Is a Pilates push-up real or are such claims a real stretch?
On one of my many trips to Cincinnati to visit my brother and his family, I stopped to visit my friend Monica, who quickly whisked me to her mother-in-law’s Pilates studio to introduce me to the equipment. “That’ll be a piece of cake,” I thought stupidly. But within five minutes of using a Reformer machine, my abdomen was full of pain just from replicating some basic Pilates moves.
“Most people think it’s a lot harder than it looks when they actually try it,” Monica told me with a laugh.
She wasn’t kidding. Those five minutes on the Reformer were felt by my abs for the next three days, and I used to do tons of abs work during my workouts. If none of my daily workouts prepared me for five minutes of Pilates, I was going to have to rethink my strength training strategy.
Is Pilates even strength training?
Well, if we allow Joseph Pilates himself to answer this question, he certainly seemed to think so. Then again, when you assess his past interviews, he seemed to think a lot was true about himself and his methods. In one of his first interviews with the general public, which appeared in the Miami Herald in April 1961, Pilates claimed to be the origin of “almost everything” weightlifters did at that time, as if men like Eugene Sandow and George Hackenschmidt had never existed.
This claim certainly fits with the theory that Pilates believed his “controlology” system was resistance training, even though he also claimed to have been “the first judo expert” in his very next breath, which seems a bit disrespectful to Kano Jigoro, the man who actually invented the martial art. “Take a horse,” says Pilates. “If a man wants to run him, he keeps him in top shape. He gets the horse moving. Why not keep humans in top shape too? You have to learn to tense your muscles if you want to know how to relax.
Before allowing John Underwood to Herald to go, Pilates assigned him the original 34 controllogy exercises, which Pilates recommended doing for 10 minutes in the morning and an additional 10 minutes in the evening.
Now we are getting somewhere. Was it strength training?
It certainly depends on the individual exercise we’re talking about in this 34-move sequence.
In this video of the 34 original Pilates movements, you see several moves like the Hundred, Roll-Up, Corkscrew, and Side Kick that would clearly qualify as strength training, albeit of a relatively light variety. Other moves like check, saw, spine twist, and spine stretch (obviously) would lean much further in the direction of the stretch.
So, in its most basic and original form, we can see why Pilates would have acquired the reputation of being a mixture of stretching and strength training, which is loosely defined as physical exercises intended to improve strength and fitness. endurance of a muscle or set of muscles. Many Pilates movements certainly have this intention and are able to achieve this goal even if none of them will ever bring you big chunks of muscle.
These original 34 moves are all ground-based. What’s up with the machines?
You are probably referring to the same reformer who tormented me. Pilates constantly used machines in its training practices. Dancer Maria Karnilova was a Pilates student and spoke about him and his devices in a June 1962 interview that appeared in the New York Daily News. “He has all kinds of machines and exercises that pull the muscles,” she described. “You could say my flexibility is homegrown and maintained by machines.”
If you rate a full body Reformer workout, it would be impossible to argue that Pilates qualifies as strength training. To a seasoned gym bro – myself included – some of the quirks of Pilates-specific movements might seem unnecessary. But it’s clear that the resistance comes from the weight of the body, and it’s equally clear to see that there is a bodybuilding movement to prioritize muscle development in every part of the body. This includes variations of chest flies, straight arm rows, pullovers, tricep extensions, individual leg presses, and more.
As an added benefit, you will likely gain all the flexibility and body control needed to playing goalie in the NHL like my beloved Dominick Hasek. Because if Pilates has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t have to train with the ferocity of a bear to build the power and grace of a panther.