Is Pilates Really Enough?

February 5, 2016 — 9 Comments

This is a question that seems to crop up amongst teachers from time to time, with supporters on either side of the argument. Benjamin Degenhardt reminded me last year that what Joseph Pilates was interested in, was promoting, was overall health. He was concerned with a bigger picture than ‘core stability’, or ‘fitness’ in the gym-focused/endurance event sense (“She’s really fit, she’s run a marathon.”) that tends to be the dominant interpretation these days.

So does the regular practice of Pilates provide everything necessary to be considered fit, in a holistic sense? Perhaps the truth is that it depends. We might run into problems with definitions of the word ‘fit’. I’ve written about this before but, to save you reading more, I like: “greater tolerance to shifts in environmental parameters and biologically mediated challenges” (words by Suzanne Scott). I also like to think of fitness in terms of a capacity to express one’s full homo sapien potential – “are you human?”, if you like. Where being human means, to borrow from Kelly Starrett, that you can squat to take a pooh in the woods; and, to borrow from Katy Bowman, you can pull your own weight with your arms, which is to say you can do a pull-up. While they may not be very common, these are normal things for a human to be doing. (Please check in with yourself here – have you started making a list of reasons for not being able to squat/pull-up? or a list of people whom you know who have good reason to not be able to do one or both of these things? If so, why did you do that?)

Some other expressions of being human: walking, running, crawling, climbing, swimming, playing, dancing (the last two perhaps equalling physically engaging with other humans). And, beyond the realm of movement, to do what’s required in order to eat nutrient-dense foods from a variety of sources; to tolerate a range of temperatures (as in the definition of fitness above).

I got started in writing this because I sometimes feel, when working with teachers in training, and running a studio where a number of people teach, that I want those teachers to believe in more than teaching Pilates, or to see that their mission could/should encompass more than knowing the Pilates repertoire inside out, and being able to teach it to others (though this would be a good start).

In an interview last year Kelly Starrett said:

“Squat down, feet together, knees together, heels down. Can you do that? Yes? No? If you can’t do that you’re missing full hip and or ankle range of movement. That’s the mechanism for your hip impingement, for your plantar fasciitis, for your bunions, for your pulled calf. That is the £*@<ing problem, and you should be obsessing about it.”

You. Should. Be. Obsessing. About. It. You should be obsessing about it. Let’s hope you don’t have bunions or any of those others, nevertheless, if you’re not able to express your full range of movement, you should be be obsessing about it. Can’t squat to the floor? Obsessing. Can’t do one pull-up? Obsessing. If anything is less than optimal you should be doing something about it.

I’m sure it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I always enjoy the way Kelly expresses himself. If you have a look at what he’s involved with you will see that Kelly is clearly trying to reach a lot of people, and a ‘black and white’ delivery probably works best for that. I suspect that a lot of Pilates professionals are anxious not to judge, or be judged, which is nice but I don’t believe I’m alone in sometimes needing to be told “what you’re doing is not good enough”. Self-acceptance, as in not hating yourself, is surely to be encouraged; self-acceptance, as in ‘this is as good as it’s going to get’ should surely be discouraged.

I don’t believe that Joseph thought it was enough to do his exercises. After all, he left us with instructions for how to shower properly (I’m not sure that it’s on YouTube but if you look hard enough I’m sure you can find the film). Never mind the biologically mediated challenges – do you have optimal tolerance to shifts in environmental parameters? No? Then Pilates will be a good start, but you’ll need more.


PS. Comments are very welcome, but will not be seen by the author on Facebook. If you would like to start a conversation with me please use the blog comments section.

9 responses to Is Pilates Really Enough?


    Wow! Fabulous question: is Pilates enough! Not for me, even though I’ve taught it for 40 years and write about how Pilates mat exercise is one of the few ‘complete’ workouts combining everything the body needs with cardio, stretching and strength training all-in-one! And even though I stress the point that Pilates is worlds ‘better’ than most exercise with its eccentric contraction, dynamic stretch, slow and controlled movement that’s better for joints, full breathing, body-mind integration and much more. YET…I’ve rarely talked about why for me it’s not enough. My body wants more cardio. My aging body wants squats and lunges. My joyous body wants more walking, and my curious body wants to explore HIIT… Again, great question! Thanks for this and now to share it with everyone I know!


    Another excellent article. Well written with the potential for triggering….my favourite kind! I loved the fact that you are anticipating the inevitable resistance to these ideas and bringing this right out into the open….. ” (Please check in with yourself here – have you started making a list of reasons for not being able to squat/pull-up? or a list of people whom you know who have good reason to not be able to do one or both of these things? If so, why did you do that?)”
    great stuff!


    So what are you asking? Is pilates enough for learning how to squat or is pilates enough for supreme holistic health?
    For the first one,yes! If tought corectly and specific than clients should be able to squat eventually,each at there own pace.
    For the second question i think pilates teaches dicipline and awareness ,some people take that home with them and use that in other aspects in there life, like nutrition for instance. so id say pilates may inspire you for a lifestyle change,but its up to you and not Pilates…


    Funny this question was boiling in my head as well. I agree that Pilates can inspire you to a lifestyle change and support your body through awareness of quality movement or preparing you for the unexpected. But I don’t believe is enough. My ageing body also needs Squats, lunges, Cardio and Play (drumming and dancing) to feel vibrant and fit. Not sure about squatting with feet and knees together though. I don’t agree that everybody should be able to squat that way.
    Good read and reflection!


      Thank you Marcia.
      I’m familiar with the article and, while I think there are some interesting observations there, too often I think it’s the kind of information that encourages people to believe they have an excuse of physiology to not make maximum effort.
      I also think that Joseph believed his work could reshape people’s alignment, including bones (obvious from the ‘before and after’ photos from his studio). Bones are living tissue after all, so without wanting to be dogmatically ‘one size must fit all’, I think bone structure (if it truly is the issue) may be less of a finite restriction than we imagine.


    Squat to take pooh in the woods with knees together, feet together and heels down? Interesting:-)

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