Have you ever heard someone talking about how Pilates can “lengthen” muscles?

Ive seen many a body transform with Pilates.

And while I know that its impossible for muscles to actually lengthen, I get it why some people say that.

Unlike many Pilates instructors, I did not come from a dance background.

I had been running marathons, putting in over 30 miles per week. Biking all over the city, and lifting a bunch of weights and probably not giving myself enough rest.  Personally, when I began doing Pilates I noticed I felt less aches and pains. For a brief period right after I finished a session, I felt amazing, no discomfort.  That’s mainly what kept me going back. I also felt stronger and stood taller. Over time, the shape of my body really did change.  Did my muscles lengthen?  No, but working core and powerhouse muscles allows other overworked muscles to relax over time and the shape changes.  My movements became more effiecient yet easier (because finally the overworked muscles could relax) and harder (because I hadn’t used those muscles in, like, forever….) at the same time.

Heres why Pilates makes you look taller, leaner and more toned, (but cant actually change the length of your muscles):



Pilates is a strengthening workout.


You definitely use your muscles! Although the Pilates method uses all types of muscle contractions (concentric, eccentric and isometric) there is a strong emphasis is on the eccentric contraction. An eccentric contraction is the “release” part of a movement, like when you lower a weight to its starting position. So in other words, the eccentric part of the exercise is where you can really get a sense of how to control a movement. With Pilates, the use of springs, resistance against gravity and controlled movements are what enable eccentric contractions. For those of you who know Pilates, think of when you control the “letting go” portion of a movement, like with the leg springs or Wunda chair.



The best results come from it!


You get the best results in Pilates when you have good quality movements. What this means is really using your muscle energy to create resistance, and by actually using your muscles instead of momentum. I know when you see a ballerina or a gymnast in their element it looks so easy and as if they are just flipping and throwing themselves around. They are not!! They are working from the core muscles. As I mentioned earlier, I was not a dancer and had a hard time with this concept at first. But when I slowed myself down to really feel the movements, I found muscles I didn’t even know I had. And that’s when I was able to let go of unnecessary tension and see results.

Back in the day, Joe Pilates used to teach a lot of dancers, and he didn’t call his method “Pilates”. I’m actually not totally sure when they started calling it the “Pilates Method”. Instead he called it “Contrology”, which I imagine to mean “moving with intention”. (Thats my definition.) These dancers needed the most efficient way to strengthen – and move – and that is probably why they were drawn to this method. But it wasn’t only dancers that caught on, Joe Pilates himself was a boxer and he taught other athletes who needed to build strength as well as flexibility.

Pilates is about efficiency. Using your core muscles is the most efficient way to move. When you move from your core, you don’t need to overwork the muscles of your periphery.



Using the correct muscles


There is HUGE emphasis on alignment, placement and stabilization. It takes time and practice to get it right, but eventually you will find that you are using the correct muscles and compensating a lot less with your “overachieving” muscles. This is why it really helps to sometimes have an instructor at least once in a while. It’s hard to feel your own misalignments sometimes.




Your own body weight plays a part in it


Pilates strengthens differently than, say, lifting weights. You work with the resistance of gravity and springs, which allow you to use some of your own body weight for resistance as well. (I’m thinking about the wunda chair here.) Less weight (combined with low repetitions and high quality movements) allows for strength to develop without unnecessary bulk.




Remember quality, not quantity?


Yes, the exercises are really that efficient. You don’t need to do more than 5-10 repetitions (some even less!) because if you are doing them correctly, that’s all you need. Don’t get me wrong, you move! Pilates works your body hard –  but doesn’t overwork it.




Imagine length and space in your spine in every exercise


For a full hour, you consciously imagine length and space in your spine in every exercise. It takes muscle strength to do that. After a while, those muscles in your back, waist and abdomen begin to remember how good it feels to be tall, and next thing you know, you’re standing up taller without thinking so much about it and with out pooping out after only a few seconds. And that awareness helps you to catch yourself when you slouch.




How you carry yourself


I always say Pilates changes how you carry yourself. Having a strong core and a flexible spine makes you feel good, stand straighter, appear taller and move with a more youthful quality.


So, I hope that makes the muscle mystery a little clearer for any Pilates enthusiasts out there (or future Pilates enthusiasts!) I would love to hear what your experience is with Pilates is/was. Did you notice a difference with your Pilates practice?

Hope to hear from you!

Be well,