The Pilates Secret


Try this exercise and tell me what you think.

Lie flat on a Mat with your arms overhead and legs together.

  • Roll up to round over your legs.
  • Roll back down to lie flat.
  • Repeat 5 times 

Now try it this way.

Lie flat on a Mat with your arms overhead and legs together.

  • Pull your abdominals in and up.
  • Inhale and bring your arms to the ceiling, then your head, and curl up slowly through your spine.
  • Exhale and contract your abs deeper as you continue rolling up with control. Reach over your legs holding back in your waist. Lengthen the arms and legs taut and tight.
  • Inhale to begin curling back pressing one vertebra at a time into the mat. Squeeze your seat and exhale to deepen the abdominals. Control your descent lowering down through the lower, middle and upper back. Reach the arms up and overhead to begin again.
  • Repeat 5 times.

If you liked the 2nd one better, you've learned the Pilates secret.


For those that have ever played competitive sports, studied an instrument or practiced martial arts, you have already experienced the magic of specificity. This is the secret sauce that applies to all fitness. For those who have less experience in this arena, any task that requires enormous attention to detail draws upon the same elements. Joe Pilates knew this when he created his system. His genius was to draw upon moves from disciplines that required tremendous concentration and a high level of precision. Influenced by gymnastics, yoga, body building, and more, the resulting body of work was named Contrology for the blend of body and mind efforts necessary to execute the moves.

Control was at the heart of it all.

Mental Specificity

Specificity in Pilates is a two headed monster. There's the mental and the physical side. Ask those in the business and they'll confirm that the greatest gift of Pilates is the mental focus that makes every workout a reward rather than a chore. Running through a mindless movement regimen while your thoughts remain anchored in the mundane is neither physically effective nor mentally rejuvenating.

Sustained low-intensity cardio puts the mind squarely in this zone. But hit your Pilates mat with keen mental focus and your experience will change. Focus your mind and your workout will blast past all plateaus transforming your body along the way.

Physical Specificity

Looking at the physical side, the Pilates method is defined by the precise instructions detailed for each and every move. The rhythm, placement, angles and muscular recruitment are all specifically laid out. There is even a choreographed breath pattern for every movement. For those exercisers that crave a higher intensity workout, this acute precision that defines Pilates is plenty intense. The Pilates system is performed deliberately and specifically according to some stringent rules about what is right and what is wrong. Working towards these standards to achieve the best quality and form is what elevates each Pilates student to achieve their absolute highest potential.

The Take Home

In the above experiment, you performed a classic move, The Roll Up in two very different ways. The first way included simple instructions to propel you through the movement with no extra detail. The second variation included the same instructions as the first but elaborated on the specifics.

When the abdominals work, when the glutes kick in, what happens to the spine and more. Both moves were mechanically identical. Now answer these three questions:

  • Which was harder?
  • Which was more satisfying,
  • Which do you think gives greater results?

The Pilates answer is that specificity wins each time. The good news is that the same specificity required in Pilates is applicable in all types of fitness and will yield the same fantastic results. Learn it in your Pilates practice and then bring it back into your real life.

That's a secret worth knowing.

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