When I overhear people saying they have just come back from a Pilates stretch class, I never know whether to laugh or cry. I often wonder if I should tell them that whatever they have been doing for the past hour — it’s not Pilates!
Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) was an acrobat, gymnast, boxer, circus performer and a self defence trainer for Scotland Yard and English Police schools before WWI. He was enamored with the classical Greek ideal of a man who is balanced equally in body, mind, and spirit. He admired the East in their Martial arts for its forms and disciplines. He was an exercise physiologist ahead of his time… Can you imagine him leaving a legacy of a stretch class?
The method was designed to teach the body to move as nature intended — harmoniously and instinctively
Yes, you hear a lot of talk about Pilates being about stretch, and to a certain extent this is true. However, the widespread misconception that Pilates is a stretch class is bothersome. Romana Kryzanowska, a protégé to Joseph Pilates said, “Pilates can be described as 3 words, stretch with strength and control, and the control part is the most important, because that’s what makes you use your mind!”
…strength is about movement quality opposed to simply building bulk.
What I have always loved about Pilates is the balance of Stretch, Strength and Control. The method was designed to teach the body to move as nature intended— harmoniously and instinctively.
Stretch is vital as it keeps muscles supple, lengthened and oxygenated. It allows the muscles to move freely without rigidity. Strength is about movement quality opposed to simply building bulk. And Control is being able to work the muscles mindfully to the effect you desire: to slow down a motion, stop a muscle at a particular point in space, or work dynamic and pace.
Pilates works balance into the body, it does not over exercise one muscle group and work them in isolation — but work them holistically and inter-connectedly. It combines multi-faceted movement concepts in various dimensions, thus strengthening the body in its full range. Joseph Pilates designed Pilates for us to learn to move like animals — intuitively.
So the next time you are in your Pilates class, think about what your body is learning and whether it embodies all three principles of Stretch, Strength and Control. If it doesn’t — well at least you now know that it’s not Pilates and this is not his legacy.