Fitness Articles

9 Myths & Misconceptions About Pilates

The Truth about the Pilates Method

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When I tell people that I'm a master Pilates trainer, I get a lot of interesting reactions. People who practice and love Pilates are quick to ask their burning questions or express their envy at my "dream" job. But many people who are less familiar with the popular form of exercise ask a lot of questions—and make a lot of assumptions. They say things like, "Oh, I could never do Pilates," (and then allude to an injury, health issue, or the fact that they don't think it'd be challenging enough. Some show confusion, thinking Pilates is the same as yoga. And still others mention having tried Pilates once or twice, but never really "getting" it.
 
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about this form of exercise. If you could relate to the examples above—or you're just interested in learning more about what Pilates can do for you, read on as we crack the top nine myths about Pilates—together.
 
Pilates is just for women.
Pilates was originally designed by a man (Joseph Pilates) and for men.  Pilates himself was a boxer and circus performer, and he trained both Scotland Yard and the Hamburg Military Police in self-defense and physical training before coming to New York in 1926. His studio was near the New York City Ballet so many dancers went to him for both physical rehabilitation and injury prevention. These days, more women participate in Pilates programs than men, but many male sports teams are incorporating Pilates exercises into their cross training programs. Read the story of three modern day men who practice Pilates for everything from body-building to triathlon training.
 
Pilates is like yoga.
While the goal of uniting body, mind and spirit may be the same in both techniques, getting there is quite a different path depending on which mat-based routine you practice.  Yoga and Pilates approach movement differently; have different breathing styles; and utilize very different exercises—although there are some overlaps in these movements. In contrast to yoga, Pilates offers more than just mat-based work; Joseph Pilates invented several pieces of equipment (such as the reformer, Cadillac, tower, barrel and more) in the early 1900s that are still used in Pilates classes today. Learn more about the similarities and differences between yoga and Pilates.   
 
Pilates is too easy.
Pilates is only easy if you aren't doing the exercises properly.  If you are going through the motions without applying the principles of control, centering, concentration and precision, it may feel easy—but you are not really doing Pilates.  Properly performed, the exercises should be challenging and rejuvenating for all fitness levels.  Because the exercises engage the deepest core muscles, you need to understand how to do them properly to get the most benefit. That's why it's great to take a class with a qualified instructor who can watch and correct your form as needed.
 
Pilates is too hard.
Pilates can be very humbling, even for people who are in good shape.  Many other forms of exercise do not engage the deep core muscles in the same way that Pilates does.  A good Pilates class will include instruction for every level of fitness and a breakdown of how to properly perform the movements for your body.  
 
You need equipment to do Pilates.
Joseph Pilates invented several pieces of exercise equipment to enhance the mat-based program, but you don't need any equipment to do Pilates. Mat Pilates classes are available at most exercise facilities and are a great way to get a Pilates workout for your whole body.
 
Pilates only works your core.
While Pilates does build core strength, Mr. Pilates always emphasized that his exercises were for the whole body.  He believed the more muscles you use to perform a movement, the more efficient the movement would be.  This creates a system of functional strength that applies to all movements.  The Pilates system teaches a balance of strength and flexibility, or, "the uniform development of our bodies as a whole," Pilates often said.
 
Pilates is only for flexible people.
Flexibility is an inherent part of Pilates training, so you will gain flexibility by doing Pilates regularly.  The exercises are geared to improving flexibility for a more limber body with greater ranges of motion.  And for those people who are overly flexible, the core conditioning creates joint stability so the goal is a balance of strength and flexibility. All exercises can be modified or adapted to suit each individual's flexibility level.
 
Pilates is too expensive.
The area you live in will make a difference on the price of Pilates classes, but you can find affordable Pilates classes almost anywhere in the United States.  Mat Classes and even group Reformer classes can cost as little as $10 to $20. Many clubs even offer mat Pilates classes for no additional charge when you pay for a gym membership. These fees are comparable with most individual exercise classes, whether you take yoga, Jazzercise, Zumba or some other fitness class. But Pilates instructors and believers will often say that the investment is worth it, as Pilates almost acts as "daily rehab" in the prevention of mobility issues and injury.
 
