6 Questions to Evaluate Your Pilates Training

6 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Pilates Workouts

Stretching during a Pilates class.
Stretching during a Pilates class. Kristian Sekulic/Getty Images

To enjoy the full benefits of Pilates training, you need to know what the signs of a genuine Pilates workout are. Beyond the exercises, there are qualities to Pilates training that set Pilates apart from other types of exercise. Below are five questions you can ask yourself about the classes you take or the workouts you do at home, just to be sure you are on track to getting all that Pilates has to offer.

Are You Achieving Your Goals?

I put this question first because it needs to be asked about any workout, Pilates or not. Sometimes we get in an exercise rut and literally forget to evaluate whether or not what we are doing is meeting the goals that inspired us to work out in the first place. Particularly in the case of Pilates, you want to stay on top of this issue because Pilates changes bodies and it should do so fairly quickly.

You might be familiar with this quote from Joseph Pilates: "In 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 you will see the difference and in 30 you will have a whole new body" (consistent sessions, of course). You can hold your Pilates training accountable to that.

Is Your Body Developing Uniformly?

The uniform development of muscles and the body form, in general, is one of the hallmarks of Pilates training. To develop a uniform musculature, which is most attractive and functional, your workouts need to be full-body workouts.

They can't just be about certain body areas. For example, the abdominal muscles have become an obsession in our culture and Pilates certainly is top-of-the-line abdominal exercise. But abdominal work done out of context with a fully integrated approach to body development is not Pilates and will never produce the kind of efficient, graceful, movement that balanced Pilates training will.

The other side of looking at the uniform development of the body is that sometimes certain areas are underdeveloped and do need extra attention. In this case, it may be wise to add body area focused exercises to an overall routine. This is still different than doing a routine that is entirely skewed toward a certain area of the body, which can ultimately lead to debilitating imbalances.

Is Your Pilates Training Based On the Pilates Principles?

The Pilates Principles take Pilates workouts out of the realm of general exercise and into the realm of body/mind/spirit integration which is one of the goals of Pilates as described by Joseph Pilates himself. The Pilates principles are centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow.

These principles were distilled from Joseph Pilates' teaching, and there is some variation on the theme within Pilates, but generally speaking, these six principles are inherent in Joseph Pilates method and should inform every Pilates workout. If you do not at least sense an underlying foundation of these principles in the classes you take, you might be doing exercise, but you are not doing Pilates.

Are You Breathing Fully?

Yes, breathing is one of the Pilates principles above, but learning to breathe well is so essential to Pilates workouts that we need to examine its role in our workouts separately.

Joseph Pilates is known to have said: "Above all else, learn to breathe..." Yet some Pilates classes gloss over the breathing part of Pilates workouts. They may say "inhale do this, exhale do that" but is there really an appreciation for the power of the breath -- the way it pumps the circulation of the blood and lymph and oxygenates every cell? That's what we need from our breathing.

Are You Doing Spinal Articulations?

Attention to a flexible spine cannot be overlooked in evaluating Pilates workouts. The benefits of Pilates for the back muscles and spine do not come only because Pilates exercises develop core strength thereby stabilizing the spine -- often cited as the primary way Pilates helps with back pain.

Keeping the spine flexible is a top priority as well. The many rolling and spinal articulation exercises are somewhat unique to Pilates. They are intended to stimulate the spine and increase flexibility. If your Pilates workouts don't include a lot of spinal articulations you are missing out on some of the great benefits of Pilates exercise.

Rolling is not always recommended for those with spine or neck issues, but some level of articulation, even if it's just a small extension, can always be part of a workout and should be a hallmark of Pilates for those who have healthy backs.

Does Your Workout Leave You Feeling Good?

Pilates is not just exercise. It is a program of fitness meant to enhance your body, mind, and spirit. Your workouts should leave you feeling good, and better able to accomplish not only the physical the tasks of daily life but also to take joy in living -- in working with a clear mind, in rest and relaxation, and in play which Joseph Pilates defined in his book Return to Life Through Contrology as "every possible form of pleasurable living."

Of course, there is much more to Pilates than this, but if your workout doesn't measure up to the possibilities introduced here, please be encouraged to look for training that allows you to experience the full potential of Pilates.

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