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Perfect is not the goal

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I don’t do Pilates all the time.

I teach it a lot more than I do it myself.

Shh! Don’t tell the Pilates Gods.

And please don’t let Joseph Hubertus Pilates overhear our conversation, unless you want him to “roll over” in his grave. (<– Pilates teachers, I hope you picked up on my joke.)

Oh, and don’t tell my clients, but since most of them read my blog, I guess the cat’s outa the bag.

Here’s the thing.

Pilates teachers aren’t perfect.

We are human beings just like the rest of you. And just how nutritionists don’t always eat nutritious meals (guilty as charged), we don’t always get a chance to fit in our workouts.

However, I’ve had a bit of a Pilates Renaissance over the past month. I’ve been assisting a teacher-in-training prepare for one of her practical exams, which includes taking a client through a series of exercises while being critiqued by master teachers.

I am that client.

Lucky me!

I actually made her promise to teach me three times a week in preparation for this grueling test of strength. I mean Joe Pilates was a man who originally created this system of exercise for MEN, not ballet dancers (despite everything you’ve heard).

The advanced exercises are serious business that take a coordinated effort of strength and flexibility and the risk of injury is high. Having recovered from a slow-healing tailbone/sacral injury over the last 2 years (plus loads of minor injuries that come standard with rock climbing), I didn’t want to jump head first into something that could be dangerous.

Hesitant at first, I started practicing with her and something dawned on me in one of our first sessions together. I had fallen victim to this idea that I needed to build up some obscene level of strength to execute these exercises perfectly.

Like I had to exercise to be ready to exercise.

And I’m not alone in this.

How many times have you talked yourself out of going to a Pilates class (or just the gym) because “you’re not strong enough” or “not thin enough” or “not coordinated enough”?

I’ll admit our first session didn’t go perfectly. There were exercises I hadn’t performed in years that I just wasn’t very good at anymore (“Head Back” can just be eliminated from the reformer sequence, if you ask me, but I digress).

Despite my imperfect performance, I showed up to our next session knowing which areas I needed to improve and making the commitment to work on those to the best of my ability.

And you know what? Simply setting that intention changed my mindset about the whole thing. Each time I went to perform an exercise, I got better, I got stronger, and I had more confidence in my ability.

Perfect is not the goal. Progress is.

Now part of my change of heart can be attributed to the alignment and positioning of certain exercises, particularly those that involve chest opening movements, which have been proven to boost confidence and reduce stress.

The other part of it was just becoming more aware of my own body. Listening when it sends a signal of discomfort and adjusting however small I need to to find perfect alignment (thank you Rebecca Leone).

It’s about embracing and appreciating the strength we already have, rather than focusing on what needs to change.

So next time you’re falling into the victim trap of not being _____ enough for that Pilates class, know that your body is smart, capable, and perfect just as it is right now.

We’re all on this journey of discovering what kind and amount of movement is right for us. It doesn’t matter where you start. It’s about staying fully present in the process and embracing every step of the way. (And, if happy dances are your thing, you can add those mini celebrations into the mix.)

The funny thing is, this focus on body awareness, mindfulness, and alignment is what drew me to Pilates in the first place. Somehow I lost sight of the process when I imagined doing advanced Pilates moves, thinking that because I wasn’t a workout-aholic, I couldn’t possibly do those exercises anymore. But you’ll see from the photos below, I’m building my way back up, one step at a time.

Now I’d like to hear from you. In the comments below, tell me:

  • What holds you back from going to Pilates class or working out?
  • What do you appreciate about your body in this moment?

Until next week,

lily-namePS – Big thanks to Charlene for being a patient and safe Pilates instructor (and moonlighting as my photographer)! Wish us luck on test day. It’s less than a week away!

PPS – If you’re wondering how I maintain a Pilates body without doing much Pilates, I reveal my secrets in my free guide. Snag your copy below.

snake twist
balance control push ups
balance control “star”

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.


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  1. Hi Lily. I’m totally with you on this! I came back from a course with Rebecca Leone in the UK about 2 weeks ago, full of renewed enthusiasm as you do, and signed up to do my full Level 2 certification across all equipment with my school. I’ve been putting it off and putting it off as like you, I run my own business and wasn’t keeping my own practice up so didn’t feel able for the advanced repertoire. Getting back into it has been really great -I’m definitely not perfect, but it feels fantastic to be getting stronger again. Thanks for your honesty – it’s great to get that reminder that we’re all human sometimes!
    Steph Grey
    PS Good luck with the exam, I’m sure you’ll both fly it!

    • So true Steph! Each little boost in strength is incredibly empowering. Plus, you’ll be so much better equipped to practice the advanced exercises (and do it safely) with all that you’ve learned from Rebecca.

  2. Hi Lily! I love the progress bit and can relate. After a surgery that left me without being able to lift my right arm at all, I turned to Pilates for conditioning. While I cannot do much of the poses in your photo, I love showing up for my reformers class every Tuesday to remind myself of the things that I CAN do. 🙂

    • Claire, I love your focus on what you CAN do. Injuries are some of our best teachers and allow us the time to be introspective and listen to what our body needs in that moment. I had to avoid all rolling exercises, teasers, etc for more than a year during my healing process and it’s fun to finally reincorporate those back into my routine. A lot of the strength building in Pilates is found in the non-fancy movements. Those build your foundation to add in the fun stuff when your body is ready.

  3. First, I love the title of this post. Perfect is not the goal! I love fitness but am not perfect, I do boot camp and teach it but I’m not perfect, I run but am not perfect… I started doing yoga and boy am I not perfect! so often we are so focused on being perfect and comparing ourselves to those around us that we forget that exercise and fitness is solely about us. It is a selfish practice that we need to enjoy and accept the good, the bad and the ugly (likw when I fall over every time I try a balance pose!) Only then will the benefits transcend our bodies and impact our mind and our soul. thank you for sharing this article. It is helpful to hear that teachers aren’t perfect and that’s ok!

    • Beautifully stated, Christina! Perfection is certainly not my goal. Instead I embrace moving with ease, strength, and stability.

  4. Sometimes I need to be reminded that perfection is not the goal. I tend to want this perfect before I proceed. I’m getting better at being happy with progress in whatever form I make it.

    • Letting go of this idea of perfection is a process worth celebrating all on its own, Camesha. 🙂

  5. Great post! Your blog is absolutely beautiful by the way!

    • Thanks Angelica!

  6. Oh my, I so relate to convincing myself I’m not in shape enough to work out. Getting past that part is the hardest for me and I need to remember to just start small, where I’m at. I haven’t done Pilates yet, but I still took some lessons from this! Thank you

    • I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been there, Leah. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small little hurdle. Start with what feels good for your body. 🙂

  7. Oh man, I needed to read this! My husband and I have started working out and getting into an overall healthier lifestyle (rather than just quick fixes to lose weight) and progress is a lot better than perfection! I have said similar things to myself, but I think I’m going to write THAT on my mirror 🙂

    • Jess, Sounds like this message comes at the right time. Plaster that mantra on your mirror!

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