Is Pilates a Sport?

Nowadays, more than ever, it’s very trendy and cool to pursue a sport and to exercise and work out. Gyms are sprouting up everywhere and many people take out memberships for gyms, one of the reasons being that physical exercise is hailed as a great way to not only keep your body, but also your mind fit. It is regarded as an essential ingredient for success and productivity and as a must for everybody with high aspirations and for career-oriented people.

Is Pilates a Sport?So does Pilates tick the boxes? Is Pilates a sport to pursue or is it more of a physiotherapy just helping your spine? To answer this question it will be interesting to have a look at the definition of ‘sport’. According to Wikipedia, there are several aspects to it:

  • sports include all forms of competitive physical activity and games
  • a sport maintains or improves physical ability and skills
  • a sport is governed by a set of rules
  • according to the origins of the word, a sport is amusing or entertaining.

So let’s see what these definitions mean for Pilates.

Is Pilates a form of competitive physical activity?

There is no doubt that Pilates is a physical activity as Pilates exercises involve the whole body, with particular exercises focusing on particular muscle groups. But is it also a competitive sport, such as athletics, tennis, soccer or basketball?

Well, you have surely not heard of any Pilates competitions taking place or of anybody making first place in Pilates or winning a Pilates gold medal. That’s for one simple reason: there are no Pilates competitions. The objective of Pilates is not to master certain skills to be stronger, faster, fitter and more skilled than other Pilates practitioners, but to bring your body into balance and alignment to reach your personal best.

However, not having competitions set as a challenge, does not mean that there is nothing to motivate practitioners or nothing to work hard for. Instead, there is the challenge of achieving your physical and mental personal best. And the harder you work at it, the faster you will see results.

Does Pilates maintain or improve physical ability?

This question can be answered with a clear ‘yes’. In fact, it is one of the main objectives of Pilates to improve your physical ability and to maintain it. Particularly, if you are suffering from back pain and are pursuing Pilates as a remedial activity, will you see an improvement of your physical ability very quickly.

So what exactly gets improved and maintained by doing Pilates? First of all, of course, your physical strength by working individual muscle groups that support the spine and joints and that stabilize your skeleton for more efficient and healthier movement.

Secondly, it improves coordination and flexibility, which means, it will become much easier to move your body and to perform activities of daily life. This, in turn, is achieved by taking control of your body paired with body balance.

This way, Pilates not only works to increase strength and stability, but also to realign the spine, correct muscular imbalances and to promote coordination and flexibility. The end result is a complete body-mind experience that relieves stress and improves the mood.

Is Pilates governed by a set of rules?

Without hesitation, I can say that Pilates is certainly governed by a set of rules. To be more precise, there are eight major principles intrinsic to Pilates – breathing, concentration, alignment, centering, stamina, flowing movements, co-ordination and relaxation.

Each of these principles needs to be applied in every single Pilates exercise, be it a back-strengthening exercise or one focusing on other parts of the body.

So whatever Pilates exercise you are performing, you need to apply a particular breathing technique that helps you concentrate on the particular movements. Also, it is essential to be properly aligned for an exercise so centering your body is possible.

In addition, each exercise is designed to challenge your stability in order to improve your endurance and to build up your stamina. This, again, is only achievable by coordinating your alignment, breathing and centering with your controlled, flowing movements.

Finally, you also have to make sure that you are relaxed during the exercises so any unwanted tension should ideally be released from your body to prepare it for the exercises.

Is Pilates amusing or entertaining?

Now, this question is a bit harder to answer, as it depends, really. If you look at the principal objective of Pilates – to build abdominal, back and pelvic strength for an optimal posture as well as an ideal spinal and pelvic alignment – you would think that this is not an amusing or entertaining activity. But it certainly can be.

Is Pilates a sport and entertaining?According to Oxford Dictionaries, ‘entertaining’ means ‘providing amusement or enjoyment’. So are you, or other people, amused or do you enjoy yourself when doing Pilates? Everybody who has been practicing Pilates for years will tell you ‘of course, it does’, because why should you continue performing an activity out of choice over an extended period of time if you didn’t enjoy it?

For me, this has been a major aspect – apart from the obvious health benefits, of course. I’m pretty sure I would have quit Pilates after a while and not continued for over 10 years if I didn’t enjoy it. What makes it so enjoyable and entertaining is the fact that there is such a huge choice of exercises available – either mat-based or using equipment like a reformer. So in all those years I have never run out of enjoyable new-to-me Pilates exercises.

Pursue it as a sport – enjoy it as recreation

Have we got an answer now – is Pilates a sport or not? Well, three out of four aspects certainly apply to Pilates: it maintains or improves the physical ability, it is governed by a set of rules, and it is amusing or entertaining. However, it’s by no means a form of competitive physical activity.

If this was a vital part of the definition for ‘sport’, it would mean that recognized sports like rock-climbing, hiking, cycling etc. were only a sport if performed as a competitive activity. But what about all of those, for example, who go out on their racing bike every day doing over 50 miles without ever racing against anybody? Are they not pursuing a sport?

