The widespread popularity of Pilates has dramatically increased over the last two decades with paparazzi photographing celebrities leaving one Hollywood studio after another.
People within the Pilates community have known of its benefits years before this sudden surge in popularity, and they are doing the collective preverbal eye-roll. It’s about time the rest of the world is finally catching on and recognizing what Pilates practitioners have always known—Pilates helps the mind and body stay flexible, movable and healthy.
The Pilates method is in a class by itself because it is intended for every body regardless of a person’s shape, size, age, gender, or fitness background. It is an inclusive method bringing its practitioners’ life-long benefits with a calmness of the mind while allowing the development of strength, flexibility, balance, and control.
Along with the countless reasons Pilates should be incorporated into your fitness repertoire, the same can be said of misconceptions swirling around Pilates; from what exactly it is, to how it’s done and who it’s meant for. These are some of the most popular myths that don’t seem to be going away and maybe some of yours too.
1. Pilates is just for women.
It’s understandable that an exercise program that has a focus on strengthening and stabilizing the pelvic floor, a distinct advantage for most women, may be mistaken as a form of exercise designed for women. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Pilates was created by a man, Joseph Pilates, who had a background in boxing and gymnastics, and an interest in the Greek ideal of a balanced mind, body and spirit. Joseph Pilates recognized the importance of balance in the body to enhance performance and health, and more importantly, to achieve this through his practice. That’s why many male sports teams and male athletes incorporate Pilates into their training regimes.
2. Pilates is like yoga.
The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years and is based in a purposeful spirituality connecting the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness through physical activity. Yoga is primarily pose-based and provides a meditative environment for focusing on stress relief while improving the body and overall quality of life.
Pilates, or Contrology as it was initially called, was developed and created in 1920 by Joseph Pilates to address ailments he was afflicted with throughout his childhood. He designed a unique series of vigorous physical exercises that would help correct muscular imbalances, improve posture, coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility, as well as increase breathing capacity and organ function. The Pilates Method is movement-based and includes a series of mat exercises that coincide with Reformer and Cadillac machine exercises. Sadly, Joseph Pilates didn’t live long enough to be a part of the discussion and controversy surrounding his brilliant and carefully constructed method but as a Pilates instructor myself, I am confident he would’ve been tickled in having it compared with yoga.
3. Pilates is just stretching.
One primary purpose of Pilates is to work a body’s deep postural muscles while building and strengthening the rest of the body. Stretching is an important aspect in keeping muscles lengthened and mobile, but this occurs when Pilates exercises are performed with a quality of movement. Pilates builds strength by stabilizing the body’s center or core and then working different muscle groups with control and through a full range of motion. Pilates brings balance into the body without overexercising one muscle group or working them in isolation, but rather interconnecting the body by combining multifaceted movement concepts. The exercises, when performed correctly, will create longer, leaner muscles, build joint and pelvic stability, improve strength throughout the whole body, and alleviate tightness which in turn leads to increased fitness and stamina.
4. Pilates is too easy.
In the Pilates community, an old saying goes, “Pilates is easy until you do it correctly.” Going through the motions without applying the six Pilates principles (discussed in detail later on): Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breath, and Flow then yes, it may feel easy—but you are not really doing Pilates. When properly executed and performed with intention, the exercises are challenging for every level of fitness.
Because the exercises engage the deepest core muscles, you need to understand how to do them properly to get the most benefit. That’s why it’s great to take a class with a qualified instructor who is focused on proper alignment and who will correct your form. Focus is on lengthening rather than constricting muscle groups, allowing for an increase in strength and flexibility over time. By developing proper technique, the body can be re-trained to move in safer, more efficient patterns of motion.
5. Pilates is too expensive.
The area you live in will make a difference in the price of Pilates classes, but you can find affordable Pilates classes almost anywhere in the United States. Mat classes and group Reformer classes can cost anywhere between $10 and $25. Many clubs offer Mat Pilates classes for no additional charge with a gym membership. These fees are comparable with most individual exercise classes, whether you take yoga, Jazzercise, Zumba, or some other fitness class. But Pilates instructors and believers will often say that the investment is worth it, as Pilates acts as a “daily rehab” in the prevention of mobility issues and injury. Investing in yourself is priceless.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not to begin Pilates, consider this piece of advice by Joseph Pilates and I think you’ll find your answer and, quite possibly, answers to life’s many other questions: “Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.”
Cover: Amber Stephens, photo courtesy Ivonete Carothers
Lisa Davis is from Austin and a Pilates Instructor, Editorial Assistant for Texas Lifestyle Magazine, Freelance Writer for Regional Music Journal, and honors graduate from Concordia University Texas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Public Relations.