The power of a Pilates practice
I think I may teach with the question, “Why Pilates?” rolling through my head on repeat. With all the different methods of moving out there and all the amazing teachers, instructors, coaches, and trainers available to us, “Why Pilates?”
In any really great physical health routine, there will be variety. I have heard instructors brag, “I only do Pilates” to prove the point that they look good, feel good, and only need Pilates to achieve it. I simply do not subscribe to this mentality. Not because Pilates falls short, it surprisingly doesn’t. The variability of a Pilates routine can tick off a lot of boxes for a progressive challenge and maintain your interest for decades if you get involved. I don’t like the idea of a one-thing-does-it-all any more than I think one instructor can teach it all. It’s arrogant. It gets my back up. It means you have nothing left to learn in that arena. I certainly don’t want to learn from that mentality.
I’ve done some amazing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions and met some human body geniuses that seem to have an intuitive sense for when to push and when to remind you that recovery is the main point. If we are here to break you down, then it is only to teach your body how to build you back up, never to watch you struggle. Can Pilates give you high-intensity intervals in a session? Sure could. Welcome to the jumpboard on the reformer, for example, but why? Cardio is not where Pilates really shines for me. I might introduce the jumpboard to clients that maybe haven’t jumped due to bad knees, hips, or balance to reintroduce those dynamics into their movement regime and bring the fear down a notch or two. These are not the goals of a HIIT workout. The jumpboard option is, however, a great variability addition to any Pilates session and there are concepts of movement that can best be felt once the heart rate is up and the muscles are burning.
Pilates really shines, in my mind, as a movement training practice. Have you ever been to a group workout and felt like you were following along but had no idea what you were doing? Or, more specifically, why? Why do we “burpee”? No, seriously, why does anyone burpee? I can’t wrap my brain around that one, everyone hates them, and it’s like we all agree to do anything we’re told once we are in a group workout. Mob dynamics at work. Have you ever sat out during burpees? Give it a try. It’s training your independence resilience.
I fell in love with Pilates when I realised how much it taught me about myself. Specifically, how I move, where I am strong, and where I feel vulnerable. Which muscles I use daily and which ones I haven’t realised I have. How I access those places in my body that fire things this specific way and not that.
You practice teaching yourselves which muscles hold you in space and where you go when you rest. This awareness means you'll catch yourself resting and maybe choose to use your muscles to actively hold yourself more comfortable in space more often. Those adjustments become habits and those habits become your posture.
This is the journey we all make with our bodies and why posture can predict habits, either in muscle efficiency or inefficiency. I don't like to use language like right or wrong because extrapolated, I would be judging more than your muscles abilities to do their tasks and I'm not concerned by how you sleep, where you work, or other ways in which you live your life. Those decisions have many variables and not all are within our immediate control. Your body is within your immediate control. You can tune into it.
This is, in my mind, the real power of a Pilates practice.
Did you know that you set a benchmark fitness level for your body? However fit you have gotten yourself, you will always be able to return again. Your body doesn’t forget. Once you are efficient at something, like a life pro tip, that sticks with you.
This is typically the secret behind quick transformations. Usually, the person has already gone through the discipline of getting their body in shape and simply let it go for a time. You do lose muscle mass if you don’t lift for a while, but former lifters regain mass at a significantly higher rate than someone starting at the bottom. Strength is really your body just being more efficient at recruiting the neurons and fibers in the muscle. And that's something that it doesn't forget. So even if you atrophy, your body still remembers how to lift more efficiently and you'll regain mass and strength faster than someone who'd never lifted.
How you experience is so much more important than what you experience.
The best athletes in the world are not necessarily the strongest physically on the day or mentally throughout the competition. They are the ones that can time their performance peaks to coincide with competition demands, can remain calm through adversity, and are efficient in their systems. Whether those systems are preparation routines or metabolism related. The best in the world are a confluence of events in a specific moment. Not even the best in the world can control all aspects of any event. But they are really good at being efficiently aware and releasing the rest. We all know the names of the athletes that are consistently good at this.
I teach thinking, “Why Pilates?” because I believe Pilates is the time to learn how to do everything else as efficiently as our bodies can support us. Each session is an opportunity to get better at everything else. I don’t think of it as a separate practice from everyday movement. It is practising everyday movements. So that, perhaps, I have a longer life of quality with less injury, less imbalance, and less anxiety over those things.
I’ve done a lot of workouts in my lifetime. Pilates I do for me. It feels personal because it is personal.