They certainly do. It’s about making time in your schedule to fit in the chosen physical activity and to perform it regularly. So when all the other aspects of the definition apply and the physical activity is pursued regularly, you can safely call that activity a sport. And since there is no competing involved, there is no pressure – a perfect sporty activity to enjoy as recreation.

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10 thoughts on “Is Pilates a Sport?”

  1. I dealt with back pain for so long and was looking at many different options to try to get rid of it and took a long time before settling on something but I never knew that pilates was something that could help with back pain. Is there anything specific that you would have to do fo help with back pain?

    • Hi Tony,
      Thank you for your reply.
      I know what it feels like to suffer from back pain and to try to find effective remedies to alleviate the pain. Like you, I tried a number of options until I discovered Pilates. When you do Pilates exercises regularly, you really feel the difference – your back feels much better.
      Although all Pilates exercises are good to tackle back pain, there are a number of exercises specifically targeted at the back, such as spine curls, curl-ups, chest expansion using resistance bands, plank on the balance ball etc. You can also find more information on Pilates back strengthening exercises in one of my previous posts
      (https://spinewellness.org/pilates-back-strengthening-exercises-maintain-a-healthy-spine). To get started, I would recommend booking an introductory session with a qualified Pilates instructor. Once you know the basics, you can easily do your exercises at home or whereever suits you.
      Please let me know if you have any more questions.

      All the best,
      Sammy-B

  2. I love Pilates! I used to practice regularly, and really need to get back to it. I found great benefits for my back, flexibility, and of course core strength when I was practicing regularly. Thanks for the inspiration to get back to it!

    • Thank you for your reply, Christen. I’m glad my post inspires you to take up Pilates again. I have to say when I first decided to give it a go, I didn’t think this was something I would enjoy so much that I would do it for so many years. But when you see the change in your body and your back after a short time already, you don’t really want to stop.
      I think it’s an ecxellent decision of yours to start Pilates again.

      All the best,
      Sammy-B

  3. I have heard about the Pilates. But I never tried it. After reading your article, got to know a lot benefits of Pilates. Thanks for sharing.

    I do exercise everyday. Now I want to give it a try to ease my back pain problem.

    I have one question. Is Pilates is safe for pregnant woman?

    • Thank you for reading my article, Apoorva. It’s good to hear that you exercise every day and are considering trying Pilates as well. It really is a fantastic exercise regime for alleviating and preventing back pain. One great thing about it is the fact that it is suitable for all age groups and abilities, and it’s also perfect for pregnant women. There are specific Pilates exercises that are particularly beneficial for pregnant women, such as ‘threading a needle’. They are said to be effective pelvic floor exercises as they strengthen your tummy, back and pelvic floor muscles without straining your joints. However, there are certain exercises you need to avoid, e.g. lying on your front, balancing on one leg and others. If you wish to do Pilates during pregnancy, it might be a good idea to join a dedicated class or to book an introdutory session with a qualified Pilates instructor who is experienced in teaching Pilates for pregnant women.
      Let me know if you need any more information.

      All the best,
      Sammy-B

  4. For me, any exercise can be a competitive sport LOL. I am very competitive by nature, so when I go to the gym I tend to try and work the hardest, do more, get done quicker, etc etc. It is kind of a bad habit I suppose. I do the same things with pilates. So this article made me chuckle at my own personal competitiveness when I am doing pilates.

    • Thank you for your comment, Matts Mom. That’s a very interesting thought: every sport can be a competitive one for you even if you don’t compete against someone else. But if you are a competitive person by nature, you will always try to achieve a bit more and have a better personal result than the day before. So from that point of view, Pilates can be a competitive sport that will encourage you to push yourself a bit harder every time you practise it. And it’s very rewarding because if you do Pilates regularly and choose progressive exercises, each time you work out you will feel fitter and more physically capable than the time before. You surely achieve great results this way.

      All the best,
      Sammy-B

  5. I am generally not into competition endless it’s with my wife… we working together getting healthy! We being on the same team…! I have the occasional low back pain and my shoulder has been taking forever to return to normal. This article has brought to my attention the need to do something… even if it is just stretching.

    The article has caught my eye and inspired me to make an effort to help myself in making healthier choices.

    Thank you! -Jesse

    • Hi Jesse,
      Thank you for your comment. I think working out with your partner as a team is a fantastic thing to do. You can enjoy your exercise as a leisure activity and at the same time have fun and quality time with your partner.
      If you suffer from the occasional lower back and shoulder pain, doing some Pilates stretching and back strengthening exercises would definitely help alleviate and also prevent any further lower back and shoulder pain. This is also something you could do together with your partner and as you can exercise from the comfort of your home, you could just fit in a few minutes here and there when it suits you. I’m glad you feel inspired to look for healthier choices now.

      All the best,
      Sammy-B

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