Archives For July 2012

All that lying down.

The claims made for Pilates’ benefits are myriad – it is astonishing that it can, apparently, offer the wide array of outcomes that one can read about on the web. Before I give the wrong impression, let  me be very clear (again) that I’m an enthusiastic advocate of Pilates, and have both personal and professional experience of the remarkable changes it can help to make in many people’s lives.

One website I visited contends both that Pilates can help prevent osteoporosis, and that it will not stress joints. (Perhaps I’m wilfully misinterpreting, but surely stress is what promotes bone growth…?) This seems to relate directly to what, I would contend, is a flaw in Pilates (as it is often offered to the public). How much time do people spend lying down, both in mat and equipment classes ?

Revisiting some of those frequently listed benefits: How do we improve posture? We make muscles work more effectively (dare I say stronger?). How do we improve ‘core strength’? The same answer. How do we relieve back pain? Isn’t it the same answer? And helping prevent incontinence? Surely the same again. Of course there is a component of lengthening and releasing overworked muscles, and we can’t overlook working on breathing patterns, and developing physical awareness. All of these things are adaptations, and one of the most potent ways of triggering adaptation is stress, as expressed in the concept of hormesis. Explained as follows on, a website offering information related to ageing:

In response to stress, an organism is expected to go through three distinct phases: alarm reaction, resistance phase, and exhaustion phase. According this schema, the adaptability can be developed during the resistance period. This notion is in line with the evolutionary view on the survival for the fittest theory, for which the only possible way to attain the survivability is through the organism’s metabolic and defensive adaptation to deleterious stress.”

 There are excellent reasons to spend some time in a Pilates class with the participants lying on their backs – using the floor as feedback for developing postural awareness, safely introducing loading of the trunk stabilisers, and introducing loaded hip extension, for example. Occasionally I set out to teach a mat class without any lying down, but generally speaking any mat class I teach will involve a bit, for those reasons above, and a few others. At the same time, many mat classes seem to incorporate a lot of lying down, and I’ve come across many people who are regulars at a Pilates studio and in the habit of spending 45 minutes of a 75 minute class lying on their backs (maybe a foam roll too, for variety..), before then moving to the reformer to do more…lying on their backs.
The trouble with lying down is that it’s not a very useful position from the point of view of affecting adaptation, since we can’t do much in the way of stressing bones, muscles etc. If, for example, someone is quite kyphotic, or has protracted shoulders, they may be able to find a better position, with the help of gravity, whilst lying down. What happens when they stand up? If we are to help people understand and maintain good/ideal/optimal (or insert your own referred adjective) upright posture then we need to teach them in upright positions. Just as you’re unlikely to improve your running technique by practicing swimming, you’re unlikely to get better at sitting or standing upright by practicing lying down.
Similarly, whilst we can lay the foundation for trunk stability in a supine position, we can’t help people learn how to be robust to changing loads/forces on their trunk when they’re standing unless we teach exercises that involve them standing. We cannot help people to move efficiently (safely, with confidence etc.) against gravity in the outside world if we don’t incorporate standing or sitting work in Pilates classes.
If we accept that one of the primary goals of Pilates is to help our clients to become stronger (In the man’s own words: “To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limits of our ability.”) then we have to be helping those same clients to affect adaptation. And if we accept that adaptation is triggered by practice, or rather, that we become good at doing the things we practice a lot (see ‘The Talent Code‘ by Daniel Coyle) then we should be asking ‘How much do our clients need to practice lying down?‘ I hope that we can agree that the answer is ‘Not much.’

Two things to acknowledge first of all:

This post is heavily inspired by this post, from; and also motivated by feedback that Paleolates posts can read as somewhat negative – looking back, this may be true (I would say I’m reacting to empty cheerleading for Pilates). So what follows is intended to be relentlessly positive….

(And it turns out that being relentlessly positive with the ‘pen’ doesn’t come so naturally to me, so this may be brief, and relying on the words of others).

Where on earth is Amazingness? (If I was writing this in the US it would probably be called Awesomeville)  If you’re not there already, it’s not far off, and this train goes straight there. Being a metaphoric train, its tracks go wherever you happen to be, and there are no drivers threatening industrial action over Olympic bonuses….

Before I over-elaborate into a dead-end, here’s the point: It’s our birthright to be amazing. 

It seems that we settle for less all too often. Accepting the idea that physical deterioration is normal; that being sedentary is normal; that feeling bloated after eating is normal; that feeling sluggish in the morning/afternoon/evening is normal; in fact, that anything less than amazing is just the normal run of things.

In the words of Patanjali “If you desire a glorious future, transform the present. There is no other choice.” I may have quoted this previously, it remains one of my favourites, and I’m trusting/hoping that everyone reading wants nothing less than a glorious future (again, it’s your birthright). Another idea that I’ve borrowed previously, from Kelly Starrett, says that if we’re eating, sleeping and moving well, we are ‘perfect healing machines’, and should not be settling for physical deterioration.

Being amazing might be feeling amazing, looking amazing, doing amazing things, or just knowing deep down that you are. If you’re not amazing at this moment, why not?! Get on with it! Borrowing from an article ’30 Rules to Lift Like a Man’:

“everyday millions of people have it worse off than you, you live like a damn rock star compared to the worlds majority and you don’t even realize it, stop feeling sorry for yourself and start getting shit done. If you got out of bed today, then there is no reason you can’t go be awesome”

Though the above source is dedicated to ‘lifting heavy’, this is, of course, only one of millions of ways to go about being amazing. The same sentiment applies. If you’re settling for not being amazing, how could that be? Look within, or in the mirror if that works better for you, and see if you can truly find reasons not to be amazing. It is your birthright. It will quite likely take some work, and application, but that’s a small price to pay for being less than we might be.

I was considering for a moment including pictures of some famous amazing people but rejected the idea. There is no need to aspire to be like someone else, being the best available version of yourself will make you amazing (making me think of the Berocca advert – “you, but on a really good day”). 

Just as smiling appears to be contagious, who’s to say that being amazing isn’t equally so? Let’s get on with it.