I received a question from the Ask Experts site yesterday that I feel the need to share, since this is coming up more and more with the advent of mass Pilates DVDs and underqualified instructors.
Question: “Hi, I am a beginner in Pilates, when I try to do the V shape or half way crunch, I get a HORRIBLY painful cramp right below my rib cage on the right side, it stops me cold. I feel like I’ll never get rid of this flabby belly that ruins all of my cute outfits. Have you heard of this?”
First, no Pilates beginner should be doing the teaser (the V shape), which is an intermediate/advanced exercise that requires deeper abdominal recruitment to avoid overusing the hip flexors and external obliques.
Second, there is nothing “Crunch” like in Pilates. We do not tighten & compress the midsection like someone who has buttoned his vest to his pants, but seek to strengthen the muscles functionally without compression by using the pelvic floor and transverse abdominus.
While Pilates mat is the most accessible form of Pilates, the equipment is actually more appropriate for beginners. Joseph Pilates invented the apparatus to assist as well as resist movement, enabling people to exercise who otherwise may not have been able to move properly. It is not true that one must do Pilates mat before taking on the machines.
Then I saw an ad for “Cardiolates,” a concept that is at once fascinating and horrifying. Note that Pilates is anaerobic exercise, like weight training. To attempt to blend Pilates and cardio into one workout regimen is just plain wrong, is contrary to the whole basis of Pilates exercise, and will most likely result in lots of injured people who feel that they cannot do Pilates because it hurt them
I hate this mass production of Pilates because it makes Pilates seem simply like a group of exercises (that look like other exercises) that you can do fast, slow, or otherwise. That’s just not it! Pilates is about how you exercise; it’s about how you move and breathe and get into positions. Pilates is about balance and proper movement, not simply about hauling oneself into a certain position.
Improperly done Pilates can cause– hernias (from bearing down too much) muscle cramps (from improper recruitment) neck & back injuries (from improperly flattening the back and neck causing muscle strain and vertebral compression and from overstretching or over-extending the back and neck–all from improper instruction on how to stabilize the pelvis) rotator cuff injuries (from pushing large range of motion in the shoulder joint without proper ribcage stabilization) osteoporotic spinal fractures (from too much forward flexion and other movements contra-indicated for osteoporosis) and other injuries
Listen up –badly taught and poorly executed Pilates can cause you injuries that will be with you forever, so please please find a certified Pilates teacher to work with and be vocal when things hurt or you are not sure how to do something.