I’m going to dissect a sacred cow today.  Don’t take offense if it’s something you love.  Remember, we’re all about exploration here.

I won’t recommend Pilates to my clients, and if people tell me they’re taking it up, I quietly cringe a little inside.

Here’s the practical side of my cringe.  Pilates is expensive.  Mat sessions may be affordable to the average Jane and Joe, but reformer sessions or one-on-one training is pricey.  In my neck of the woods, they are about $60-70 per session with a well-trained instructor.  And, you want a well-trained instructor.

But the real crux of my problem with Pilates runs a bit deeper:

Why lie down for your “workout” when your body is normally upright ?

In my experience, people seek out Pilates because they seek a “stronger core.”

Why?  Well, maybe it’s because they’ve had back pain or they want to have a more attractive midsection.  Or, maybe it’s because they’ve been told that to be healthy, a person is supposed to have a stronger core.

To be clear, I am not physical therapist, I do not hold advanced degrees in movement sciences and I am neither a physicist nor a biomechanist.  But I do think about the body a lot, and here’s what I think …

In our world, most of the demands we place on our bodies (and therefore our cores) occur in the upright position.  It worries me to see so many people “training” their bodies in a way that bears little or no resemblance to how they actually use their bodies.

Now, if I were convinced that everyone in every Pilates class already stood in ideal alignment, walked all day everyday, loaded their hips when they reached down to fetch something off the floor and wore shoes without a heel, well, then maybe we could be having a different discussion.

But that’s not what I observe.

Based on my observations of Pilates (and again, to be clear, not on published research) the method places the body in some pretty funky positions, very few of which mimic moves we perform in real life.  So, I guess you could say I have a beef with spending time “exercising” in a way that doesn’t work the body in ways to prepare for real life.

I am also concerned about the instruction in spinal alignment and positioning because much of it doesn’t “align” with what I believe to be biomechanically sound.  Most notably, I am concerned about the pelvic tuck and excessive thoracic curvature.

The Pelvic Tuck

If you want to understand why I believe that instructing people to tuck their pelvis is icky (technical term) then read these posts:

Neutral Pelvis, Katy Bowman

Neutral Pelvis 2, Katy Bowman

The Gokhale Method / Anteverted Pelvis

The Gokhale Method / Piriformis Syndrome

Three Ways Tucking Your Pelvis Can Hurt You from Pilates Tonic

Notice that last one was from a Pilates instructor.  It’s proof that there is controversy out in Pilates-land about how to align the spine and pelvis.

I love how Esther Gokhale summed it up in one of her forums:

The idea of strengthening muscles is great and pilates does that well. Unfortunately, a lot of pilates teachers teach a baseline pelvic position that is either very tucked or slightly tucked pelvis (which they call neutral). This is a big problem and can lead to disc damage over time. I also think many of the basic exercises strain the neck a great deal. It strikes me that Joe Pilates had excellent posture. The transmission seems to have been jagged. I know that there is at least one pilates school out there that agrees with me that most pilates is taught with a problematic pelvic position. I think it is great to have strong musculature, but I think it is important to be able to relax your muscles as a baseline. I like the analogy with lions – plenty strong, but very relaxed when they aren’t in action. For yourself do what feels comfortable to your body AND makes sense.

Thoracic Curvature

I stopped teaching “crunches” a few years ago for a number of reasons, many of which are enumerated in this article.  But one of the biggest reasons I stopped was because I didn’t feel comfortable training people in a way that created or encouraged hyperkyphosis of the thoracic spine.

“Train the way you want to look,” I am fond of telling my class members, and I don’t want the folks in my class walking around with hunched backs in twenty or thirty years.  Thus, it makes no common sense to me to train people in that position.

But every time I go to a Pilates class, I am trained to do just that.  Here’s a piece explaining the thoracic and cervical C curves and how to do them.

In that Pilates Tonic piece I cite above, the author does something super-cool to illustrate her point about an untucked pelvis.  She rotates the pictures so it would appear she is standing upright.  And even in the picture of the untucked pelvis, I just can’t help but think, “I still don’t want to be training like that.”  The neck is craned forward, and the upper back is rounded.  Is that how you would want to look standing?

To be clear, I am not trying to be dogmatic.  And if you are a Pilates instructor who thinks I am way off base because I am naive to the science behind your art, then please, please, please weigh in in the Comments section below.  If you are a scientist and I am wrong about the way the body works, then set me straight, please.  I am all about exploring here, and civil dialogue is a cornerstone of our wellness exploration.

But, in a nutshell, as I look and listen to my clients and peers, I see people with limited time, limited money, and generally terrible body alignment who sit at desks all day and have maybe an hour to devote to movement.  Given that Pilates is expensive, given that it is done mostly lying down, given that it doesn’t get the heart pumping very hard, and given that it is based on alignment that doesn’t mimic how the body should be aligned while upright, it’s just not an exercise modality I can endorse for the general population.

(Have you read my post on whether or not you should be running?  Because it’s kind of along the same lines.)


2 Responses to “Why I Don’t Recommend Pilates to My Clients”

  1. on 12 Jan 2014 at 10:00 pmKristine Rudolph

    This post is open for comments!

  2. on 01 May 2014 at 7:51 amKristine Rudolph

    (The commenter originally posted this to the ABOUT page. I have cut and pasted it here since she is addressing this blog post.)

    Ms. Rudolph,
    It is unfortunate that you have been exposed to “Pilates” in this way. I am referring to your article that expresses your displeasure with everything “Pilates”. I am putting quotes around the word–because I do not believe you have been exposed to the modern, current, and professional Pilates that is widely taught. Not only is “tucking” NOT proper body mechanics: but I have, myself, been through three different Pilates certifications and both kyphotic posture and tucking are NOT taught in respected Pilates certification programs as proper posture. There is also a tremendous amount of vertical work being performed in Pilates and it seems you were not exposed to that at all. I am disappointed to see that you have had a very, very limited exposure to this work, if this is your perception. In particular I would encourage you to research FLETCHER PILATES, which might help correct misperceptions. Proper body mechanics are taught and many Physical Therapists are now certifying in Pilates because they see the tremendous benefits in the work: taking patients beyond functional (PT) movement. I am really disappointed that you find it necessary to dismiss and disparage an entire industry based on a very limited scope and a very large misperception. I hope in the future that you would open your mind to rediscovering Joseph Pilates’ work with a skilled and experienced teacher of the Fletcher lineage and perhaps: see things differently.

    Thank you and Respectfully,
    E. White