It’s a GPP system
My understanding (and I can’t remember whether this was gleaned from reading Pilates’ books, or hearing it said by one or other of the first generation teachers) is that Pilates’ intention was to create a form of physical training that, unlike the kinds of training he had done himself (boxing, for example), would ready one for any conceivable physical challenge. In a nutshell, General Physical Preparedness.
Along with the CrossFit Training Manual, I’ve been reading a fair amount of Gray Cook‘s writing lately, and both have some interesting things to say about specialisation.
“CrossFit considers the sumo wrestler, triathlete, marathoner and power lifter to be ‘fringe’ athletes, in that their fitness demands are so specialised as to be inconsistent with the adaptations that give maximum competency at all physical challenges.” To extrapolate that a little, none of those athletes can be considered truly fit. Heresy alert: Mo Farah is not fit!
In his lecture ‘Developing a Movement Philosophy‘ Gray Cook observes “Every time we specialise we give up our adaptability”, and later “any time we specialize, the human body at some point will start to break down.”
When writing here I invariably seem to get to the point of feeling the need to insert the “What has this got to do with Pilates?” sentence. Well, Pilates is meant to be promoting health – and I do like CrossFit founder Greg Glassman’s concept of ‘health’ being measured on a scale that runs from sickness, through wellness, to fitness – so hopefully Pilates is not simply promoting health, but specifically promoting fitness. (Why settle for being ‘well’, instead of ‘fit’, when ‘well’ puts us already half way to ‘sick’). Fitness requires adaptability, and as Gray Cook implied, specialisation is the enemy of adaptability – and here’s where Pilates steps up, because, again, it’s a GPP system.
At Pilates in Motion Studio we try to instil the idea in our clients that Pilates is a means to an end, not an end in itself. In a very broad sense, we could call that ‘end’ “living better“, and that’s precisely because Pilates is not a method to help us to get better a specific skill, or improve endurance in a particular activity (though of course those benefits may come), but because it should be preparing us for a wide array of challenges, from the mundane to the extraordinary.
By incorporating a mixture of movement patterns, in multiple planes, and by practising the principle of trunk stabilistaion while moving extremities (How many Pilates exercises revolve around this central concept?), we make ourselves more ‘robust to perturbation’ (as the biomechanists might say). Given a definition of fitness that incorporates a notion of adaptability, Pilates (perhaps with the addition of more load) practised with some periods of high intensity, provides a great foundation for general, not specialised, fitness.