Why Do Pilates?

One of the main goals of Pilates is to strengthen the intrinsic musculature – or deep muscles. The intrinsic muscles are the muscles that are closest to the bone, and are therefore key in supporting the structure of the spine. When these muscles are weak there is more pressure and stress on the spine.

Typically we’ve been taught to train our extrinsic – or superficial – muscles when we exercise. Generally this may seem like a more intuitive approach because it’s easier to feel these muscles as they are larger and easier to see, (i.e., the historically coveted six pack). This isn’t to say that you can’t achieve a nice looking set of abs from doing Pilates. Quite the opposite in fact.

The difference is how you get there.

Pilates is about working the muscles from the inside out, learning how to engage these deep, core, supportive muscles in order to properly support the larger muscles. This can’t happen in reverse order. Once the larger, extrinsic muscles take control, the core intrinsic muscles will not engage; it’s like trying to install a foundation after the walls and roof are already up.

If you go to the gym and attempt heavy lifting without first having spent time learning proper awareness and engagement of your intrinsic core muscles, your body will immediately recruit the larger, stronger external muscle groups.

This contributes to any muscular imbalances already in place, while missing the connection with the deep muscles that support the spine in the process. The result of this is often poor form from which, with repetition, is likely to result in some type of muscle, disc or joint injury.

Alternatively if you have strong and healthy intrinsic muscle fiber, you can still do squats at the gym while having the precision form to move and stabilize your body so that you can lift heavy loads with far less risk of injury.

It takes time, patience and practice to learn to engage deep musculature. Superficial muscles give immediate and recognizable feedback – such as the ‘burn factor’ – which feeds into the ‘no pain no gain’ philosophy inherent in old-school ways of training.

Intrinsic muscles, on the other hand, don’t offer the same tangible feedback. Intrinsic muscles feel different. This is where the mind/body factor comes into practice. Pilates encourages the conscious practice of muscle engagement. Joseph Pilates coined this term Contrology because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles.

In a culture where many of us spend a large part of our day sitting, it’s no wonder that we’ve lost some consciousness around body awareness and as a result more and more people are experiencing back pain. Pilates will help you to develop a more conscious awareness of how you are in motion and in stillness.