Honestly, Why Do Many Pilates Trainers I See on Video Seem to Be Unfit?

That is the exact question I was asked to provide an answer to by Quora – the world’s bank of questions and answers. The irony here is that Quora distributes the questions automatically, judging on authors’ credentials only.  So, on one hand, it sincerely is “waiting” for my answer, since I am a Pilates instructor, and, from another hand, the reaction such “laughing out loud” and “Screw you!” wouldn’t be appropriate and sufficient. So, I call my 12+ years of Pilates and fitness experience, and my lawyer background (to stay objective), and here is 2,5K word long, juicy and (almost) non-biased answer to this question, based on ten different approaches. 

Ok, before I proceed any further, let’s get acquainted: I teach 3-6 Pilates one-on-one classes per day, with my clients’ demands varying from sculpted balanced body with lean muscles to scoliosis treatment and post-hernia rehabilitation. I sincerely believe that regular Pilates practice can drastically improve your health and give you the body image you have always dreamed about.

My Pilates philosophy is “Strong and healthy is new skinny” 

Of course, I don’t know which specific videos the author of the question refers to; anyway, I don’t want to evaluate other trainers’ physique.

But I can share something from my perspective.

Let me assure you that I am fit and non-obese Pilates trainer. I even tend to believe that I’m freaking gorgeous \"🙂\" But I am completely aware that I am not a bikini model, and there are people out there, who think I could not be a role model for those aiming to look like Victoria Secret catwalk girls.

I love those moments where ladies sign up to my Pilates classes because they “want the exact same butt” or “aim to have that awesome posture” and just in a few weeks prolong their class package because they “couldn’t even imagine how much more Pilates can give to your body!”. You can read about Pilates benefits here.

However, I am used to hearing other stuff a lot too. Once, during the presentation of my book “Pilates. Your Way to Healthy Beauty”, my book agent leaned to me and whispered “You know, dear, a few bookstores’ managers whom I showed your book, were reluctant to take it because they saw an extra 3-5 pounds on your photos in a book. Told you, we should have photoshopped all photos!”

Also, I had chosen to ask my students to be models for all Pilates exercises demonstration in the book, because I believed (and still do) that no one can showcase the results of tremendous Pilates practice and inspire others better than real people who did it. But then, my decorated by fashion magazines photographer said that I should have picked thinner girls to be in the book, and was surprised by my laughter in response. I vividly remember how I spent a good half an hour of my prepaid photo studio time, to make it clear to him why I think my real-life and very beautiful girls are the best, and he agreed. I was proud of my persuasion skills right until I post one of the photos on my Facebook page with tons of words of gratitude to all who participated in preparing and publishing process, and the next moment that photographer messaged me “Tatiana, please don’t tag me in any unphotoshopped photos from your book.” Yikes!

As you can see, I can relate at least partially to that nasty Quora question. Now I am going to grab my cup of cappuccino (whole milk), and try to answer, step by step, why so many of the Pilates instructors one sees on video seem overweight and unfit?

1. It seems that one got trapped in not one but two logical fallacies at the same time: Misleading vividness (also known as anecdotal fallacy) and Biased Sample Fallacy (told you, I have a lawyer background :))

Let me explain that.

Misleading vividness is a logic fallacy in which a relatively small number of particular events are taken, intentionally or not, to outweigh a significant amount of statistical and controversial evidence. In other words, watching videos of 100 overweight Pilates instructors in a row could convince someone that the occurrence of unfit Pilates professionals is a widespread problem, though there are hundreds of thousands other videos with perfectly fit Pilates trainers there. Thus, it is not correct to make that hasty generalization about “typical” Pilates trainer. 

Here is the form of this sort of “reasoning”:

  1. An event X occurs (for instance, you flipped a coin and got 30 times “heads”)
  2. Therefore events of type X are likely to occur. (Therefore, next time you’re more likely to get heads too).

