Pilates (Pi-LAH-teez) started an exercise program called Contrology, a low-impact series of hundreds of exercises designed to maximize abdominal strength while toning and increasing flexibility in the rest of the body. Once used primarily by professional ballet companies, the Pilates Method is now taught in major cities in 17 countries and is considered to be the world's fastest growing exercise program. Enthusiasts swear that for little effort--you're not very likely to break a sweat during class--the muscle-toning benefits are outstanding. The Pilates Method is especially useful for many people for relieving chronic back and joint pain. Some famous heavenly bodies rely on the Method, including newly buff Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Julia Roberts, Jessica Lange, and Sharon Stone. Dancers Martha Graham and George Balanchine were also devotees.
The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning was cowritten by Romana Kryzanowska, the last living disciple of Joseph Pilates. With more than 300 step-by-step photos of 70 exercises, it's a solid and safe introduction to the core exercises of the program. Most can be performed on an exercise mat, but some require special Pilates equipment, such as resistance springs, which can be ordered from the resources in the back of the book. If you'd rather not make the financial investment in the equipment, you'll still very much appreciate the dozens of pointers on posture, technique, and breathwork for use during classes. --Erica Jorgensen