Is there still room for biomechanics in Pilates?

We have been hearing about Biomechanics everywhere these days it seems, like it’s the latest buzz word. In the fitness and health industry, we tend to latch onto one word, muscle or concept then use it, correctly or incorrectly, in every single situation, relevant or not.

Let’s step back in time even before Pilates was known as Contrology, and long before Biomechanics was a “word du jour”. Joseph Pilates spent countless hours studying and analyzing animals in motion, and was so fascinated by their mechanics that he eventually named a series of exercises after these animals. In his manifesto “Return to Life through Contrology”, Joseph Pilates wrote extensively about movement, muscle cells, blood cells, breathing and blood circulation, all of which are true biomechanical concepts. Therefore, Pilates, and Contrology before that, has been rooted in biomechanics since its inception.

Recently, there has been no shortage of people writing about biomechanics, and as I read I am becoming increasingly curious about the opinion of what biomechanics is in respect to Pilates as a method of movement. What I can decipher from many of the comments that I have read is that a biomechanical focus is something that should be avoided, or that we should be moving away from this approach in Pilates teaching. This begs the question: Is there still room for Biomechanics in Pilates?

The feedback seems to resoundingly express that a biomechanics-based approach is one that forces the body to move in a certain way, or that imposes movement on the body in a way that is not productive or beneficial. It implies that a biomechanical approach would be one of over-cueing and over-correcting rather than allowing each body to move naturally in whatever form that takes.

From a movement education perspective, biomechanics is not about “do it this way” or “don’t do it that way”. It is truly a study of how the body moves (hence bio-mechanics), therefore this would require observing a particular body in motion, choosing specific exercises or movements that will allow that body to move more effectively and efficiently, and then practicing these so that the body becomes naturally more functionally or structurally sound biomechanically.

There are a number of definitions of biomechanics whether in relation to physical education or medicine. Some of the definitions I have found for reference include:

“The mechanics of biological and especially muscular activity (as in locomotion or exercise)” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“The application of the principles and techniques of mechanics to the structure, function, etc. of living organisms” – Collins English Dictionary

“Biomechanics is the study of the structure and function of biological systems by means of the methods of mechanics.” – Hatze H. Letter: The Meaning of “biomechanics”. J Biomech.1974;7:189-190

If biomechanics is the study of methods of biological mechanics, then it can be concluded that in a Pilates context, biomechanics would allow a teacher or practitioner to determine via observation or experience (aka to study), the mechanics of movement as it relates to effective structure or function.

If the structure or function of movement is compromised, as in postural deviations, muscular imbalances, poor breathing mechanics, malalignment, poor circulation, impaired digestion, lack of balance, coordination, control, precision, fluidity etc etc etc (perhaps you recognize some of these as Pilates Principles), then it can be concluded that paying attention to movements that promote proper structure and function would be beneficial and still very relevant.

As I ponder this idea further, I am wondering if it might be more accurate to say that movement that is not biomechanically-focused may no longer be relevant given the extensive knowledge we now have of how the human body functions in movement, and in turn, in life. It seems counter-productive to avoid movement or to teach movement without a focus on proper and sound biomechanics, and especially without knowledge of such processes.

Perhaps it is true, as they say, the more we know, the less we understand, or maybe this is just a case of broken telephone. This draws attention to the importance of not falling prey to the latest buzz word, and to make an effort to truly understand the terms we use and its appropriate use in any given context.

Inspired to learn more about how biomechanics applies to Pilates? Be sure to look for educational opportunities that are firmly rooted in this study, and for courses that base content on current Movement Science and movement protocols. Do your research and ask questions to ensure the highest quality of education for your investment.

Written by

Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute

Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

© 2017. All rights reserved.

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