Pilates Can't Do it All

Pilates Does It All?

In any regular week, scores of people around the country wander into a Pilates class with expectations. that may fall flat. The Pilates marketing machine is full of promises and guarantees about the extraordinary benefits that Pilates offers. While it's true that Pilates confers benefits both broad and specific if you have heard that Pilates will stretch you out, sweat you up or help you get your groove on, please read on.

I have some explaining to do. 

Hold the door, you may be thinking. "I have a Pilates class that turns the heat up, plays music and uses bands to stretch everybody for 15 minutes. You must be wrong!".  No insult intended, but that class you love isn't Pilates. That doesn't mean it's not awesome. But Pilates is a specific kind of work and if you find yourself in a proper Pilates studio or class you should not expect loud music, or dancing, or crazy props used in other workouts. Everything about Pilates is unique and so are the benefits.

The most important thing to understand is that the Pilates name has been hijacked by countless exercise systems. So although you may find a system that uses "Pilates" in its name or description, you may not even be doing Pilates. If you understand that piece of the puzzle then I can explain in detail what you can and can't get from a bona fide Pilates workout.



Feeling tight and want a stretch? Dreaming of straddle stretching or yin poses like you find in a hot yoga class? Forget it. Real Pilates does not make use of static stretching or long held poses. The system is based on springs which are dynamic and changing so you wont find any prolonged stretching positions in a Pilates class or session.


"But I neeeed to stretch" you may hiss at me. Okay, I get it. I want you to stretch too. But in Pilates we make use of dynamic stretching and believe it or not that has actually been proven to have a better result on increasing flexibility. So if you are serious about becoming more flexible you may not need to sit still while stretching. Imagine pushing and pulling springs all the way out to maximum length and then resisting that same spring back in. This is the secret of Pilates stretching. Length and strength all at the same time. You'll stretch, we promise.


If you are craving the endorphin rush that you get from a moderate intensity sustained cardio workout, don't choose Pilates. Well, hold on. If you are a seasoned Pilates Pro with years of experience, you will sweat - a lot. If not, you may sweat - a little. Grunt? Yes. That you will do. But Pilates in the early stages will have a fair amount of changing positions and setup so you will not have the same experience as you would in, say, a rowing class. 

Here's where I lose some of you. Those of you thinking "I take a kick-butt Pilates class on my tricked out new-fangled Pilates machine and we do high reps and I get my sweat on good." Respectfully, I disagree.

Only because what you're doing isn't actually Pilates. Some may describe the new oversized Reformer-simulated equipment as "tricked out" but real Pilates people describe it as "dumbed down". You should also know that high reps of any exercise are totally against the Pilates principles. We do low reps to perfection and move on down the line.


Old school dance aerobics is back in a big way. Dance is an awesome workout but it has nothing to do with Pilates. Despite the myth that Pilates is for dancers, there is no actual dancing or music in Pilates. And there is also no impact in Pilates.

We do not jump or bounce or perform plyometrics. A comprehensive Pilates lesson involves several pieces of apparatus and a high level of concentration. Music would be a distraction to the deep work we are trying to achieve.

Having said that, Mr. Pilates suggested that his work be done at the rhythm of  your heart which is pretty quick. The entire list of exercises is connected from first to last in one seamless workout. Done at the original tempo and without any breaks, Pilates is one hundred percent rhythmical and dynamic. But it's all internal.

Now that we've clarified the real gains to be had in Pilates with respect to stretching, sweating and rhythm, the question is do you really need any of those elements in your workout? The purpose of exercise is to train the body for performance. Whether that's daily life activities or a marathon, exercise should support your every day needs.   

Let me be clear. I'm not trashing any body's workout. I take part in all kinds of not-Pilates workouts and enjoy them. I'm simply trying to manage your expectations about what real Pilates is - and isn't.

If you want to do real Pilates because you will symmetrically and systemically train your body for strength, control, alignment and performance, we welcome you. But if you are lining up because you mistakenly believe that you'll get long sleepy stretches, or souped up soundtracks or a serious sweat fest right out of the gate, try another workout. 

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