Unfortunately, this sort of “reasoning” tends to make a very strong impression on the human mind. Luckily, it is clear to the majority of adults that chances of flipping heads are ALWAYS 50/50; it is not so clear with Pilates trainers example. Just be aware of this logic pitfall and don’t let your pessimistic experience of watching obese trainers on YouTube cloud your judgments on reality.

Moreover, what we have here else is Biased Sample Fallacy, also known as the unrepresentative sample. Basically, it is an anecdotal fallacy with a unique, charming twist. In a biased sample fallacy, one draws a conclusion about the folk based on a sample that is biased/chosen in order to make it look like the folk on average is different than it actually is. (You see how it differs from the hasty generalization fallacy: there, the sample is just a random sample, not biased, but just too small to get any accurate information).

Here is the form of this sort of “reasoning”:

  1. Sample S, which is biased, is taken from population P.
  2. Conclusion C is drawn about population P based on S.

That is a very nice example of that trap :

“Based on a survey of 1000 American homeowners, 99% of those surveyed have two or more automobiles worth on average $100,000 each.  Therefore, Americans are very wealthy.

Explanation: Where did these homeowners live? Beverly Hills, CA.  If the same exact survey were taken in Detroit, the results would be entirely different.  It is fallacious to accept the conclusion about the American population in general based on not just the geographical sample, but also the fact that homeowners were only surveyed.”

Regarding our topic, the keyword in the question and indicator of the bias is “video.” Why do so many of the Pilates instructors I see on video seem overweight and unfit? The truth is, many Pilates trainers are strongly resistant to film videos.

It is so, not because we, Pilates trainers, think of ourselves as adepts of secret knowledge or so. It is more about chasing the first principle of Pilates Code of ethics:  “Do not harm.” The essence of Pilates, as we would talk about it later, do not let us work with clients on scheme “show and they will follow.” It’s slightly more complicated than “50 squats and 20 crunches.” So many high-profile Pilates trainers just do not provide video classes.

To sum it up, maybe, the sample of videos was too small, and all fit Pilates trainers were left out of the board. 

Besides, Joseph Pilates was very fit. Google some pictures of him, and you’ll see. And so many Pilates teachers have the dance or athletics backgrounds: they are fit even by Olympic gods’ standards.

So, I believe we can safely narrow the original question down to “Why some of the Pilates instructors I see on video seem overweight and unfit?” Let’s go deep down there. 

2. First and foremost, Pilates primary focus is not body image but health. 

Developed by Joseph Pilates, this form of body&mind practice emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness in order to support an efficient movement. A huge part of my clients practice Pilates daily to prevent (and relieve) back pain, beat the consequences of sedentary lifestyle (such as pure posture and general body stiffness), and to feel great in their own bodies.

Many people’s aim is so much more than just visual changes and weight loss.

We all have different fitness aspirations, and instead of focusing on bulky muscles for its own sake, Pilates trainers often encourage people to accept and celebrate other successes: lower blood pressure, raise of endurance, getting rid of body misbalances (mild scoliosis, etc.). I believe the whole view of exercise is beginning to change, slowly but steadily.

The keynote here is: the Pilates trainer could be perfectly healthy, strong, and flexible, though not exactly fit in bodybuilding meaning of the word. And that is okay; this fact does not diminish the knowledge or expertise of that Pilates instructor, because of the essence of this practice.

Over a decade ago, I was sunbathing in one of Egypt resorts and was shocked by one of the animators – the girl was supposed to teach us all stretching – because she was very overweight. Shame on me, she appeared to be really bendy and flexible! She was awesome in what she was hired to do – and that all that mattered.

3. From the point stated above, many Pilates trainers proved the effectiveness of Pilates method by their own practice, though they are not role models for skinny-obsessed, always-on-a diet women.

For instance, one of Pilates Master trainers, with tons of workshops worldwide every year, had reversed her scoliosis stage from severe to moderate, due to Pilates; when all doctors said that with aging, it is going to be only worse.  So, is she now absolutely fit in general meaning? Perhaps not, she still has slightly curved back. However, did she improve her physique? Absolutely, and, by the way, and no conventional fitness training could not do that.

