I often get asked how Pilates is different to gym based “Core Conditioning” classes. Some of the exercises can be very similar and both are advertised to “strengthen your core”. I find there is no quick and simple answer that does not invite misunderstanding.
Like Yoga, Pilates is considered a body & mind practice. In Yoga this may be more obvious, because it often involves relaxation and breathing exercises and some exercises are supposed to affect your organs and spirit as well as our muscles. Pilates however classically does not involve relaxation or meditation. However the way we execute the Pilates exercises should encompass body, mind and breathing all at once, so one could argue that Pilates practice itself has similar benefits to meditation practice too.
According to Brent Anderson (Founder of Polestar Pilates/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVQQMUKUmzE) Jospeh Pilates original goals were:
1.Total Body Health
For me this should be reflected in each exercise.
In Core Conditioning the emphasis is in pushing through a set number of repetitions and working as hard as possible, focusing on the pure muscle strength needed to perform the last few reps usually to fatigue. During Pilates, on the other hand, we are not in a rush to get things done and we only want to perform the exercise if we can be in control of them entirely, using all our body’s systems. The original exercise method modern Pilates is based on was called “Contrology”, a name that very much hits the nail on the head in regards to what we strive for when we practice Pilates. It is always about quality as supposed to quantity. People may find that they work at a lower level of intensity than they do during Core Conditioning. That does not mean though, that you will not get stronger just as quickly. We want to really own the exercise without allowing the body to go into habitual, compensatory movement or breathing patterns. One could say that Pilates really suits those of us who are perfectionists. Each exercise is an experience for the entire body and the mind and there is always room for improvement of efficiency, quality, control and ease. Pilates needs to be performed slowly in order to be able to be conscious of all this. The benefit we are hoping for is not just “core strength” but full body strength in a health balance with everything else. We want improved posture and motor skills, more control and awareness of how we move with quality in biomechanical terms, as well as more awareness of how we breath when we move and how breathing effects our movements. All this will help us to improve physical performance as well as reduce risk of injury and pain as we get older. This intense body or movement awareness practice also has psychological benefits as studies have shown that improved body awareness reduces risk of developing psychosomatic pain, depression and anxiety.
The Pilates teacher talks a lot during an exercise. We don’t have time to count repetitions because we are busy reminding the participant to focus on what is happening in their body while they perform an exercise. We are there to remind them of the positioning of their head and hands, the tension creeping into the shoulders, the alignment of their shoulders with their hips, the muscular connection between pelvis, ribcage and spine, the way they are holding their vertebral column, the expansion of their ribcage, the positioning of their knees and feet and where their breath goes and when.
Unfortunately you can not expect great things from Pilates if we are not willing to slow down a moment and to really focus on our self. If you are serious about seeking the Pilates benefits and committing your body and mind as well as your patience to the method you can get to the stage where we explore more advanced and complex body weight exercises that most guys in the gym would not be strong enough to perform. If you don’t believe me let me tell you of the course I attended where a forty six year old mum/Pilates teacher won all core strength challenges against a male, very well build young Personal Trainer. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.