for Pilates teachers and training is the Pilates Foundation.

It was established in 1996 and, in its own words, "brings together qualified Pilates teachers who are passionate about providing the highest standards of training and practice of Pilates and maintaining the principles and integrity of the work".

The body defines the exercise method as being "designed to elongate, strengthen and restore the body to balance.

"Classes focus on specific areas individually while using exercises that integrate the whole body to reeducate and restore it to optimum muscular and skeletal function.

"It is this holistic approach that sets Pilates apart from many other forms of exercise."

The method was the invention of Joseph H Pilates, who was born in Monchengladbach in Germany in 1880.

Significantly, his father was a champion gymnast and his mother worked as a naturopath.

Joseph's childhood was dogged by illness, but he was determined to become healthier.

In 1912 Pilates moved to Britain and, somewhat bizarrely, earned money as a boxer, circus-performer and self-defence expert.

During the Great War he was imprisoned in an Isle of Man camp - and this is where he started to experiment with ways of keeping fit.

From Britain he moved to America and his exercise methods gained many followers - including dancers George Balanchine and Martha Graham.

He died in 1967, but his ideas lived on in his books - the most famous of which were Return To Life Through Contrology and Your Health - and his many disciples.

Fast forward to Huddersfield in 2008 - and Zoe is one such devotee.

She has great experience in Pilates and teaching more generally.

She said: "I trained at the Dorothy Stevens School of Ballet andModern Dance until I was 19, gaining several qualifications including the Advanced Royal Academy of Dancing certificate.

"From there I went on to dance professionally in the UK, abroad and on cruise ships."

She then had a 'conversion' to Pilates as a form of exercise and therapy.

"It was when I had to have a Hallux Valgus - bunion correction - that I began to concentrate more on Pilates and realised its benefits.

"During rehabilitation, I continued to practice Pilates, but with a new focus because I was literally off my feet for three months."

This was just the beginning.

"I continued practising Pilates for myself while gaining qualifications to teach aerobics, step aerobics and aqua aerobics," she said.

"I taught in Huddersfield before in 2001, moving to Skipton in North Yorkshire where I was based before moving back to Huddersfield in 2006.

"In January 2008 I progressed my qualifications to teach NVQ level 3.

"I also have experience of working with athletes and rehabilitation clients and work with both young people and seniors, adapting programmes to suit."


EXERCISE: Zoe Green trained in ballet and dance is a long-time convert to Pilates (s); STRETCHED: Pilates class members with Zoe Green (front left) (s); WELL-BEING: Jo Cove (left) and Desiree Nazareth (s); ENDURANCE: Jeni Gilbert (left) and Julie Martin (s)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Apr 25, 2008
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