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.
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.
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.