Tuesday, October 2, 2007
This is a picture of southern California trainer Lauren Brooks. She has the quintessential “Pilates Body.” Want to guess how Lauren got these long, lean muscles and low body fat? I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t with Pilates or yoga. You see, Lauren practices and teaches heavy strength training techniques using kettle bells, Olympic lifts, and other basic “manly” lifts.
I get asked at least once a week, “How can I get a Pilates body?” I usually respond by asking, “Can you put your legs behind your head?” There is no correlation, but at least now I have their attention. Pilates has been marketed as an activity that will not only give you a lean, muscular core but will also actually lengthen muscles and give one a ballet dancer’s body. Not true. This myth is partly due to the fact that Pilates has been practiced by dancers to promote range of motion and functional flexibility for dancing. It’s easy to look at these bodies and forget that they dance eight hours a day and eat bean sprouts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Let’s look at the claims. First, your muscles attach to bones at each end and as far as I understand, those don’t change length after your teenage years. If your femur bone is 20 inches in length, no amount of stretching will change that. This means your thigh muscles will be no longer than 20 inches in length no matter what you do. Secondly, a lean and muscular midsection is a result of low body fat levels in the abdominal area. Pilates is very beneficial for flexibility, but it falls short in the fat burning category.
Since we have established that it is impossible to actually lengthen your muscles, let’s talk about how to change the way your muscles look. Muscles, like fat cells, only change in two ways: they get smaller or they get bigger. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, you want to make your muscles bigger. Now before you conjure up visions of a professional wrestler, remember that muscle takes up very little space in relationship to fat. The larger your muscles, the faster your metabolism. Thus the more calories you will burn resulting in lower levels of body fat. The only way to make your muscles grow is high intensity strength training. Lauren is a perfect example. She lifts very heavy weights for low reps and she is tiny.
“But I feel long and lean after my Pilates class.” Great! That’s how activities like Pilates are supposed to make you feel. I am not asking you not to do Pilates or any other mind/body activity. I think these activities are fantastic for flexibility and relaxation. I just want you to be realistic about why you do it and the results that you can expect.
Until next time,