Common Myths Surrounding Pilates

Pilates is an excellent exercise that has been gaining in popularity since its inception in the early 1900s by German born Joseph Pilates who created it as a means of rehabilitating the sick and injured.  Fitness and sports enthusiasts gained interest in Pilates when it was discovered that Pilates benefited not only the debilitated but the well, too.

Over the years as Pilates has evolved, various myths have arisen, most of which are possibility misunderstandings of the teachings of the principles of Pilates, similarly to the game of “Chinese Whispers” where the passing of information becomes distorted in the retelling.  Here are some common myths about Pilates.

1. Pilates Exercises Builds Longer, Leaner Muscles

The fact is that all muscles contract when they are activated and they extend when they relax.  For every movement in the body, there is a muscle that contracts to achieve the action.  It requires an opposing muscle to achieve the opposite movement.  For instance, the contraction of your biceps causes your arm to flex, at the same time your triceps relaxes.  To straighten your arm, your triceps contracts, while your biceps relaxes.

All muscles have a normal resting length – their regular length when they are not in action.  The resting length may shorten if the muscle is constantly in action and tense.  Similarly, after vigorous exercise, this may be observed.  Simple stretching exercises after a vigorous workout can help to return the muscle to its normal resting length.

During a Pilates workout, each exercise incorporates resistance training with stretching.  Resistance training helps to build the muscles, while the stretching helps to return the muscles to its normal resting position.  With most other exercises, individuals are required to incorporate their own stretching exercises to achieve this.  Often, many skip the stretches altogether or fail to perform adequate stretching exercises to help return the muscles to their normal resting position.

It is this nature of Pilates that naturally gives it the appearance of making one’s muscles longer and leaner, however, in the physical sense, it is not true.

2. Pilates is an Exercise for Women

Pilates was conceived by Joseph Pilates, who was a man.  Although he was born frail, it was his intense pursuit for physical excellence that led him to develop the Pilates exercises.  He developed the Pilates exercises based on his own physical experiences of sports, such as gymnastics, boxing, and performing as a circus performer, as well as adaptations from the practice of Yoga and other Eastern philosophies.  The original purpose of Pilates was for the rehabilitation of the sick and injured but it was later adopted by healthy individuals when it was discovered that the benefits of Pilates extended beyond the healing of the sick and injured.

The perception that Pilates is an exercise for women may arise from the fact that most of the marketing is targeted towards women.  Perhaps the fact that Pilates is more popular among women with more women instructors and a higher proportion of women in the classes have also added to that perspective.  Being an exercise that is easily adapted to differing levels of fitness, it is conceivable why it has a greater appeal to women.  Pilates is also an exercise of choice for dancers because it helps them reduce their injuries and recover more quickly.  All or any of these factors might serve as a reason why the perception is that Pilates is for women.

To top it off, because the movements of Pilates are performed slowly and in a controlled manner, it offers the illusion of being “easy”.  Pilates is also intended to help individuals obtain fluidity and grace which further lends itself as a feminine exercise.

3. Pilates Exercises will Give You Flat Abs

Pilates does focus on working the core muscles of the body which include the abdominals, particularly the deep abdominal muscles.  Every movement in Pilates requires the activation of the core muscles before anything else, following the Pilates principle of centering.  This intense focus on working the core makes it an excellent workout for toning your abdominals however Pilates alone will not flatten your abs.

In order to achieve flat abdominals, you need to lose the layer of fat that sits above the muscle layer.  Without losing the fat layer, no amount of working out your abdominals will flatten your abs.

4. Pilates is Good for Aches, Pains and Injuries

Pilates was originally developed as a form of rehabilitation exercises for the sick and injured, however, the original cause of the aches, pains or injury should be determined before resorting to Pilates as a cure-all.

For example, if your pains are due to a broken arm, no amount of Pilates is going to make it go away.  However, Pilates has been found to be effective in alleviating back pain because it works to strengthen the core muscles.  One common cause of back pain is due to weak core muscles.

Pilates can be used to facilitate healing when performed as a rehabilitation exercise in conjunction with the proper treatment.  It is important that the exercises are conducted with your doctor’s or physiotherapist’s awareness.

Pilates can also help minimise the number of injuries arising from sports and physical activity by preventing muscle group imbalances.  Many muscle injuries are due to muscles imbalances where a specific sport trains only one muscle but not its opposing muscle.  The stronger muscle pulls the joint out of alignment, causing pain.  For instance, the quadriceps in the thigh consists of four muscles – three outer muscles and one muscle on the inner leg.  Exercises such as running tend to work on building the outer three muscles.  Failure to adequately train the inner thigh muscle leads to a muscle imbalance injury where the knee cap is often pulled out of alignment.

5. Pilates and Yoga are Interchangeable

While it is true that Joseph Pilates utilised some aspects of Yoga when developing the Pilates method, Pilates and Yoga are two different exercises altogether.  From a very basic view, the fundamental difference is that Pilates tends to focus more on building the core muscles, while Yoga is focussed more on stretching.  Of course Pilates includes a stretching component to its exercises while Yoga also builds strength, however, the main difference lies in the emphasis.

Both Yoga and Pilates are complementary exercises that reinforce one another when performed concurrently.  Pilates provides the stability to help individuals control and expand their yoga poses, while the stretching component of yoga provides balance to the core-oriented exercises of Pilates.

There are many myths surrounding Pilates, which is only to be expected with an exercise that has been around for the last hundred years or so.  It is important to understand the misconceptions surrounding Pilates so that the exercises are not performed fruitlessly in the hopes of achieving the wrong ends.  Pilates serves as an excellent exercise that compliments many other sports, but it is important to understand where its limitations are in order to avoid unrealistic expectations.

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