5 Misconceptions About Pilates

During my time as a Pilates teacher I have come across various myths and misconceptions around what Pilates is, what it does and who it is for. If I’m completely honest, some of these I also believed to be true before I undertook my training and began teaching the method. 

Unfortunately, with a wealth of information out there on this subject and with so many different viewpoints, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. This can result at best in people coming to class with expectations that are unrealistic and at worst discouraging people from trying Pilates altogether when it might be hugely beneficial for them. 

 When I tell people what I do for a living these are some of the most common statements that crop up in the conversation and the truth behind them…

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  •  Pilates is for women. Of all the myths, this is one I feel very passionate about dispelling. Pilates was created by a man. Yes, you read correctly! It is named after Joseph Pilates, who was a physical trainer born in Germany in 1883. Poor health in childhood led him to study anatomy, body-building, wrestling and martial arts which he then used to create his own exercise practice which he called “Contrology.” He was a prize winning gymnast, boxer and self defence instructor who believed in healing the body through physical activity. During the development of his exercise system, many of his trainees were men. The benefits of regular Pilates include improved posture, strength, balance, coordination and mobility - all the elements of healthy movement. Benefits for both sexes! Although things are slowly changing and more men are attending classes than before, they are still in the minority. I think there is still a stigma around it. It would be fantastic to see more men represented in Pilates studios and classes. 

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  • I am not flexible enough to do Pilates. This is akin to saying “I am too dirty to have a bath.” If you are tight and stiff then you have all the more reason to start doing Pilates!  Whatever you deem your current flexibility to be, your needs will be accommodated in class. You do not need to be flexible to start but over time and with regular practice Pilates can help you to significantly improve this. What can be misleading is to think that in Pilates you are just stretching. In fact what you are doing is taking your body through a series of movements that both stretch and simultaneously strengthen. The term for this is mobility which basically means flexibility in your body that you also have control and strength over. For greater performance and injury prevention a well rounded fitness regime should include exercises that maintain mobility. On the other side of the coin, Pilates can also be very beneficial for those who are hypermobile - this is where you have beyond the normal range of flexibility. As Pilates focuses on mobility rather than passive flexibility, it can help those who are hypermobile to gain control and strength over their range of movement. So whether you are not bendy enough or too bendy, Pilates is going to help.

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  • Will Pilates help me lose weight? Ah, Pilates and weight loss. I get asked about this almost daily! Rather confusingly the answer is yes and no. In order to lose weight, you need to achieve one thing - a calorie deficit. This is where you consume less calories than you burn. You could eat less, or exercise more, or do both in order to achieve a calorie deficit. Think of it like a bank account, you spend more calories than you save in your account. Putting diet aside, in a Pilates class you are expending energy and it is resistance work but it is low impact and not hugely demanding on your cardiovascular system. For example it doesn’t burn as many calories as going for a run or swim for the same length of time. However, what it does give you is mobility and strength which you will need for the activities that have a higher calorie burn. It will keep you injury free so that you can stay consistent with your other activities and increase your performance whilst doing them. What I have also found is that regular Pilates makes people more confident in their bodies abilities and leads them to starting other activities such as running or joining the gym. Some participants feel that they gain a slimmer appearance from regular Pilates as it increases muscle mass which can give you the look of having lost weight. This is aside from all the other benefits such as better sleep, better breathing and body awareness. So despite the scales staying the same you look and feel better. Ultimately, if weight loss is your goal try combining regular Pilates sessions with cardiovascular activities and eat a healthy diet to achieve a calorie deficit. Pilates can help you on your weight loss journey by keeping you mobile, strong and injury free and increase muscle mass but it is only part of the picture when it comes to weight loss.  

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  • Pilates classes are expensive. Compared to other fitness classes or personal training, Pilates can appear expensive. It can range from £10-30 per class or £50-100 (and beyond) for private 1:1 sessions. Firstly, I think it is important to understand the level of training it requires to become a teacher. Those who are fully trained in mat and studio equipment have gone through at least 450 hours of training sometimes up to 950 hours just for the foundation. Many teachers (including myself) finish their foundation training and then continue to upskill by taking workshops or further training to gain more knowledge in teaching special populations, for example Pre and Postnatal. When comparing pricing I would strongly advise you to consider the teachers credentials as the industry is unregulated and some individuals have only done a weekend of training. You can understand the huge difference in the quality of tuition and value for money you will get in that case! Other things to bear in mind is location and therefore relative cost of studio space, cost of equipment (a piece of large equipment like the Pilates Reformer can cost upwards of £3k) and class size (a small class will be at a much higher price point than a larger group). In summary, yes, Pilates is more expensive than some other fitness classes. It is so because it requires expert tuition and in some cases costly equipment.  Of course I would argue that in the grand scheme of things it is totally worth it and a fantastic investment in you and your bodies health and longevity. Health is wealth!

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  • I’ve been told Pilates will “fix” my back. I’ve worked with clients who have tried everything to resolve their back pain. They have seen osteopaths, physio's, their GP...I could go on. Depending on the cause of the back issues, medication and/or surgery may be required. However, what is proven is that keeping those with back pain mobile and active is a hugely effective treatment. With a qualified teacher and appropriate modifications, Pilates is a very safe and efficient way to achieve this. Pilates teachers are movement teachers. That means that we teach you how to move in ways that release, strengthen or mobilise to establish better function in your body as a whole. In your session we may work around the issue completely at first, finding movements that you can achieve pain free. We might ask about your daily activities and behaviours and talk about ways to mitigate things in your life that may be contributing to the issue. There might be homework exercises that you need to do daily or weekly. In general it will require you to make some changes and play an active role in your recovery. Although we can’t wave a magic wand and "fix" your back (if only!) what Pilates will give you is understanding, body awareness and the tools you need to help yourself get out of pain. My clients have achieved great success with Pilates in managing and eliminating their back issues. Through consistent practice back pain can become a distant memory.

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Article written by Alex Marshall: Flex It Stretch It

Alex is a Pilates Teacher and Low Back Pain specialist based in London and Tunbridge Wells.

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