A Revolution in Fitness: Yoga and Pilates Revisited


It is no secret that I’m not a fan of yoga and pilates and that I favor functional strength training to get people stronger, more mobile and improve the way they move. But, like Syths, is thinking in absolutes the best way to view the fitness paradigm? Is there a best way to train people?


I think for strength coaches, the more success you have with people using “your way,” the more rooted in your way you become. You see this all the time in strength training: the kettlebell people think a bell is the end all be all of training. The Olympic lifting devoutees think a barbell is the path to strength training nervana, and nobody likes the BOSU people, and for good reason.


Its kind silly actually, especially since we are all trying to get our clients to the same place: optimal movement patterns to improve the way their bodies work.


The reason for this moment of personal growth? Well for one, my wife is constantly asking me “why do you think you’re always right?”


My answer of “because I am” very rarely gets her to recognize the obvious genius her husband possesses. In all seriousness, I am always willing to change my opinion on something if someone I respect presents the other side of the coin in a compelling way.


The other reason is a conversation with Curtiss Cramblett,  LPT, CFMT, CSCS, from Revolutions in Fitness in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cramblett fell into both categories of how someone can change my mind given that he is considered the premiere bike fitting physical therapist in the Silicon Valley.


At the tale end of a great conversation of how our respective facilities can team up, he told me he read my article on yoga, pilates and cyclists. And then, he essentially called me out. WHAT??? How dare he!


Now, normally, I’d dig my heels in firmly and regurgitate every factoid on spinal flexion I’ve ever read from Stuart McGill, Professor of Spine Biomechanics at Waterloo University in Canada.


But, for about an hour over the course of our talk, Curtiss softened me up with a great conversation prior to the question being asked, so I wasn’t in black or white thought mode! In all seriousness, we were having a killer talk on the merits of posterior chain training for endurance athletes, how they are anterior chain dominant in there movement patterns and how we are going to change the world one breath at time by teaching people how to inhale and exhale correctly.


This is when he had the hutzpah to “question my authoriTIGH.” But, surprisingly enough, I actually listened to what he had to say, and learned that we are on the same page of the negative implications of spinal flexion, with a twist. While he validated my concerns, he said that the two disciplines can be beneficial for people if the proper modifications are made where necessary.


Now, while this makes complete sense, it was a “Revolution in Fitness” for me. The reason being, quite simply, I just plain old hadn’t thought about that.


I was so focused on why these two things can cause more harm than good given how they can exacerbate the conditions I see every day at my facility. I had cast a much wider net of aspersion over yoga and pilates in a previous article without taking that glaringly obvious facet of the two into consideration. Cramblett punched a huge hole right into the middle of my view and his logic came pouring through.


So, as this portion of the conversation went on, in a moment of journalistic “AHA,” it dawned on me that this would make one hell of an article.


Curtiss Cramblett, the man who achieved the impossible:

Get Al to see how yoga and pilates can actually work in a training program.


I asked him if he’d like to be interviewed, he agreed and here are the answers to the questions asked:



Given that most endurance athletes sit for 8-10 hours a day prior to running/riding/swimming, what are the potential spinal column structural implications that could be presented in that?

“No sitting to sitting. The body is cement waiting to harden, and if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you go from sitting in spinal flexion at work (assuming someone is sitting incorrectly) to spinal flexion in yoga/pilates, means more of the same stress on each structure of the back.


If you’re going to be doing a lot of seated flexing, you need to do extension exercises in your class. If you’ve got someone who is good, they can get segmental and isolate the segments you’re moving in to see which ones are being stressing.


8-10 hours of sitting makes things dumb, and you need to get into extension neuromuscularly as well as mobility wise.”



How do endurance activities negatively affect the body? Shoulders? Thoracic spine? Hip mobility?

“Neurons that fire together wire together. Its like a groove that we just keep wearing in our nervous system, and the more we do an activity the better we get at it. That can be for the better or the worse.

Endurance activities have a same motion kind of problem because you are doing the same thing again and again, so the brain only learns how to move in one plane of motion. One must train outside of those motions so you don’t get neurologically stuck in those ranges of motion.


You also need to do strength training as well. Endurance doesn’t work when it comes to lifting something medium heavy.


Endurance activities limit us to certain movements limit us in certain ranges of motion. Those physical limitations change our body like lack of range of motion in hip extension during cycling, or lack of thoracic extension during forward crawl, and the list goes on and on.

It includes a lack of hip flexion during running. So if one doesn’t take the time to work on the other side of the range of motion, then one gets stiff.”


How can yoga and Pilates affect this both positively and negatively?

“On the negative side if a cyclist decides to a whole bunch of flexion activities in a rounded thoracic spine, then they continue to rewire/re-cement the nervous system and their body back into the same old position. This is true with yoga and pilates.


