I have been having some feedback lately from a few newer clients about how “gentle” pilates is. I’m glad they are finding it a gentle form of exercise, because that makes it appealing especially in the beginning, but I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding of what “gentle” really means in the context of a pilates practice.

If it’s your first day in a pilates class, I’m not going to make you contort into a pretzel like position and have you push on heavy spring tension at the same time. I’m going to start by giving you the building blocks for success! I’m going to take time to explain what we are doing and give you a chance to try at your own pace. That’s going to seem gentle, especially if you are used to a more “bootcamp” type fitness class.

So how does Pilates differ from a typical fitness class?

Pilates has the following principles: control, centering, precision, flow, breathing and concentration. This means we aren’t rushing through an exercise to get it done. The focus is on the quality of each movement, not on the quantity of reps you do. One of the most famous Joseph Pilates quotes is “A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.”

That’s great, but does this change as you move past the beginner stage?

We always keep the pilates principles in mind no matter what level you are at in your practice. Over time, classes will move faster because you will have more control over your movements at speed. You will also do more challenging things because you are stronger! It becomes less “gentle” and harder work. I’ve broken a sweat many times when doing a focused workout, moving from exercise to exercise quickly but with precision. The exercises build on themselves so that each week you can add more variations or move on to a higher level of exercise based on the same movement pattern.

Where your teacher comes in…

In my head there is a very large tree of Pilates exercises that I draw from when I’m planning a class. For example, if I think the clients in a class need more flexion in the spine (flexion= bending forwards), there’s roots at the bottom of that Pilates tree with several exercises to choose from that flex the spine. As flexibility is increased and strength is gained among the group, I can move up the tree and grab a different exercise branch off the same limb. Maybe the time is right to give you flexion exercise, but with a rotation added… or maybe you can add more resistance to your movement by adding a spring. The choices are truly endless, and that creativity is one of the things I love most about it. Pilates is never boring!

So- Is Pilates gentle?

I would say it’s adaptable! It can be gentle, and it can be hard.

Can it truly be hard?

If you ask some of my long time clients, I bet they would say that many of my classes are VERY HARD! As a teacher it’s my job to know when and how to push your body to the next challenge. Many of my clients are so surprised when they are able do a challenging exercise for the first time! I knew they could do it because all the roots they need are there for them, built over the weeks and months they continue to come to classes. Their own pilates tree has been growing inside them, and it’s been getting taller and stronger every time they practice.

If you are ready to start growing your own Pilates tree, check out our introductory classes on our schedule!

Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think in the comments, is pilates gentle for you? What would you like it to be?