Pilates is only for young, fit people.
There are many approaches to Pilates and the method can have a wide range of applications.  Many clubs choose specific populations to target children athletes, seniors, or moms to be. There are also classes and private sessions for the rehabilitation of knee injuries, back problems, hip replacements and more, often taught by physical therapists.  Pilates programs address scoliosis, arthritis and osteoporosis as well as specialized sports programs for equestrians, runners and golfers. Simply put, there is a style or modification available for all levels, almost all injuries and most health issues. Pilates can truly be enjoyed by just about everyone.
 
Which brings me to my final point: The Pilates method is for every body and it is not about just a bunch of exercises.  It is a mind-body exercise technique that calms the mind and reduces stress; it develops strength, flexibility and control; and it's accessible to just about everyone. To get the most out of the Pilates, don't give up after one try. Find the approach that works for you and follow Mr. Pilates' words from his book, Return to Life through Contrology: "Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.”
 
I'll see you on the mat!
 
Sources
Return to Life through Contrology by Joseph Pilates, 1945.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople fitness expert Nicole Nichols, certified personal trainer and certified Pilates instructor.

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Member Comments

  • NKENGEP
    I found Pilates is great for my flexibility and core but I still have to do strength training for the rest of my body.
  • An interesting read!
  • very useful points thanks for sharing
  • Pilates and running are the only exercises I have done CONSISTENTLY since I started exercising. Other exercise trends have come and gone for me, but not these two.
  • BANNERMAN
    Thanks for sharing.
  • I add Pilates & Yoga stretches to the end of my daily cardio workout--they're great for staying flexible and feeling good after your workout...but I never found either to be a full workout! I still need to walk on my treadmill & pedal on my exercise bike to get my heart & lungs pumping!

    Glad I don't belong to a gym--those classes sound WAY too expensive for my budget!
  • Good information going to use this.
  • I have done Pilates for over 10 years, both mat and reformer. I highly recommend it. My core strength has improved. It also has helped with balance and flexibility. Find a good instructor when you start out. My introduction to Pilates was a mat class. There were 10 of us in the class. The instrucotr was able to assist everyone and taught us proper technique. I have also taken reformer classes, again I recommend these classes.
  • I tried this a long time ago thru the community center. After reading this article, I have a feeling that the instructor was not one of the better ones. Maybe should try again?
  • Very informative, may try it sometime.
  • The person who wrote this article didn't do her research correctly. Go back and actually read the history of Joseph Pilates and what made him develope his protocol. I too am a "Master Pilates Instructor" and did my research before becoming certified. Read up, kiddo!
  • Pilates is expensive. I kept getting my neck hurt, craning up trying to see whether my form was proper by looking at the other students. But I had an inexperienced teacher. Back in the day, Moira Stott had a pretty good beginner mat work video. But I don't know if it was made available in DVD form. My dance instructor made us do a lot of Pilates exercises, though we didn't know that then. That was back when only dancers did Pilates.
  • I am 70-ish and have done Pilates for 3 years. It is amazing for helping me with balancing and making the most of my aging body. I smile when I think of how newbies come in thinking it will be something so easy. They get corrected right away and a lot of them don't return. But having a skilled instructor help you use proper form is vital. I love how my instructor corrects our form patiently and skillfully. I hope I can do this for a long, long time!
  • I tried it and got nauseated. I have a problem with motion sickness, and even doing certain kinds of exercises or movements will make me instantly sick. I also went to a yoga studio for their introductory class and got horribly sick.

    Too bad. I'd like to be able to do both yoga and pilates. But it's out of the question for me.
  • The photo used for this article probably is used to show that you can be fit from pilates. But the photo has probably been photoshopped, otherwise I would recognize that woman with such long arms from at least college basketball or volleyball.

About The Author

Kathy Corey Kathy Corey
Kathy Corey is a Master Teacher who began her Pilates career in 1979. She has been a leading expert in the Pilates community for over 34 years and was named by IDEA as one of 10 people who "inspire the world to fitness," the fitness industry's highest recognition. As Director of Kathy Corey Pilates, she developed the Kathy Corey Pilates Certification Program and designed the innovative CORE Bandô, which is used in studios around the world. She also serves as the Chairperson of the IDEA Pilates Task Force, as Contributing Editor for IDEA Pilates Today, and as an Advisory Board Member for Pilates Style magazine. You can work out with Kathy online at PilatesAnytime.com, a global Pilates studio.