Thin-but-fit supermodels like Amber Valletta and Shalom Harlow and actresses like Ally McBeal's Courtney Thorne-Smith and Liv Tyler swear by Pilates workouts to keep their figures toned and flexible. The Pilates Body is the latest in a string of books dedicated to this fitness program, which is now soaring in popularity nearly 100 years after it was first developed by Joseph Pilates in Germany in the early 1900s. While today's Pilates studios take advantage of patented and intimidating-looking equipment that costs thousands of dollars (and therefore charge accordingly for private sessions), each exercise in The Pilates Body can be performed with just an exercise mat. While all parts of the body are used in the exercises, the focus is on the abdominals, or "powerhouse," which support the back; this makes Pilates an ideal exercise for those with back problems--or those hoping to prevent them.
Author Brooke Siler, who trained with Romana Kryzanowska, the oldest living protégé of Joseph Pilates, organizes her book impeccably. After discussing proper alignment and ways to modify the exercises for those with neck, knee, or lower back pain, she jumps right into the 60-plus exercises, which are divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. What differentiates Siler's book from the other Pilates titles is that she includes a disclaimer about the models: "The models in this book have been training in the Pilates method for years. Although their bodies may seem to represent an unrealistic ideal for many, they have worked hard to achieve their fitness goals. I hope in earnest that they do not intimidate but inspire." Also, each exercise is given a two-page spread of its own, and is accompanied by clear photographs and helpful graphics. For example, for the "inner-thigh lifts," there's an illustration suggesting that you imagine a stack of books on the lifting leg to help you increase resistance. Each exercise also includes what Siler calls "The Inside Scoop," or tips she's learned from training hundreds of clients. These include the main goal of the exercise; simple modifications for beginners; important keys to remember while doing the move; and no-nos to prevent injury. While it's important to concentrate and get the technique of each exercise down, Siler's book is perfect for anyone looking for a simple exercise program that promises results, requires a minimum of time, and can be done at home or while traveling. --Erica Jorgensen [via]