The Pilates you don’t need

August 29, 2014 — 10 Comments

I’m always fascinated by what Pilates teachers, individually and collectively (if that’s possible) believe that Pilates is for. One idea that I always like is that Pilates can be a significant help toward achieving one’s full potential – optimal expression of our genetics, if you will.
Consequently it’s been interesting to see some recent forum threads touching upon exercises that one might not attempt, or teach. Questions arise about, for example, whether or not one needs to do advanced or super-advanced reformer exercises. This strikes me as a rather rocky path: does anyone need to do Pilates in any form? (Of course I know it’s fantastically helpful to many people, and loved by many more, but is that the same as needing it?)
A few years ago I was tasked with teaching the Return to Life exercises to a group of teachers in training, and was horrified when one of them asked why she needed to know them, since she “would never teach them”! So where does one draw the line?
I would agree that some of the advanced repertoire on both Reformer and Cadillac require great strength, mobility and control. Working toward those qualities is an excellent reason to be practicing Pilates, so why not aspire to the zenith of the work (and work towards it)?
Another thread around a discussion on what is the ideal size for a reformer (it feels ridiculous to even type this) included a reference to splits only being necessary for dancers. This would suggest that our joints have unnecessary capacity – that there is no need to be strong throughout our available range of movement. Never mind recovering lost range. To me this is a bizarre attitude for a Pilates teacher to have, and it seems to relate to the discussion about advanced repertoire, and giving people ‘what they need’, as if we can predict that an office worker will never slip and be forced into a split position in which they have neither strength nor control. What?!
Again, I wonder what we think Pilates is for. How about if we said Pilates is for being more awesome, and not installing any glass ceilings?

10 responses to The Pilates you don’t need


    Is there a limit on movement? Our joints have a range, so I believe that we should put them through as full a range as you can. The squat is a perfect example. In my gym I see people partially squatting. Now that would have been totally inadequate to take a dump back in the day. So what do we do? We raise the height of the structure we need to squat to. Toilet, chair etc. So no need to squat, right. Result is that many people in their daily lives never achieve full ankle, knee and hip mobility (or clear their bowels thoroughly), Setting limits on mobility/ movement results in immobility and reduced range of movement. A limit on movement is akin to taking small breaths. Breathe deeply and move thoroughly.
    Great post Mike.


    Great post Mike. I wholeheartedly agree with the gist of your post. On similar lines I have had a few teachers in the past who have attended my matwork classes and questioned afterwards why I ask people to move into the ‘hyperextension’ of a ‘Pilates cobra’, since it is not a range of motion most people use in the pedestrian lives. It always leaves me slightly baffled why a person wouldn’t want to explore their full physical capacity and potential.


    Yes, Pilates is for being more awesome. I love that. And true, super advanced exercises are extremely difficult, but never say never. There was a wonderful lesson I observed at True Pilates NY – Cynthia Shipley was the teacher, and her student was a business man with a little bit of a belly, stooped posture, mid-50s I would guess. And his workout was amazing. He did everything – Tendon Stretch with One Leg to the Side and Back, Headstands, Snake/Twist, Splits. It was amazing to see because from the first look at him I thought I was going to watch a very different lesson.


      Thanks for reading Andrea. I recently encountered someone (outside of a Pilates setting) who moved in a way that I would never have anticipated and, for me, that’s more fun to see than someone whom I would expect to be an amazing mover.


    Any client who has been given a firm knowledge of the basics can move on to advanced,even if it’s just for the prep position. Why deprive someone of something to aspire to, and the huge boost of confidence that comes with accomplishing it? Instructors that are not interested in the advanced repertoire are either too tired or not that in love with Pilates. On a side note, how funny is it that Joe was coming up with exercises that he’d be the only one able to perform! So cocky! 🙂


    I´m torn between agreeing with you (i was doing a quick intermediate mat at the gym once and a “contemporary” pilates instructor told me with horror that she didn´t teach the seal as it was too dangerous and advanced) and having seen far too many people injured or traumatized by being pushed into or craving exercises which were simply not appropriate for their bodies. I love helping people to find their teaser, open leg rocker, jackknife etc which gives so many a HUGE boost in confidence, but the reality is that a lot of the super advanced work IS something that most of us want for our egos but don´t need for our bodies. And sadly I´ve seen more people badly injure themselves and others by chasing after it (torn knee ligaments, ripped hamstrings) than I have people whose lives improved because they were doing gondola.

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  1. The Pilates System (?) « paleolates - February 11, 2015

    […] Or that we don’t effectively teach the exercises that we don’t do. I’ve been here before – if we entertain the idea that there’s Pilates repertoire that we needn’t aspire […]

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