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Pilates Myths Debunked

By: Sarah Christensen

Adding Pilates to a golf conditioning program has become routine for many professional and amateur golfers.  Tiger, Butch Harmon and Camilo Villegas, have all been quoted in the media talking about the positive impact Pilates training has had on their swing.  Yet, despite the glowing reviews, many golfers are still hesitant to try Pilates.

The comments that I hear from golfers, especially men, indicate there are many myths about Pilates which are just not accurate.  Everything from “Pilates is for Girls” to “it’s against my religion to meditate”.  Let’s look at these myths and set the record straight about this powerful program.
Myth #1
Pilates was developed for dancers
Joseph Pilates was a German boxer and gymnast whose theories about how the body moves were first developed during World War One, when he was interned in a British prisoner of war camp.  He served as a medic and nurse, with duties including rehabilitation of the wounded. Working to re-train patients to walk, Pilates started to analyze movement. The theories he developed in this work served as the basis of a fitness program he called Contrology. When he moved to New York City after the war, dancers were naturally drawn to his rehabilitative and preventative techniques due to the high number of injuries they sustain. While the dance community did embrace him, Pilates was a cigar-chomping man’s man who would be horrified by today’s “dancer” image of him.
Hole In One Pilates
Myth #2
Pilates is a recent fad
Joseph Pilates first developed his philosophy and techniques for movement in the 1920’s and 30’s, refining the Contrology method until his death in 1967.  It was not until the 1990’s that Pilates became popular, when Hollywood stars and celebrities discovered this great way to have a long, lean shape.

Myth #3
Pilates is a group of special exercises
Pilates is actually a technique for moving in a way that is the most efficient, natural and pain-free.
Pilates techniques are used whenever we move in life and on the golf course.  It is how we walk the course, tee off, chip, putt, and drink a beer afterwards. Over time, with practice, the body will eventually naturally move in the Pilates technique.  My golfer students often ask how I can keep my abs engaged for 18 holes.  But, I don’t even think about it - it is how I always move!  It takes the average golfer 6 months to a year before this transition occurs.  Conversely, even specific exercises that Joseph invented such as The Hundreds, are not Pilates, if his techniques are not applied.

Myth #4
Pilates is some kind of stretching
Pilates is so much more than just stretching.  That’s why Pilates is great for the golf swing:  it addresses the body as a whole, improving all of the biomechanics needed for a great swing. 
The Pilates technique builds a strong core, while developing overall muscle strength with flexibility, and improving stability, balance, posture, back mobility, alignment, coordination and focus.
Joseph Pilates did believe that we should build strength and flexibility simultaneously, so that we stretch with each strengthening move.  Flexibility was a radical idea in the early 20th century, but Pilates saw that long, lean muscles were less prone to injury and tears.  Tight muscles also pull on the spinal structure causing neck and back pain.

For golfers, it is flexibility that increases the amount of turn, allowing for faster club head speed for more yardage.
The movements that Pilates developed are flowing, dynamic stretches.  For someone who is tight, like many golfers, stretching is usually not fun.  Stretching with movement eliminates the pain of holding a stretch.  Many new students often comment they are surprised by how “stretched” they feel afterwards, as they didn’t realize how much they were actually stretching. 
Myth #5
Pilates has a lot of core exercises.
Joseph Pilates believed that the body’s every movement is generated first from the core or abdominal muscles.  So when new students ask, “How many core exercises are there?” the answer is, “All of them”. Studies have measured that the best golfers initiate their abdominals about 30 milliseconds before they start the backswing and adding abdominal contraction to putting will create a solid foundation from which to take a stroke.

While crunches and sit ups develop the large outer muscles that give you the “six pack abs” look, Pilates also works the deeper abdominal muscles. These deep muscles such as the Transverse Abdominus, are muscles that do not move the body, but rather allow us to stand upright and stabilize the pelvis and lower body. Stability in the lower body will increase your X-factor for more distance and also help eliminate hooking and slicing.  A 6-pack is great for picking up guys or gals, but the stabilizer abdominals are what you need for great golf!
Myth #6
Pilates is not really “working out”.
FROM USA Today August 18, 2003
Curt Schilling, the Boston Red Sox star pitcher, agrees. "The first three weeks, I was really disappointed," says Schilling, who incorporated Pilates into his offseason training program last winter. "I wasn't sweating. I wasn't winded, which is what I associate with true exercise.
"Then in the fourth week I started to understand the Pilates terminology, the idea of working from your center. By the third month I was more powerful and flexible than ever before. And I'd lost 15 pounds."
Curt’s experience is due to several facts.  First of all, we must relearn how to move. Consequently, the beginner Pilates exercises seem easy while we are developing the building blocks for the more difficult work. Just as we must master the fundamentals of golf, perfecting these beginner exercises and learning the Pilates techniques is essential. The Intermediate program is a killer workout, but many golfers give up before they achieve this higher level of work. 

I once worked with a client who had fallen off a roof and had terrible back pain.  He was an avid golfer and had tried many of the famous golf-conditioning programs.  After about 4 weeks of 1x per week lessons combined with self-practice 15 minutes every day, he went to Scottsdale on a winter golf vacation.  Upon returning, he said it was the first time in 5 years he had played without pain.  But the most striking thing for him, was that he had initially thought our simple Injury Prevention Warm-up wasn’t going to do much.  He continued since he had nothing to lose but was surprised at the huge impact of these “silly little exercises”.
Also we do not work the muscles to exhaustion.   In Pilates, we do fewer, more precise controlled movements, rather than endless exhausting and mindless exercises. Joseph Pilates actually called his method, Contrology.  Lastly, in Pilates we work the very deep muscles and work outward from there so you may not feel something at first.  But the work builds until the entire body is developed.
Myth #7
Pilates is “something like yoga”.
Joseph Pilates was influenced by yoga, as well as other exercises such as martial arts, Tai Chi, boxing, and calisthenics. Like yoga, Pilates develops strength and flexibility.
Some yoga has a meditative component.  Pilates does not come from a spiritual tradition.  That said, we do think about all the Pilates techniques while performing each exercise and one of Joseph’s concepts was the requirement to perform each exercise with focus and intent.  This element of Pilates is great for working on golf’s mental game.
Myth #8
Pilates is too hard for regular guys
Often, the women in a guy’s life will drag him to a Pilates class that is too high a level of difficulty. As mentioned above, it is important at first to be patient and learn the fundamental techniques of the Pilates work and not jump to the hard exercises before your body is ready. 

In my own work with golfers, I have modified the exercises to take into account the needs of male bodies such as tighter hamstrings.  Many of the exercises can be performed seated or standing until the body is ready for the floor work.
Myth #9
Any Pilates will help my golf game
This one is TRUE!
Pilates in general will help your golf game. 
Our Hole in One Pilates program was developed to help you hit the ball consistently farther and straighter with reduced risk of injury and back pain. Designed to target the biomechanics of the golf swing for a much faster result than a regular Pilates program, we have also developed new golf-specific exercises in the Pilates technique.
In addition, the Hole in One Pilates program teaches golfers how to take the Pilates techniques out onto the course, implementing them in all aspects of the game from teeing off to walking to putting to drinking a beer afterwards!

Pilates for Golf  founder Sarah Christensen, worked  with golf conditioning specialists, Pilates master teachers, physical therapists and golf teaching professionals to develop a solid program that will help you consistently hit the ball farther and straighter with reduced risk of injury and back pain! Sarah began working with Butch Harmon, renowned golf teaching professional (Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Adam Scott, etc.) in 2004 and Butch has contributed greatly to the program.