Do you remember your first Pilates experience? I definitely remember mine! A colleague and I decided to try a beginner mat class taught by an impeccably graceful and articulate former dancer. At the time, the words and movements–“let your body fall into the mat”, “feel your bones moving”, “move from your centre”–were foreign, frustrating, and truthfully, intimidating to my 25 year old, personal trainer self. I knew how to lift weights, and how to teach people to successfully lift heavier weights each week. These subtle movements, impeccably executed with such precision and control by the instructor, were something I had never done before. At the end of class, my friend and I awkwardly giggled about how different this class was from our usual boot camp style. I mean, we were in the class for an hour and we weren’t even starting to sweat. Can you even call that exercise? We tried it, we could somewhat explain it to the members of the gym we worked at what the class was like (uhm, WEIRD!), and that was enough for us!
A few months later that same Pilates instructor created a small Pilates studio at the gym we worked at. Along with her mat classes, she now had a constant stream of people coming to work with her on the odd looking equipment. As colleague and fitness professional, I felt that it was important that I learn more about what she was doing. I truthfully don’t remember how I felt after my first few sessions, but I do remember that I so started to train with her 1-2x/week and that it was a non-negotiable in my week. Somewhere in between “you want me to do what?”, “where should I be feeling this?”, and “exactly why am I doing this?” , Pilates became an essential part of my workout routine. Not only that, I could feel the effects the Pilates sessions were having on my other workouts. My ability to properly execute squats and lungs was improving: I could stabilize my pelvis and FINALLY feel my glutes kicking in on what were traditionally “quad-only” exercises for me. When I did a pull-up or rowing motion, my chest stayed wide and my shoulders didn’t turn in. Somehow the work I did with my Pilates instructor was making it’s way onto the gym floor. Even more remarkable, my personal training clients noticed their training sessions changing. The exercises themselves were the same, but something was different and better in how I was cuing and structuring the workouts. As a result they were experiencing the sessions very differently.
As I continued my studies to integrate the principles from Pilates into my personal training (ultimately becoming an instructor at Body Harmonics!) I ran into many colleges and clients from my gym life who did not understand what I was doing.
You do Pilates? Don’t you need a dance background to be a real Pilates teacher
While many teachers and students are from a dance background, and Joseph Pilates’ original work was with ballet dancers (AND gymnasts AND military officers), instructors and teachers in the Pilates world come from many diverse backgrounds. From physio therapists to head hunters, teachers to ad execs, Pilates as a career appeals to people from a wide variety of professional backgrounds.
Pilates is just a lot of crunches
There is a definite focus on abdominal engagement in Pilates, but not only in spinal flexion. In layman’s terms (and possibly just my terms!), Pilates involves thinking about how you create movement from the inside (core) out (limbs). So yes, you often will feel more “core” than with a traditional gym work out, but in spinal flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion.
Pilates doesn’t make you stronger
I’m not sure where this one comes from (maybe because Pilates doesn’t usually involve dumbbells, or that many of the traditional exercises are performed in a supine position?) but Pilates can make you very strong. While many of the exercises involve body weight or lighter resistance than at the gym, Pilates trains the different muscle systems in your body to work in unison. Once your body is working with all the parts together, you will find that you are much stronger and more powerful with everything else, including the gym!
Pilates is just for women
Pilates is plagued by the myth that it’s only for women. While we do see men coming to classes and to private sessions, the large majority of the clientele is female. That’s a shame, as everybody (every body) can benefit from the way Pilates works to create balance with opposing muscle groups, teach the deeper core muscles to activate properly, and increase (where needed) range of motion and stability around a joint.
Pilates is only about your core, and doesn’t work anything else
Pilates is absolutely about core strength, but it’s also a very effective, thorough, and surprisingly tough full body workout! The stronger and more effectively a client can access their core the more challenging of a workout they will be able to have with the rest of their body. The more advanced exercise series have many extremely challenging exercises for the limbs, but they are rooted in the ability to stay strong and stable through the torso. Star, back splits, and side leg arcs on the reformer are great examples of this. In the beginner and intermediate exercises there are many exercises where–while abdominal control is needed–clients feel quite a bit more than “just abs”. The core springboard class at Body Harmonics is a great example where clients feel like they get a great workout of their arms and legs along with abdominal work.
“Pilates is too easy for me”
Pilates is only easy when you aren’t doing it correctly. The movements require an initial engagement of the deepest core muscles and go from there. If you start the exercises at the limb level instead of the inner cylinder of support you will be missing the majority of the exercise. It takes time and the willingness to learn to engage your body on a very different level than lifting weights requires, but the more you go to Pilates and the better you get at it the harder the workout becomes.
I love to say that ANYTHING can be Pilates, and Pilates can happen anywhere. Joseph and Clara Pilates developed specific repertoires and equipment early in the 20th century that everyone imagines when you say “Pilates”–think the hundred or the reformer–but even a standing dumbbell bicep curl or a barbell squat in a CrossFit box can be effective Pilates exercises. When you start from your centre and move with concentration, control, and precision, you have just “done” Pilates.
See you soon in the studio!