The Pilates and Military PT Connection

Airman leads calisthenics exercise

History of Pilates:

If you did not know, Pilates has a 100 year history and was created by the jack-of-all-trades trainer and inventor Joseph Pilates. Joseph was a highly active man deeply involved in gymnastics, boxing, martial arts, yoga, tai chi, calisthenics, and other forms of resistance training. You can see many of these influences in his early programs. In 1925, Pilates moved to New York from Germany where he further developed his program which grew to become premiere professional dance training.

Pilates offers more than calisthenics. Joseph Pilates also holds more than 20 patents for exercise equipment and was one of the first creators of machines for exercise.  Pilates is not just a floor program, it also offers creative uses of balls, chairs, bands, and other devices.

Military PT Similarities:

Look below at six common exercises used in military PT, even SEAL training, and you’ll see similar exercises in the Pilates Mat program. The difference is in Pilates, you do these exercises with much more grace, pointed toes, longer isometric holds, and more focus on flexibility. 

Stew Smith demonstrating V-ups.


Stew Smith demonstrating flutterkicks.


Atomic Situps

Stew Smith demonstrating bicycle crunches.

Bicycle Crunches

Stew Smith demonstrating side plank.

Side Plank

Stew Smith demonstrating swimmers exercise.


But the goal for mastering these exercises is the same: getting a stronger and more flexible body through a focus on core development.  If you look at Pilates movements, you will see even more similarities to dynamic stretching, static stretching, plyometrics, and calisthenics. All of which have been part of military PT programs since World War Two.

The movements in Pilates are focused on deep breathing on exertion, slow deliberate movements, and stretches to develop fullbody strength which makes the muscles long and lean. Think in terms of quality movements instead of quantity repetitions. The calisthenics in military training programs are less focused on the aforementioned and more on faster repetitions, especially for testing. However, by practicing slower, deliberate movements during your PT workouts you will increase muscle tone, and improve your flexibility. Plus, your PT scores will still be above average if you are exercising four to five times per week.

 For more mat type exercises used by the military see my Lower Back Plan.

Stew Smith pilates advanced moves.

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Other Benefits from Utilizing Pilates Based Fitness Programs:

Body Awareness – In the military, we know what Situational Awareness (SI) is, but having a better understanding of our Internal Awareness (IA) benefits us at both work and play. 

Stronger Core – With a focus on abdominal, lower back, upper back, and up / down / left / right movements, you will have stronger core musculature. This will enable you to move more easily with less likelihood and pain and injury.

Body Control – How important is the control of your body and its movements?  Very – especially when working in a profession that relies on your health and fitness such as military, police, or fire fighting. Your movements and ability may one day dictate how you survive dangerous situations.

Flexibility – Being able to move fluidly without pain or discomfort and utilizing full range of motion of our joints isn’t always necessary, but when it is, it will save you from injury.

Pilates workouts must work. Here is a quote from a very confident Joseph Pilates at the age of 86: 

"I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier."– Joseph Pilates

Stew Smith works as a presenter / editorial board with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  There are also over 800 articles on Fitness Forum focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

Latest Fitness Books: Navy SEAL Weight Training and Tactical Fitness

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