The Truth Behind Pilates

We all know what Pilates is—right?

Fitness and workout trends come and go; what’s hot today can become a joke tomorrow. (Remember those belted fat-melting “jiggle” machines and rolling massagers that populated fitness centers in the ’80s?) But when something works, and its benefits and results have been proven time and again, usually has staying power.

When Joseph Pilates created his eponymous fitness regimen in the first half of the 20th century, he probably never imagined that it would be practiced by more than 10 million people in the US alone by the 2000s. Originally known as “contrology,” Pilates consisted of controlled movements that emphasized alignment, breathing, and the development of a strong core, much the same as it does today.

Still, though Pilates remains more popular than ever, it is still somewhat misunderstood. “Practiced properly and consistently, Pilates has many benefits,” says Kristen Briody, MS, PT, CPI, a Pilates instructor and a physical therapist at Armonk Physical Therapy and Sports Training. “It can improve flexibility, posture, and balance; build strength; and develop control and endurance. And beyond exercise, it can calm the mind and reduce stress.” But there are misconceptions about Pilates, says Briody, that exaggerate its benefits and scare some people away. 

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For instance, many believe that all Pilates is the same, but, according to Briody, contemporary Pilates has added new equipment and variations on Joseph Pilates’ original exercises. “If Pilates students cannot complete a particular exercise, it makes sense to incorporate modifications,” she says. “When first learning Pilates, it is very helpful to take private lessons. The beauty of the system is that it can be very gentle but, as you build, it can be very challenging.” 

Another misconception is that Pilates is only for those who are very fit. “While it’s true that the first groups to adopt Pilates were athletes and dancers,” says Briody, high levels of fitness and flexibility are not prerequisites. “Pilates works well for beginners who want to build strength in their core muscles for improved posture, balance, and flexibility.” Briody notes that Pilates can also be adapted to address specific physical conditions, such as back pain, can be modified for people with osteoporosis and can be used to train for certain sports, such as tennis, golf, cycling, and running. “When an athlete practices their sport, they may develop imbalances in their body, and Pilates can help by introducing movements or exercises to address and help correct these issues.”

There are some people who believe that Pilates alone will help them lose weight, but Briody says that, unlike cardiovascular exercises, Pilates does not burn many calories. 

Another common misconception, says Briody, is that, because Pilates helps improve posture and flexibility, it is similar to yoga. But, she adds, “Yoga concentrates on staying connected to the breath, while Pilates coordinates movement with the breath in order to build strength and flexibility throughout the body.” There are a number of studios and fitness centers throughout Westchester that offer Pilates instruction, including Movement and Wellness Pilates in White Plains, Rivertown Pilates in Irvington and Dobbs Ferry, and Fiore Pilates in Mamaroneck.              

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