4. Saying all that, I must admit that there are Pilates trainers out there, who assure themselves and others that Pilates teachers are not supposed to be fit AT ALL.

As there are hairdressers who never get their hair cut and colored, there are trainers, who do not care enough about themselves to practice Pilates and to get the benefits of Pilates for themselves. Since it may be a very sensitive subject for many, I will not discuss it here. Let’s just say that even if I could understand this position, I cannot support it.

5. Here’s a dirty little secret: not every healthy lifestyle enthusiast is inspired by super-fit trainers. For many people, the perfectly looking trainer could be a demotivating factor during their fitness journey, as they look at her/him as an absolutely unachievable goal or even an arrogant jerk who spends all life in a gym and doesn’t know what it takes to build a beautiful body from a scratch.

One overweight trainer confessed that she heard from her own clients that they chose her classes in a gym because she represented what they were striving for.

So, it could be a part of marketing strategy of gyms and Pilates studios: to hire people with “average” fitness level, but by whom clients will not be intimidated. And you thought only MacDonalds does that, didn’t you? In fact, the very famous social dance studio does that, hiring slightly overweight teachers \"🙂\" That makes people know a trainer is there for everyone, ready to help and serve, not only to check constantly in the mirror her/his image.

Just think about that: if this diversity among trainers in gyms and videos inspires more people to get started, to take the first step to living a healthier lifestyle, keeping in mind “If she could do it, I can do it too!” Isn’t it awesome? Don’t you think it should be something we need to applaud? I do!

Obviously, those trainers who are not the ideal thin and fit may have the determination to stay physically active and live a healthy lifestyle. Think about how healthy a person must be to have numerous classes a week!

6. You should also consider that many Pilates trainers are not that young compared to an average personal trainer in a gym. For instance, I came to Pilates after many years of dancing, once I realized that I am not going to be able to dance in competitions forever, and started looking for a lifelong wellness practice.  Some trainers decided to become Pilates professionals after being injured in sports, and having discovered all Pilates benefits as students first. Anyway, the typical profile of a Pilates trainer is 30+ years. And you know, thirties is not new twenties if we talk about metabolic rate. \"🙂\"

7. A desirable body image depends on 20% on how we exercise, and on 80% – on what we eat. So, it could be that those overweight Pilates trainers on videos are just not the best nutritionists.

Besides, as I diligently describe in the Sport Motivation article, willpower is a limited resource, should be spent wisely, and in some cases, you spend it all on sticking to your exercise regime, not a new fancy diet plan.

I nail The Teaser, The Jackknife, and The Control Balance and other advanced Pilates exercises, but I can’t say “No” to a juicy burger with bacon once a week \"🙂\"

Still sipping my whole milk cappuccino, by the way.

8. Recent researches show that there are tons of reasons besides lack of exercises why a person is overweight. Drug side effects, illnesses, and genetic disorders can also play a huge role. In some case, it could be really hard to get your weight under control. Obese people have much more fat cells compared to a person who is of average weight and has to work much harder to be able to lose weight. Read the article “Why People Become Overweight” by Harvard researchers, to get a full picture.

9. I believe gym propaganda, with the constant effort to allure more clients, pays its role in spreading misleading information about Pilates among people. Trying to be in trend, many gym chains includes Pilates in their workout schedule, without properly explaining the difference between Pilates and conventional training. Why bother. Though, people extrapolate all the stereotypes and what they are used to in gym classes (trainers body image included), to Pilates. And that is the roots of the question in the headline.

10. Perhaps, the only body image feature, because of which I would question the professionalism of Pilates trainer, could be slouchiness. Pilates is all about core strengthening, opening shoulder girdle and graceful movement, so no excuses here.

Read more about posture correcting exercises in our Posture Guide.

To conclude it all, I believe that in Pilates method, it’s more about instructors practicing what they preach – healthy, balanced body, full of energy, – than being one’s fit role model.

Enthusiastically agree? Respectfully disagree? Feel free to leave a comment below!

This content was originally published here.