Pilates Mythbusters: It’s Just a Core Workout

It’s impossible to call Pilates a “fad” — the fitness method developed over the course of the last century, and founder Joseph Pilates left a lasting legacy. With attitudes in a holistic approach to fitness continually on the rise, Pilates shows no sign of becoming a passing craze, either. However, Pilates’ popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, and with anything that’s so widely practiced, taught and talked about, a few misconceptions are bound to surface. In a five-part “mythbusters” series, we’re going to examine the most common ways in which people get the wrong idea about Pilates.

Myth #1: Pilates is nothing but an abdominal workout.

The first myth on the busting block is one that’s probably grounded in the most truth. It’s well known that practicing Pilates is a sure-fire way to get killer abs. However, the method goes deeper than that. Literally.

Pilates exercises reach down to the deepest muscles in the abdominal core which Joe referred to as the “power house.” These aren’t necessarily cosmetic muscles, but they work in tandem with other large muscle groups in the back and pelvis. Not only key to an athletic physique, they affect the body’s whole range of motion, stability and protection from injury. Toned arms and sculpted legs are definitely desirable, but they aren’t as effective when isolated from the core. Pilates is inherently an integrative method. Develop a strong core, and that strength is ultimately distributed throughout the entire body.

Speaking of integration, let’s not forget the mental side of a Pilates workout. Joseph Pilates firmly believed that physical health and mental health are interdependent. The Pilates principles of concentration and precision require your brain to work just as hard as your muscles. This enhances “body awareness,” one’s basic ability to function in the physical world. This is a result of connections forged between mind and body as one controls and coordinates the breath with the graceful, yet powerful movements that are the hallmark of Pilates training.

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Pilates Benefits Men, Too It's no secret that the Pilates method provides a great workout for everyone, yet you hardly ever see any male practitioners of the fitness method. All too often it's assumed that Pilates is more suited for women, and it's doesn't help that the Pilates poster-child usually takes the form of a graceful, beautifully toned female in a leotard and leggings. Let's not forget, however, that the person who first developed the system was a man. Joseph Pilates understood that focusing on a strong core -- rather than rippling pecs or bulging biceps -- was the key to physical strength. The therapeutic benefits of Pilates extend to men as well. Many men suffer from painfully tight muscles in the lower back and hamstrings caused by day-to-day activities: sitting at a desk, mowing the lawn or playing with your kids, for example. When these muscles are tight, it feels like your life becomes just as restricted as your range of motion.As Joe Pilates himself put it, the Pilates system employs the full range of motion of a healthy human body. By emphasizing core strength and proper spinal alignment, every workout in this classical method addresses the lower back. After a few training sessions, you may be surprised to find that the muscles you've been overlooking are really the "manliest" ones in your whole body.Pilates Mythbusters: It's a Girl Thing In the last article, we properly dispatched the misconception that the Pilates method is all about-and only about-flattening and sculpting the abdominals. Granted, Pilates emphasizes a strong core, and longtime practitioners of the method often possess some enviably flat stomachs. It's a physical feature that both men and women seek through any diet and/or fitness regimen. That said, it seems that so many people entertain a certain notion about Pilates that forms the basis of this next myth.Myth #2: Pilates is a women's workout.Teachers of Pilates continue to point out that the founder of the fitness system, Joseph Pilates, was a man, and some of the Elders (the very first generation of Pilates students, who went on to teach the technique as they learned it directly from the master) were also men. Nevertheless, today's classes and client bases are dominated by females. Why is this? It's a question that Pilates instructors grapple with a great deal. Perhaps it's because Pilates doesn't aim to help students "bulk up," or build mass in the "vanity muscles" of the arms and chest. Maybe it's because of the flowing and graceful character of the movements, or the way the method attracts professional dancers and expecting mothers. Whatever the reasoning, any perception that Pilates is "too girly" to work to a man's benefit is simply and patently false.Have you ever seen a picture of Joseph Pilates? (If not, just check out our "About" page.) Even at the age of 82, Joe sported a barrel chest and looked like he could pulverize a watermelon with his thighs. This was obviously a powerful man at the pinnacle of physical health for an adult male, to say nothing of being an octogenarian.  In a recent article, we discussed the ways in which the Pilates method develops and strengthens muscles that are vital to the male physique, not just in performance, but in protection from injury as well. We've been seeing an encouraging influx of men in our studio lately, and we hope that's a sign that this myth is being put to rest for good.