By in Yoga & Pilates

5 Pilates Myth Busters

Everyone has heard of Pilates and most people have some idea of what it is, or what it does for you even if they have never tried it themselves. The crazy thing is that even some people who have been going to classes for years don’t really have a realistic idea of what Pilates can be, or how it could help them, because the class they have been visiting may not actually have been taught by a thoroughly qualified practitioner. Therefore they may believe what they are participating in is Pilates when actually it was just another core conditioning fitness class.

Unfortunately there is no regulating body for Pilates in the UK and so there are many myths about this amazing movement based healing power. Some of which I will discuss below.

  1. Pilates is about building Core Strength

This is probably the biggest myth about Pilates that ever existed and it is going so strong that I may well be the only person you come across that says that in fact Pilates is NOT about core strength, yet if you asked some of those high up in the industry they would give you the same answer.

Here is the thing. Core strength is an idea and a word that did not exist before the 1990ies. As one of my mentors used to say “We did not have a core before 1990.” Pilates has been around since the 1920ies. The spine and strength in general was certainly important to Joseph Pilates, who we have to thank for this holistic movement health method, but core strength, as most people understand it is something that grew out of research that to a large degree is now outdated. Core strength training is still done in many different ways. Your personal trainer at the gym will give you a very different core strength workout than your physiotherapist. Both may have some positive effects, while back pain is still on the rise in our time. So something is not quite right with this core strength idea. (you can read more about core strength in this blog article I wrote for Polestar Pilates International).

So Pilates may pay attention to your spinal stability and how you communicate with your centre of gravity but that is no more important to a well qualified teachers eye than how your foot moves, our your shoulder. It is all equally important to create balanced effortless movement.

2. Pilates is about Stretching

Often my clients will say to me that they are looking forward to their session because they really want to stretch out. And often they do say after their session how much more free they feel in their body and that they have become more mobile and able to, for example, touch their toes, which they could not do before.

So I can see how the experience of Pilates may make you think that Pilates is about stretching and certainly in some classes you will encounter a great deal of stretching.

However stretching technically means that you perform a movement or hold a position with the purpose of stretching a muscle. This is not a goal we have in Pilates. Oh sure, we will throw in a little stretch for you here and there to ease off an area after some tough work, but we don’t particularly believe in stretching as such.

But we believe that efficient range of motion is achieved by actively seeking stability and strength through expansions. Imagine someone put your favoured tea mug just one shelf too high for you to reach, but you can almost get to it if you make yourself really tall. Imagine the sensation of your arm reaching and you using all the inner energy you have to lengthen yourself, your feet almost cramping up from trying to make you taller to get to that mug. You may feel some muscles lengthening as you struggle but you will also feel a lot of muscles working hard in supporting this act and keeping you balanced at the same time. You might agree that it does not feel the same as simply performing a stretch. You still may get the effects that you are seeking from stretching but in a much more functional and dynamic way.

3. Pilates is not for Men

Ok with this one, I have no idea how this myth started.

Perhaps it started in the 80ies and 90ies when female pop stars like Madonna made Pilates as famous as it is today by using it to shape her thighs and backside. Or maybe it started way before then, when Pilates bacame a favoured method for ballet dancers.

However Joseph Pilates was a man, a cigar smoking, body building man. In the early days he taught his method to soldiers and the police force. So it is easy to say that Pilates certainly was not designed for women.

I can see how it might look that way to a men, because most public classes are taught my women and naturally they teach it with a feminine touch and tailor it to the needs of their clients, which are also mostly women these days. But most exercise group classes attract more women than men, so that is not exclusive to Pilates.

The truth remains that the Pilates can challenge men as much as women. And when back pain sets on, we all need an intervention that engages with us as an individual with our very individual situation, what sex we are makes no difference there.  

4. Pilates is Boring

Anything is boring if you are not challenged physically or mentally or if you do not understand what you are trying to achieve or why. Pilates can be a fascinating, fun and exciting way to spend time in your body improving your health and testing your abilities. Working with the right teacher and in the right environment for you is key. In large drop in classes it can be difficult to get the individual support and attention that is needed to really help someone new to Pilates to have a meaningful and relevant experience.

I always recommend to take a few private sessions before joining classes. There you have the opportunity to explore what the right challenge is for you and to ask questions. Of course you may not be interested in asking questions, you may simply not want to spend time with your body. There will be good reasons why you feel that way and they may disguise their need for avoidance with boredom. Not all of us feel comfortable with body-mind practice. It is usually a sign that something inside of us is trying to protect us from venerability, fear or even overwhelm. This is very common and you may want to think about starting this process slowly with support when you are ready.

5. You have to be fit in order to practice on the Pilates Apperatus

The Pilates apperatus, such as the reformer or the trapeze table can look quite intimidating and some of the exercises we can do on these pieces of kit are nothing short of acrobatic. But actually Pilates apperatus is not designed to just give you resistance to push and pull or unstable surfaces to challenge your balance. While it can, it is not meant to only make things harder.

Quite the opposite is actually the case. They were designed by Joseph Pilates originally to support people with injuries, so that they could start their rehabilitation earlier, by allowing the machine to support them and guide them.

For example, I use the reformer a lot with people with arthritis, disk injuries, knee and hip replacements and severe chronic pain. Often these clients are initially reluctant but once they get moving they love the machine as it takes away some of the strain and they can move their body more easily, making it possible to really focus on moving well before getting back to free-standing bodyweight exercises.

So really the Pilates apperatus is something you can start your Pilates journey on.

If you would like to start your Pilates journey with Kristin, you can contact her at The Body Matters on 01702 714968

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