If a cyclist or a runner chooses movements that are in the other direction of their sport like a cyclist working on specific thoracic flexion/rotation/extension. Each of these motions that are opposite to what they are doing can help open them up.


It must be specific to the dysfunctional to the stiff segments, and not continue to stretch/strengthen the weak areas. When stretching the hip for extension, a cyclist must make sure they aren’t just sheering (note to the audience, sheer force in the spine are ALWAYS bad, compressive forces you can get away with) the lumbar spine into extension or going through already hyper mobile thoracic/lumbar junctions. The body will always move where it moves best/easiest.”


Cramblet also said that finding a class where the student to teacher ratios are the smallest so specifics can be worked on is the best way to go when choosing a class to attend.”


Ok, so far so good, Curtis and I are on the same page for the most part: individuals who sit all day and then engage in activities that exaggerate that seated position is not a good idea. And you people thought I was nuts for my views on yoga and Pilates.


Ok, so, there is a slight, minute, small, little, wee chance there could be some benefit from the two, MAYBE!


I’m not sold on it just quite yet, simply for the fact that the instructor plays such a pivotal role in creating the right plan per student in each class instead of applying a general recipe for a specific meal. But, Cramblett does make sense with his “anti-motion” approach to combatting single plain repetitive stress motions.


Well, there may just be hope for my opinion to be changed yet, if it worked for that Scrooge fella…..


Tune in to the next installment to find out!


  • Al Painter


  • Adam Klein

    I’ve seen the same issues in the group mat class setting (whether it is called yoga or Pilates or whatever). Frankly, the weight training and use of kettle balls etc scare me more than some of the mat class stuff. Poor form and weights equals injury – a simple formula.

  • Al Painter


    I agree with you 100% in terms of the proper execution of the exercises in Pilates/spinal column/LPHC stabilization. That’s awesome you’ve found success with Pilates and received benefit, I wish more people had the movement awareness that you’ve reached! I would make my life a lot easier, that’s for sure.

    The concern I’ve had the whole time is that the general cycling population is so disconnected from their bodies, proper stabilizer activation and simply don’t have the proprioceptive awareness to tune into a “joint by joint” approach to moving to insure they are moving correctly.

    The other thing is as Curtis mentioned, they go from sitting all day to sitting when they ride. Having overused their anterior chain all day, and then using it more when they ride. These are the people that extension/posterior chain work should be the emphasis.

    Unfortunately, in a large class it would be difficult for the instructor to be able to structure the class correctly on an individual basis. Here is where I have the issue with the flexion work. I’ve seen instructors throw in crunches at the end of a spin class because they weren’t aware of the overuse of the anterior chain their students had prior to being in the class.

    Again, simply for the fact that most endurance enthusiasts (I’m basing this on working with directly, evaluating, speaking to in seminars, etc over 600 riders/runners/swimmers since 2002) don’t have good movement skill to execute getting in and out of a chair correctly, let alone distinguishing between tonic and phasic muscle activation in the right sequence.

    I’ve worked with people who have done pilates for years prior to working with me who recruited hip flexors over the abdominal wall as well the hamstrings over the glutes to execute something as fundamental as a bridge motion.

    Given what Curtis mentioned in his answers, it would appear that Pilates can be of benefit as a supplement to strength training applied properly in the right doses and progressed correctly. Of course, this is contingent upon picking the right instructor who understands the importance of working the “anti-riding” posterior chain exercises for cyclists.

  • Adam Klein

    Al — with respect, I don’t think you have a good understanding of proper Pilates method (ie, NOT the gym Pilates mat class with 30 people and an instructor). In classical Pilates, we work the entire body – and work to isolate the core muscles WITHOUT recruiting the hip flexors and shoulder muscles. Any good Pilates instructor would immediately correct a student who is “cheating” – that is the entire point of Pilates. Moreover, Pilates does not just work in one direction — there are counter stretches and strength positions working an entire range of motion – including upper body strength work using pull ups and resistance training. The central theme of Pilates is control of motion and isolation using core strength. I’ve been doing Pilates for 5 years (age 47) and haven’t missed a minute of time due to injury. I really don’t recognize your concerns — unless the yoga/pilates that you mention is the crappy group gym class that someone calls yoga or pilates — but should be renamed to rolling around on the mat class.

    • Adam Klein

      Also, the Revolution in Fitness stretches are instantly recognizable from Pilates — there’s a big overlap with the reformer series and these movements.

      • Al Painter


        You hit the nail on the head: having the right instructor who recognizes proper movement/muscle firing patterns. The same holds true in strength training as well btw. I’ve trainers butcher clients in the worst ways possible because they had no clue how constantly asses and correct movement in a client session.

        Have you had a chance to read the original piece I wrote on the subject?