The past fifteen years have seen an explosion of interest in the practice of Pilates, with estimates of the number of practitioners in the United States now ranging from 10 to 15 million people. With its rapid growth have come questions about everything from what constitutes Pilates to where, how and to whom Pilates should be taught. “Practiced properly and consistently, Pilates has many benefits,” says physical therapist Kristen Briody of Armonk Physical Therapy and Sports Training. “It can improve flexibility, posture and balance, build strength, and develop control and endurance. And beyond exercise, Pilates is a mind-body technique that can calm the mind and reduce stress.” But there are many misconceptions about Pilates – some that exaggerate its benefits and some that scare away people who might benefit.
Joseph Pilates, a German citizen interned by the British during World War I, developed a series of exercises designed to strengthen the minds and bodies of his fellow internees. His exercises form a system of controlled, non-impact movements that emphasized alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates’ initial exercises were done on the floor and known as “mat work.” He then developed his first resistance-based equipment to both challenge and support the body and complement the mat work. “As Joseph Pilates’ original students themselves became instructors, the practice of Pilates branched out and inevitably underwent modification,” says Ms. Briody. “Today, there are a variety of Pilates techniques that have been developed, but myths have arisen that can prevent people from gaining the benefits Pilates offers.”
Myth #1: All Pilates is the same
Pilates purists maintain that only the original exercises developed by Joseph Pilates, performed in a specific order and with equipment made to Pilates’ original specifications, are real Pilates. This approach is often referred to as Classical Pilates. Contemporary Pilates has added new equipment and variations of exercises. “If Pilates students cannot complete a particular exercise, it makes sense to incorporate modifications based on current knowledge and available equipment to help them improve their skills. It may not be exactly as Joseph Pilates invented, but it has helped achieve his vision of reaching many different types of people. As with any discipline, the key to deriving maximum benefit from Pilates is training with a qualified instructor,” says Ms. Briody.
Myth #2: Pilates is only for very fit people
While it’s true that the first groups to adopt Pilates were athletes and dancers, it isn’t true that high levels of fitness and flexibility are prerequisites. Pilates works well for beginners who want to build strength in their core muscles for improved posture, balance and flexibility. It can be adapted to address specific conditions, to train for specific sports and to suit each individual’s level of fitness. The advanced repertoire of exercises is appropriate for the very fit.
Myth #3: Pilates alone will help you lose weight
Pilates delivers key benefits but it does not burn calories like running or swimming or cycling and cannot be counted on for significant weight loss. Studies have shown that Pilates improves flexibility, strength, and range of motion and can be effectively incorporated into a weight loss program including nutrition and cardiovascular activity.
Myth #4: Pilates is just like yoga
Pilates and yoga share the goals of uniting the body and mind and of improving strength and flexibility but they have different approaches to breathing and movement and they use different exercises. Yoga originated as a spiritual practice, designed to move energy through the body and leave the student calm. Physically, yoga focuses on the spine and limbs while Pilates works the whole body but focuses on developing abdominal strength first. Yoga concentrates on staying connected to the breath while Pilates coordinates movement with the breath in order to build strength and flexibility throughout the body.
Myth #5: You need special equipment for Pilates
The equipment developed by Joseph Pilates is used in some Pilates programs but all the basic movement principles of Pilates can be incorporated into a mat workout. Joseph Pilates’ goal was for people to learn the exercises and practice several times a week in their homes to achieve the full benefits.
Tips for Understanding the Principles of Pilates. Pilates is based on principles that, when followed, maximize the effectiveness of a workout. They are: breathing, centering, concentration, control, flow, precision, balanced muscle development, whole body movement and relaxation. Components of Pilates have been incorporated into fitness programs and physical therapy treatments where people of every age and fitness level can practice a combination of exercise that is both gentle and challenging.
Kristen Briody, M.S., PT, CPI, is a New York State-licensed physical therapist and a comprehensive Pilates instructor.
Armonk Physical Therapy and Sports Training provides personalized, integrative, and skilled one-on-one physical therapy services. http://www.armonkptst.com