Pilates - Myths and Truths

From Reformer, to Spring Board and of course,  Mat Classes, Pilates is taking over the limelight. Pilates has gained a lot of attention -and hype - in the last few years but…isn't it the same thing as yoga? Why has Pilates caught on and does it have staying power?

Here are eight common beliefs about Pilates, some myths and some truths, which are often misunderstood:

1- Pilates gives you flat abs.

True! Pilates focuses on the abdominal region (commonly known as the powerhouse or core) as the basis of movement. Good Pilates instructors educate their students on the proper fire order of the abdominal muscles starting with the pelvic floor and transverse abdominal.

The idea is that the abdominal region is the center point to maintaining proper alignment. But… Pilates won’t create a flat stomach if you keep chowing down on burgers and fries. Catch my drift?

2- Pilates gives you longer and leaner muscles.

Trick question: It is a visual effect! No one can physically make their muscle longer - unless they have some kind of surgery.

Pilates combines resistance training with stretching to create less bulky muscles. Think about the bodies of a body builder and a figure skater, of course there is a food factor, but you can see that the type of exercise affects the outcome of their physical body. Bodies can only be altered to a certain point through a certain type of exercise. (Genes, don’t we love them.)

3- Pilates makes you taller.

False. Though, some of the equipment looks like they could be torture machines - they’re really not! Pilates aims to work in several dimensions - flexion, rotation, and extension. It could be that by working in several different dimensions and articulation creates a tiny bit more space between the vertebrae - though this is probably more of a feeling than is actually visible.

However if you feel or look taller after Pilates, it is more likely that your posture has been corrected. Working in anatomical neutral is one of the key points of Pilates, which also means ideal posture! So it is more likely that you are, in essence, standing tall than physically growing tall.

4- Pilates will cure all my aches and pains.

False. If your arm is broken please don’t come to me. Go see a doctor! However, back pains are often due to alignment shifts out of neutral that are created throughout life. Focusing on strengthening the muscles and giving awareness to what is actually neutral alignment can relieve back pain.

Pilates is also a great supplement to help when getting chiropractic adjustments or massage because the stability work done in Pilates helps the correction done by your practitioner “stick longer.” Athletes who do Pilates can relieve certain other muscles pains that are due to improper alignment during an action - think of a misaligned runner’s gait.

5- Pilates can make me lose weight.

Yes. But this comes with a “caution.” The amount of weight you lose in Pilates will probably depend on how much activity you already get and how fit you are to start. Those that are less fit are the ones that might lose some weight. In general, Pilates is not a weight loss tool. If you want to solely focus on weight loss: go see a dietitian, look at the stress you have in your life, what kind of food and how much is going into your body, what type of cardio exercise are you getting, etc.

Bottom Line: Pilates burns calories therefore it has potential to help you lose weight. Generally, there has just been some bad marketing out there with Pilates and weight loss. Do Pilates for its many benefits, i.e. not just weight loss.

6- Pilates can enhance my athletic performance

True! Tiger Woods let his cat out of the bag that Pilates was his secret weapon, though I’m sure he has a few. Many dancers use Pilates as do cyclists, etc. Think of Pilates as a type of conditioning.

In any sport certain muscles get overworked creating an imbalance in muscles. This imbalance can cause pain or just plain make your body work less efficiently. Pilates helps to work all of the muscles evenly. Pilates can also help, specifically to your activity, if a certain area needs more strength, mobility, or flexibility. In general, any athlete will perform better with more total body connectivity and awareness paired with core strength. This is true for the weekend golfer to the Olympic swimmer.

7- Pilates can cure my injuries.

False. Again, phone your doctor. Are you seeing a pattern? Pilates instructors often work closely with physical therapists, regarding a certain person, to work on functional rehabilitation from an injury.

Doing pilates ensures working to reduce scar tissue, avoiding overworking, and avoiding improper healing by working in neutral alignment. Pilates also heightens injury prevention by minimizing the occurrence of muscle group imbalances. Keeping your body evenly strong, mobile, and flexible is a sure way to ward off the average ankle sprain. Focus on neutral movement path is also important.

8- Pilates is like going to the gym but with different equipment, right?

False. In Pilates, like at the gym, there are some very educated professionals and some very un-educated professionals. There are some effects obtained in Pilates - like injury prevention, enhanced athletic performance, increased body tone - which you COULD get at the gym. The catch is… with one of the EDUCATED professionals. Assuming you have one… then the differences are these:

Pilates focuses more on heightened mind-body awareness. These are not mindless exercises which can be achieved while simultaneously watching the tube. The idea is that you take an hour and think about the Pilates principles while doing the exercises to get the maximum benefit. The focus is on ideas like: breathing pattern, pelvic placement, sequential movement, alignment, etc. Often this then translates to other areas in your life like better posture at your desk, less low back pain, or thinking about how your pelvis moves on top of your legs.

Another main difference is that Pilates works on flexion, extension, rotation, balance, and coordination along with resistance. The gym is more weight centered. Pilates also uses springs as the form of resistance on most pieces of equipment - some claim additional health benefits when working with springs, versus other forms of weight.