Ahhh the elusive six-pack. If I were given a pound for every time someone requested one I’d be laid on a beach in Bali drinking cocktails out of a coconut. “I’d like really strong back extensors” said no-one ever, yet the six-pack goals just don’t seem to disappear. The number of workouts on YouTube, or articles in Women’s Health, that promise to give you one show no sign of abating.
As much as it may seem I am shooting myself in the foot here I would rather you all knew the facts, and fibs, about anatomy and our bodies before committing to 300 planks a day and getting no closer to ‘those abs’ you always wanted ’.
Pilates alone will not create a six-pack, nor should it be top of your priority list. So let’s look at the reasons why so we can move on and choose some better goals instead, and not come to class with unrealistic expectations but an appreciation for the real benefits of Pilates.
Reason One: Pilates Is All About Performance, Not Aesthetics
So it’s your first Pilates session. You read online that [insert your favourite Victorias Secret Model here] does Reformer Pilates and that it can give you a flat stomach like hers. You might even come to your Pilates class with the hopes and goals of developing a full on six-pack. We, on the other hand, see fresh meat. We see someone who might need some body education. Our goal for you is to reduce your back pain/promote better posture/get your glutes firing and generally sort you out. As much as, in Pilates, we want you to have a strong core, the perceived aesthetic benefit of a six-pack is not on our list of priorities. Pilates is way too powerful to focus on that goal alone.
Pilates is all about your performance, the aesthetic changes you see may be a welcome side effect but once you start practicing Pilates your goals soon start changing towards how you can be the most functional version of you. This is it’s appeal and why I love Pilates so very much. Lets focus on performance, not visibility of your abs, as a measure of our success.
Reason Two: Pilates Cannot Alter Your Genetics
I’m sorry, I know it’s tough to hear, but some of the six-pack owners I know just have those types of genes. There are people out there who do very little exercise yet have them, and others who train their cores for years and still see no results. It’s just lucky genes and genes cannot be altered by Pilates, or any other training type.
Another major contributing factor to having a six-pack is a very low body fat as our abdominals lay below subcutaneous fat. Can I straight away jump in and say, unless you are a professional athlete, how painstakingly hard to achieve, and not always healthy, this level of fat can be. And again genes play a role in body fat percentage. Life is really too short to aim for this. Will it help boost your career? Unless you’re a fitness model or athlete, no. Will it make you happier? Probably not…just hungrier.
Pilates instead focusses on how we can make use of the body you currently have. Your genetics might be that you suffer with joint pain, back ache or scoliosis. We work with your genetics to help reduce the effect of any negative traits and make you the strongest version of you. Again these are far healthier, and more attainable goals.
Reason Three: Pilates cannot fix poor lifestyle choices
As you all know I am anti-diet. Many studies show diets do not work in the long-term, can lead to disordered eating and can have a negative effect on your health. Another misconception is that diet alone is responsible for our weight and body composition, and as we learnt in reason 2 you need a low level of body fat to establish a six-pack. The truth is that, aside from genetics, various lifestyle choices can affect our body shape such as hormones, amount (and quality) of sleep and stress levels. Pilates will not fix these, nor will any exercise programme. These need to be worked on as part of a holistic wellness plan.
What Pilates can do is help you create a better mind body connection. This means you develop a better relationship with how your body works, and moves, and you become more mindful in your exercise practice. But what does this really mean? Well for me it means that for the hour I am practicing Pilates I can think of nothing other than what I am doing with my body right then. There’s no thinking about that email I forgot, or what’s for dinner when I get home. The offshoot for me is I sleep better, worry less and hopefully help to reduce my cortisol (stress) levels. These will all help to build a healthier body and mind.
Reason Four: Pilates is not a cardiovascular workout
So we have learnt that really a six-pack comes from the following equation:
Genetics + low body fat + a little luck + lots of hard work
To reduce body fat we usually need to do cardiovascular exercise. This type of exercise has an effect on both subcutaneous and visceral fat. Visceral fat is the one we care about at PilatesPT as this has links to our physical health such as diabetes and chronic heart disease. Cardiovascular exercise is exercise that gets us out of breath and gets the heart pumping faster. Pilates is not cardiovascular – it is mainly strength based and only hybrids (such as The Model Method) will cause a cardiovascular effect. You would need to do a lot of Pilates to reduce your body fat but a healthy diet, an active lifestyle, lots of sleep and very little stress would also have a cumulative effect that would boost healthy levels of body fat.
What is amazing about Pilates is that it builds strength and endurance, whilst also building flexibility. It can compose the whole strength component of your training and by adding some form of cardiovascular exercise in you have all systems covered. I use Pilates and HIIT personally as I feel they compliment each other well but do remember that Pilates alone is for strength, not for reducing body fat.
It has always been really important to me that we speak about exercise in an honest way. I have seen too many inflated claims in the fitness industry and we are alienating clients by over-promising and under-delivering.
We do not need to do this with Pilates. It has so many fantastic benefits that we don’t need to promise weight loss or crazy aesthetic changes. What we need to do is be transparent about how one would get those benefits and let people choose for themselves. Please do choose your performance over your aesthetics and choose to come to Pilates because you want to feel the strongest and healthiest you have ever felt, and lets shake off these old-school goals and make some new, more empowering new ones.
Have you watched my Youtube Q&A video on how to become a Pilates instructor yet? If not, head HERE and give it a watch. If there is anything I didn’t answer please feel free to drop me an email: [email protected]