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Pilates: The Fitness Trend Started in an Internment Camp

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You couldn’t be blamed for hearing the word “Pilates” and thinking about super-fit starlets and medieval-looking machines like the Reformer. But the popular fitness system didn’t begin in a boardroom or a gym. In fact, Pilates has its roots in a World War I internment camp on a British island.

After World War I broke out, the British government feared that German men between 17 and 42 years of age would become German soldiers if they were deported. So they were locked up in camps all over Britain, including, starting in 1914, at a camp in a village on the Isle of Man known as Knockaloe. Knockaloe would eventually host over 23,000 internees, becoming the British Isles’ largest internment camp—so big that it required its own railroad.

But things weren’t so great at the overcrowded Knockaloe, where inmates began to succumb to the pressure of their ostracism and imprisonment. The camp inspector dubbed their behavior—which we now know was depression—barbed-wire disease.” 

One of the inmates at Knockaloe was a German boxer, athlete, and all-around health nut who was working for a British circus when he was imprisoned. He was strongly influenced by Germany’s physical culture movement, which advocated exercise as a way to strengthen the body and connect the individual to others. His name was Joseph Pilates, and he found unexpected purpose in the camps.

Pilates had been a sickly child, but he managed to rehabilitate himself through exercise and conditioning. So when he saw the condition of his fellow inmates, many of whom were bedridden and hospitalized, it sparked an idea. He began to teach his fellow internees to work out.

As he watched the progress of his bedridden countrymen, Pilates started to wonder if he could apply the fluid stretching movements he had observed in animals to humans who were incapacitated. He took straps, bunk bed springs, and other parts and began to experiment with crude homemade fitness machines that let people work out even when they were in bed. The machine would eventually be adapted into what is now called the Pilates Cadillac, a bunk-like apparatus with springs, bars, and a bed-like surface.

In 1918, influenza swept through Great Britain and the camp. None of Pilates's “trainees” died from the disease—an accomplishment he attributed to what he was starting to think of as his method. By the time Pilates was released later that year, he was passionate about his new technique. He began to teach it to Germans, contributing to a new movement called “Lebensreform” (life reform) that encouraged a return to nature and respect for the body.

But Pilates’ return to Germany didn’t last long. Though he later claimed that he escaped Germany due to pressure to teach his methods to the army, others note that he went to the United States in part to look into patenting one of his fitness devices. In America, he found a rabid audience for his new fitness method, which he first called “Contrology” and later renamed the Pilates Technique.

Almost a century later, Pilates is seen as the province of yoga pants-wearing yuppies and green-juice-guzzling fitness freaks. It’s come a long way from the bunks of a British internment camp—Pilates is now big business, generating nearly $7 billion of revenue in 2012 alone.

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Health
This New Gym Is Dedicated to Working Out Your Face
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You might have a workout routine dedicated to sculpting your abs and pecs, but are you ignoring your buccinators? What about your risorius? These muscles are often left out of strength training programs because instead of supporting the body parts that do a lot of heavy lifting, they're located in the face. But a UK-based beauty journalist thinks it's time we give our 40 facial muscles the attention they're due. As Fast Company reports, Inge Theron is bringing FaceGym—a spa and fitness center built around facial health and beauty—to New York City.

Theron launched her first FaceGym in London two years ago. After searching for a way to treat sagging, tired skin and finding only botox and surgery, she was inspired to offer something new. At FaceGym, clients have an assortment of facial workouts to choose from. Sessions may include an exercise routine followed by a facial massage courtesy of one of the gym's trainers. Other treatments include face masks, electrical muscle stimulation, laser sculpting, and frozen CO2 shots. "Workouts" range in price from $70 to $550.

Working out your face may have value beyond a quirky fitness trend. According to a study published earlier this year in JAMA Dermatology, middle-aged women who followed an exercise routine of certain facial movements over a few months ended up looking about three years younger. As we age, the fat pads behind our skin start to lose mass, resulting in saggy faces. The new research shows that building muscle in the face fills these areas, providing a non-invasive facelift.

FaceGym plans to open their Manhattan location in September, with more locations in the UK and the U.S. in the works.

[h/t Fast Company]

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environment
Good for You, Good for the Environment: 'Plogging' Combines Jogging With Picking Up Trash
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If you can’'t motivate yourself to maintain a jogging habit for your own sake, try doing it for the sake of the planet. That's the thinking behind plogging: an eco-friendly Swedish fitness trend that's made its way to the U.S.

As Mashable reports, plogging (a mash-up of "jogging" and the Swedish word plocka, meaning "to pick") is simply going for a jog and picking up any litter you see along your route. The trash-collecting portion of the activity requires some bending and squatting, which adds variety to your workout routine. And at the end of your run, your neighborhood is a cleaner place for its residents—human and animal alike.

Improperly discarded trash can seriously hurt and even kill wildlife if it's ingested. Cities can hire people to clean up excess litter, but it comes at a high cost. According to a 2013 story in the Los Angeles Times, communities in California spend close to half a billion dollars a year keeping litter out of waterways.

Plogging alone won't solve the world’s litter problem, but if every jogger suddenly became a plogger, that would be a huge step in the right direction. Looking for a way to jump on the trend? The fitness app Lifesum now includes a plogging option for users.

[h/t Mashable]

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