PILATES MYTHS

By Mel Siff

Now that the Pilates system of training has undergone a huge rebirth in the USA and started to attain the status of culthood, its latter day practitioners are now reviving some of the myths of strength training. Here are a few that are now doing the rounds, taken directly from the advertising  blurb that is promoting Pilates in the media:

Myth 1. Weight training tends to shorten the muscles, but Pilates lengthens  them. All that lifting bunches up the muscles and makes one tight and stiff.

Fact: All muscles contract and shorten when they are activated. All muscle  lengthen when they relax. If muscles appear to lengthen and flatten with  training, then this would imply that one is losing muscle bulk, which is not  a highly desirable state for anyone. This Pilates belief is total nonsense  and betrays a sorry knowledge of muscle physiology. It would also seem to suggest that the more Pilates work you do, the longer your muscles become. That, of course, would mean that your muscles would develop slack and you eventually would not be able to move your joints!

Myth 2. Pilates offers much more variety than weight training. It now has over  2000 exercises.

Fact: The field of weight training, which includes free barbell and dumbbell weights and machines, offers at least ten times that number of exercises and exercise variations. Pilates does not even come close.

Pilates practitioners, of course, should note that the well-known Pilates machine, the Reformer (a type of lying sled device), the Cadillac, the Spine Corrector and various other machines were developed by Joseph Pilates from a host of earlier weird and wonderful machines that were on the fitness market of Europe and Russia during the late 19th and early 20th century. If one examines some early patents from Germany, for example, even some weight training devices like some made by Nautilus were derived from these earlier  innovations.

One might even state that "Pilates training" constitutes just another man's own range of strength training routines and machines, someone like Arthur Jones, Bob Hoffman, Eugene Sandow, Professor Attila or Joe Weider. Those who are "doing Pilates" thus are simply doing another type of strength training program and they don't even recognise that fact. If any of their instructors think that old Joe Pilates had a totally unique approach or philosophy, then they would do well to learn that several of the strengthening trend setters  of the past 100 years all had some fascinating philosophies and methodologies that are not dramatically different from that of Pilates. Reading through a book such as Webster's "The Iron Game" or talking to Dr Terry Todd and his wife will fill in some of the gaps in their education if anyone is unaware of that fact.

Myth 3. Pilates realigns the body, corrects muscle imbalances and helps to heal injured backs. Weight training usually causes imbalances and overstresses the back.

Fact: Suitably individualised Pilates and progressive weight training programs both can be used to "correct imbalances" and improve postural alignment, which actually have a lot more to do with motor education than what means is used to achieve those ends. Conversely, poorly taught Pilates and weight training both can be injurious. There are very few other methods that can develop such spinal strength, power and stability than a  well-designed heavy weight training program.

The bottom line? Why don't modern Pilates teachers and enthusiasts simply state that they really prefer Pilates training to any other methods at the moment and that other forms of training may well be more enjoyable and productive for others? There is no scientific or clinical evidence that Pilates is any better or worse than any other form of training for the  average population, so let it be marketed as such.

Of course, anyone who is a student of international sport knows that Pilates training done as the sole form of conditioning has produced very few or none of the world champions in sport, nor has it been shown to offer superior musculoskeletal healing to any other form of therapy. That does not make it any the less enjoyable or effective for those who feel justified in spending thousands of dollars a year to learn it. Those people simply enjoy it because they have found that it suits them, nothing more, nothing less.

Fortunately, when I was being taught Pilates methods more than 15 years ago by some Pilates teachers in return for my teaching them modified forms of PNF training which Pilates did not specifically address, we discovered that we all had something to teach and learn from one another's training -- though we agreed that Pilates methods of pelvic stabilisation were not intended for lifting heavy loads in weightlifting and powerlifting. Once again, a case of live and let live! Pilates teachers and weight trainers were getting along  just fine until the commercial marketeers came along to distort the facts with their comparative advertising.

(Boy will Dr. Siff be missed!)