Pilates 101: Four Pilates Instructors Answer Your Top Questions

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As a Certified Pilates Mat and trained Reformer Instructor, I have clients bombard me with questions about the nature of the discipline. Everyone wants to sign u for the ‘Pilates Package’ at FZM, even though they have no idea what it’s all about. The allure of Pilates lies in its sheer novelty and ‘celebrity-status.’ Is reformer Pilates the secret behind Katrina Kaif’s abs and Gisele Bundchen’s legs? Where does it come from? Will it make you drop a dress size?

I decided to take the questions women ask me on a daily basis and put them before my Pilates panel: Master Trainer Laura Weston; Local Pilates Guru Saniya Moeen Shaikh; Celebrity Trainer Komal Malik and, of course, yours truly. Together, we demystify the wonderful and highly complex world of Pilates!

Laura Weston  is a certified yoga teacher through the Yoga Alliance as an E-RYT 200 as well as a certified Pilates teacher through the Pilates Method Alliance. She is also a Balanced Body Pilates master instructor trainer, a teacher of The Booty Barre and a faculty instructor trainer for The Center for Women’s Fitness. 

What is Pilates? Why has there been such a rise in the popularity of Pilates? 

Pilates is an exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility and improve overall health.

Every exercise is performed with attention to the breath, proper form and efficient movement patterns.

Pilates strengthens the core, improves balance, increases coordination and decreases stress.

Pilates has become more popular as the benefits to the movement and exercises really work! Improved posture and a balanced body are the results!!

Is Pilates for weight loss? 

Yes, Pilates can help with weight loss. This depends on the program given and of course the individual. It’s also important to remember that Diet is also 75% and the body must be treated as a whole.

How is Pilates different from yoga?

Pilates is different from yoga in many ways. The breathing pattern and exercises in pilates are very much alignment focused. This is to help bring balance with strength and flexibility to what’s needed.

Yoga is very beneficial, but will have a different framework to follow. This also depends on which type of yoga one is practicing.

Fatima Zara Mallick is CEO and Head Trainer at FZM BOUTIQUE FITNESS: a concept wellness centre that offers tailored fitness solutions to a select clientele. FZM is a certified Balanced Body Mat Pilates Coach and a trained Reformer Pilates Instructor. She is a professional dancer, a Ballet Barre Teacher and a Piloxing Trainer (a fusion of Pilates and kickboxing). Additionally, Fatima is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and a Crossfit Level 2 Trainer.

What is Pilates? Where does Pilates come from?

German gymnast, boxer and fencer Josef Pilates was inspired by the classical Greek notion of the ideal man: someone who could attain harmony between mind and body. His method is all about mindful movement that requires concentration, rhythm, flow and centring. In fact, Pilates originally called his method “Contrology” because it entails coordination of body, mind, and spirit.

Josef invented Pilates by default at the turn of the 20th century. When the First World War broke out, Pilates found himself captured at a detainee camp on the Isle of Mann. At the camp he began to work with a group of inmates who had been weakened due to prolonged bed rest. This is what led Josef to develop the Cadillac and Reformer: unique machines that had springs attached to beds so that patients could work on strengthening muscles under bed rest. Pilates was thus invented as a unique system of rehabilitative exercise.

When the Second World War broke out, the reigning Nazi party was impressed with Josef’s work and requested him to join them. Pilates wanted nothing to do with the Brown shirts and thus migrated to New York City where he set up the first Pilates studio in 1926. He called his method ‘Contrology.’

In New York City Josef quickly became famous with dancers because he notably rehabilitated key members of the New York Ballet. Following the dance community, came celebrities and the work of Pilates slowly became well known worldwide.

Is ‘true’ pilates only done on the Reformer? 

No! Pilates exercises can be done on the mat and specific apparatus like the Reformer, Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrels etc. Also, a range of props may be used in Pilates such as the magic circle, resistance bands, physioballs, foam rollers, dumbbells and rotating discs etc.

I personally find Mat Pilates to be the most challenging because it requires utmost control of the body for perfect execution. Floor work uses gravity as the primary tool to increase difficulty whereas a reformer relies on a unique Spring system.

Will Pilates give me a Body like a Victoria Secret Model?

Yet again, the answer is no. Pilates is not primarily for weight loss. It’s benefits are in stabilisation of the lumbar spine, postural improvements, rehabilitation, muscular strengthening and enhanced kinaesthetic awareness.

I always emphasise that Pilates is a form of corrective exercise. For example, traditional Fitness movements are often linear and repetitive, putting a lot of stress on joints. They repeatedly strengthen the same muscle groups, at the expense of others. Runners often have overdeveloped quads and weak hamstrings. Without Pilates, a runner who does not do any corrective exercise to fortify the smaller muscle groups in the leg will eventually get injured.  Pilates therefore promotes balance in the body by helping you identify your weakest links.

