The Truth About Pilates: 5 Pilates Myths, Debunked
Pilates teachers love to make declarations about what Pilates is and is not, and it’s even more confusing when the declarations are conflicting.
If this isn’t Pilates, then what the heck have I been doing at this “Pilates studio” on this “Pilates reformer” for the past six months?
And if everyone has a different opinion, then what is real, and right?
The truth is, Pilates "is" different things to different people. A person's experience or definition can be based on several factors, including: the teacher, the teacher's style and training, the equipment they use, and most importantly, the student him or herself.
Two people can take the same class with very different experiences if one is focused on the teacher's instructions and working 'deep,' and the other is daydreaming and moving mindlessly.
With so many contradictory declarations out there about what Pilates IS and IS NOT, it can be confusing.
Here are some common Pilates myths, debunked:
1. Pilates is just stretching: Myth. Pilates is a full-body exercise system that puts your body at its maximum physical potential in terms of strength, flexibility, control, stability, and stamina.
Sure, some classes and teachers tend to work more slowly, and focus on mobility and flexibility, but that is just a piece of the Pilates system's full potential. If you like Pilates because “it’s a good stretch,” you might not be experiencing the full benefits of the system. (Read: Frequently Asked Questions By First-Time Pilates Students”)
2. You don't sweat: Myth. If you are pushing yourself to the limit and challenging your physical potential until you literally shake, there will be sweat.
A classical Pilates session, an advanced reformer class with a swift tempo, or a jump board class will have you sweating just a few exercises in.
If you focus and work deep, and really focus on the teacher’s instructions, even beginner exercises can have you breaking a sweat in no time.
3. You have to supplement Pilates with cardio: Myth. It is true that some teachers choose to focus solely on small and slow movements, and there is a large population of physical therapists and studio instructors who use Pilates equipment and Pilates-inspired exercises for rehabilitation. However, that is the exception, not the rule.
The classical Pilates repertoire is non-stop movement for the full session, and teaches transitions between exercises as part of the workout, so you never stop moving. (See Let It Flow) It is excellent cardiovascular exercise.
However, not all teachers follow the classical order or teach transitions for various reasons: maybe it is not their style, maybe they never learned the transitions themselves, or maybe it is a customer service consideration.
Learning the transitions means taking full responsibility for your workout from moving the box to changing the springs. (See reformer flow.)
4. Pilates doesn't provide strength training. Myth. At its core, Pilates is resistance training which builds strength.
Equipment brands that stick to the original designs use significantly heavier spring tension and require more strength due to the design of the wheels and other factors.
There are, on the other end of the spectrum, brands of Pilates apparatus that have adapted the equipment for use by physical therapists, using wheels that slide with less friction, have lighter spring options, and are larger in size.
(Keep in mind, however, since springs can provide both assistance and resistance, a heavier spring doesn't always mean "harder." Sometimes lightening the load advances the exercise.)
And, ultimately, you can ride the springs or you can work the springs... how hard you work is up to you.
5. Pilates is dangerous. Myth. A lot of physical therapists and doctors recommend Pilates to people suffering from back and joint pain and recovering from other injuries and ailments because it corrects imbalances and provides core strength, among other benefits that are good for the body.
But, all Pilates classes are styles are not created equal.
Someone recovering from an injury or with special populations can get injured if they jump right into a reformer class with an undertrained teacher, or a large group mat class, where it is almost impossible for the teacher to make the individualized corrections needed to keep you safe. Many studios won't even allow newbies to take group classes.
There are also a lot of "Pilates-inspired” studios out there. While they may use “Pilates” in the studio name and use spring-based resistance, the similarities stop there. They do not teach the Pilates system; in fact, many don’t even teach the same exercises. Do your research to be sure you are attending an authentic Pilates class with a qualified instructor.
Clients with special considerations should consider beginning with private lessons, with a qualified, certified and insured instructor.
Get referrals, ask questions, and do your research before choosing a studio and instructor.
If you didn't have a great experience with Pilates your first go-round, give it another try.
The Pilates system has so much to offer and is (can be) everything your body needs to operate at its maximum physical potential.
What other Pilates myths need to be debunked? Comment below!
So what is “real” Pilates? Real Pilates founder Alycea Ungaro breaks it down in the video below.
Originally published January 8, 2018.