However, over the last six years as a physiotherapist, pilates instructor and women’s health expert, I’ve had to expel a lot of misconceptions clients have brought to my attention about pilates.
And it’s time the world knew the truth – so here’s my top six pilates myths, busted.
1. Pilates and yoga are the same thing
First of all, yes, pilates and yoga DO have many of the same goals. They both work on strength, flexibility, postural alignment and stability (all very good things for us humans!). However, yoga originates from India and is often part of a much larger spiritual philosophy and way of life. And because yoga can often push the body to its limits – particularly with flexibility and extension of the joints – it may be too extreme for some body types or people with injuries.
Pilates, on the other hand, was developed as part of injury rehabilitation and focuses on strengthening the muscles. Pilates takes a controlled and monitored approach and is full of movements that support a healthy back and joints through strengthening core muscles and stabilising any weaknesses in the body.
2. Pilates is only for women
And I’m gonna stop you right there. Pilates was founded by a man (Joseph Pilates) to help rehabilitate bedridden soldiers during wartime so there’s no way it’s limited to "just for women".
While it is true that pilates is often thought of as a women’s only activity (due to its low impact nature, focus on pelvic stability and core strengthening and its association with women who are pre and post-natal) it’s been adapted to suit so many different needs and can complement weight training, running and elite sports performance for both men and women. In fact, a lot of professional athletes now include pilates in their workout regime. And hey, if it’s good enough for Lebron James, it’s good enough for us!
3. Pilates is limited to developing core strength
Having a strong core is definitely an awesome side effect of a regular pilates routine… but it’s not the only benefit of this incredible type of exercise.
While we do focus on integrating pelvic stability and core-strengthening exercises into each session, pilates is really a full body workout. Some fun trivia: pilates was originally called ‘contrology’, so it’s no surprise that control and body awareness are a big part of pilates workout regimes. Because pilates delivers a unique blend of strength training, balance, coordination and postural work, it also creates a mind-body connection that focuses on technique and mindfulness.
4. Pilates is easy – it’s just lying on a mat stretching
Anyone who says this has clearly never done pilates before! Pilates is a challenging workout – but it’s different to other forms of exercise like running or gym training. This is because it works by strengthening the smaller, stabilising muscles, as well as incorporating full body compound movements to create a balanced (and hard) workout.
The beautiful thing about pilates is that there’s so many different types of classes to choose from. Mat pilates (which uses your body weight and other small props) will produce much different results to that of reformer pilates (specialised pilates equipment that adds resistance and load), and both will challenge the body in different ways. That’s why I always recommend new clients do their research, talk to the experts and find out what type of pilates is best for the results they want to achieve.
5. Pilates is a way to lose weight quickly
Yep, pilates has many amazing benefits – but helping you drop 10kg in a week is not one of them (and frankly, that’s not the best approach to weight loss anyway). Because weight loss basically comes down to burning more energy than you absorb, people will burn energy at different rates depending on many factors – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Increasing any kind of exercise is important if weight loss is your goal, as this is how we increase the amount of energy we burn during the day. And with our diet, we can tailor the amount of energy we put in. Diet and exercise are both effective in isolation, but most effective when combined. This is why we recommend finding exercise that you enjoy doing (whether that’s pilates, running marathons or lifting weights) and do it consistently, in conjunction with a balanced diet to create a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.
So to bust the myth: pilates can definitely help you if weight loss is your goal, but it’s best done in conjunction with balanced, individualised nutritional guidance (dieticians are amazing help with this) and done consistently over an extended period of time.
6. You have to be flexible to do pilates
Due to its association with yoga, a lot of people think you need to be flexible to do pilates. But this couldn’t be further from the truth! One of the best things about pilates is that it can be adapted to suit people of all ages and abilities – including those who struggle to touch their toes! I believe one of the greatest strengths of pilates training is the ability to teach someone how to move their body and gradually improve mobility and flexibility. A great side effect of this is a reduction in pain and risk of injury, not the ability to do a backbend.