This is also why a qualified instructor is so important. Pilates is like medicine for the Body and the right trainer will be able to give you a prescription that is truly tailored to your needs.

As for models and celebrities, they do Pilates along with a range of other things to stay in shape. And they eat clean! Contrary to what women assume, Pilates is not a magic discipline that will make you shrink overnight!

Saniya Moeen Shaikh is owner at The Pilates Lab in Karachi. She is trained in Balanced Body Mat, Reformer, Chair and Cadillac Pilates by Master Trainers Laura Weston and Yasmin Karachiwala. Additionally, Saniya is a Nutrition for Exercise YMCA Consultant.

Does Pilates help with Weight Loss?

Your body will not change with anything but food. Pilates will make you lose weight only if it’s augmented with a healthy diet, just like other modalities of fitness! It is more of a sculpting and toning exercise. Selena Gomez swears by hot pilates for weight loss so it’s really body dependent.

Your favourite Pilates move and why? 

Hands down, the pilates hundred! It is traditionally been used in pilates as a warm up exercise but it fires your abdominals like no other. You can practise it on the mat, reformer, chair and cadillac! It teaches you how to breathe properly into your rib cage and lungs. Sometimes just learning  to breathe is all you need to function optimally.

The top challenge you face as a Pilates pioneer in Pakistan?

Everyone asking me if pilates will help them lose weight! Will it gives them abs? It is difficult to change people’s mindsets about pilates. No it won’t help you lose weight if you’re eating donuts everyday and your abs are there in your body, we all have a rectus abdominals and a transversus abdominus, our deep abdominal muscles. Unfortunately they are hidden under layers or fat and we need to sculpt and tone up to make them more prominent!

Komal Malik is Manager and Senior Trainer at FZM Boutique Fitness. A favourite with local celebrities, she is a certified TRX Suspension Trainer, a Kickboxing Coach, a trained Balanced Body Mat Teacher and Pakistan’s only Twist (Functional Fitness) Instructor. Additionally, Komal has completed courses in Barre and Basic Anatomy (Real Pilates, Dubai).

Is Pilates enough to get a six-pack?

Of course not! I have clients who are overweight and I keep telling them that Pilates is great but you need your cardio and weights to get rid of that top layer of fat and extra skin. 90% of clients want to transform and drop dress sizes. That won’t happen with just Pilates. At FZM, Fatima and I teach a lot of fusion where we combine Pilates with cardio, throw in barre and add lots of fun props. That really works because the client gets the best of both worlds!

And you need to watch what you eat!

The one-thing clients always say after a Pilates session…

I’m so sore! I want to do this everyday. No honey…you are sore because you worked your muscles in a different way. That’s all. I can make you sore in the weights room by giving you a heavier barbell or by making you do 500 squats. If only Pilates makes you sore, then you need to up your training plan as opposed to switching to only Pilates. Variety is key to constant weight loss or even to developing strength.

What’s your take on the current obsession with Pilates?

I hate fads. A few years ago it was spinning and I kept telling clients to balance it with Pilates at our studio. No one listened and then turned up 6 months later with a knee injury or torn ligament from too much spinning. Then we rehabilitated them with Pilates. Now everyone only wants to get on the reformer because it looks fancy and is the ‘IT’ thing to do! But are you following a training plan? What are your goals? Pilates is great but you still need to understand what it is and how it can help you before you hashtag ‘pilates girl!’

Do you personally practise Pilates?

I do it once a week as rehab for my knee and shoulder. I’m working with my physiotherapist in Dubai who has written me a great reformer routine to correct the muscle imbalances in my right leg and help improve my weight lifting PRs. Pilates is so great for recovery and physio.

The one move you love to teach clients?

Side Leg series because everyone constantly complains about saddlebags!

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About Fatima Zara Mallick 11 Articles
CEO and head trainer at FZM Boutique Fitness: a concept wellness centre providing customised workout and nutrition solutions to a select clientele. FZM has studied fitness in Italy, Singapore, Thailand and UAE. She is a Level 2Crossfit Trainer, a Zumba instructor and Pakistan's firstPiloxing (Pilates and Kickboxing) trainer. Additionally, Fatima specialises in Rehabilitation (injury) training as well as pre and post-natal training. She has completed courses in Kettle bell and Battle rope (velocity) training from FTA (Functional Training Institute, Asia) and is a certified Boot Camp Instructor from the International Bootcamp Alliance (Melbourne, Australia).

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