I asked ChatGPT to give me a five-move full-body Pilates routine, then had a certified Pilates instructor review it

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I asked ChatGPT to give me a five-move full-body Pilates routine, then had a certified Pilates instructor review it

By design, ChatGPT has an answer for everything. Whatever question or request you fire its way, it will cobble together a response from vast swathes of data. But can we rely on these answers when it comes to our health? 

As a fitness writer, I’ve been interested to see several people turn to the AI bot for workout plans. While it’s undeniably cheaper than a trainer, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of its credentials in this area.

So, I decided to ask OpenAI’s ChatGPT to “create a 20-minute full-body Pilates routine to build strength and mobility”. Then, I recruited Shape Pilates founder Gemma Folkard, an experienced Pilates instructor, to critique the session – here’s what we found.  

The ChatGPT Pilates routine

ChatGPT supplied a routine split into three sections: a warm-up, a main routine, and a cool-down. It estimates that the warm-up should take five minutes, the main routine should take 12 minutes, and the cool-down should take three minutes.

Below, you can find the full routine, including the cues and wording used by ChatGPT.

Warm-up

Breathing

Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your ribcage. Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your rib cage and feeling your hands rise. Exhale fully through your mouth, feeling your ribcage contract. Repeat for five breaths.

Pelvic tilts

Still lying on your back, engage your abdominal muscles and tilt your pelvis up towards your ribcage, flattening your lower back against the mat. Then release back to neutral. Repeat 10 times, moving slowly and with control.

Leg circles

Extend one leg towards the ceiling, keeping the other knee bent. Circle the extended leg in one direction for five repetitions, then reverse the direction for five repetitions. Switch legs and repeat.

Cat-cow stretch

Come onto your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Inhale as you arch your back and lift your head and tailbone towards the ceiling (cow pose). Exhale as you round your spine, tucking your chin to your chest and drawing your belly button towards your spine (cat pose). Repeat for five cycles.

Main routine

Hundred

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat. Extend your arms straight by your sides, palms facing down. Pump your arms up and down in a small, controlled motion as you inhale for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts. Repeat for a total of 10 breath cycles.

Roll-up

Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms extended overhead. Inhale to prepare, then exhale as you slowly peel your spine off the mat, reaching for your toes. Inhale at the top, then exhale as you articulate your spine back down to the mat, one vertebra at a time. Repeat for five repetitions.

Single-leg stretch

Lie on your back with your knees bent and shins parallel to the ceiling. Lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat. Extend one leg straight while pulling the other knee towards your chest. Switch legs in a scissoring motion, pulling the other knee towards your chest as you extend the opposite leg. Continue alternating legs for 10 repetitions on each side.

Plank

Come into a forearm plank position, keeping your body in a straight line from head to heels. Engage your core and hold for 30 seconds to one minute, depending on your strength and endurance level. Focus on keeping your hips level and not sagging towards the floor.

Cool-down

Child’s pose

Sit back on your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you, lowering your chest towards the mat. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, focusing on deep breathing and relaxing any tension in your body.

Spinal Twist

Lie on your back with your arms extended out to the sides in a T position. Bend your knees and drop them to one side, keeping your shoulders flat on the mat. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Hip Flexor Stretch

Come into a kneeling position with one foot forward and the knee bent at a 90° angle. Lean forward slightly, feeling a stretch in the front of the hip of the back leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Sign off

Remember to listen to your body and modify any exercises as needed. Consistency is key, so aim to practice this routine regularly to see improvements in strength and mobility over time.

Pilates instructor critiques ChatGPT Pilates routine: Five takeaways

On the face of it, ChatGPT has hit the brief. The routine purports to last 20 minutes and contains a series of Pilates staples, including a collection of core-strengthening moves and stretches. But scratch beneath the surface, and its planning has five significant flaws.  

1. Timings

I asked ChatGPT for a 20-minute routine, and it delivered a session with a five-minute warm-up, a 12-minute routine, and a three-minute cool-down. Totted up, this is right on the money. 

“I was pleasantly surprised with the Pilates routine it provided,” Folkard admits. However, all is not as it seems. 

“It’s not great, but it isn’t bad either. The structure of the class is correct, with there being a preparation, main and cool-down phase, but the main phase would definitely last longer [than 12 minutes] given what’s included,” she adds.

2. Lack of experience

As ridiculous as stating this sounds, ChatGPT has never led a Pilates class. This means it lacks the nuanced knowledge of an instructor with thousands of hours on the mat under their belt. 

Instead, the bot’s expertise is superficial. It’s scraped from a huge bank of data, including books, articles, websites, and even social media, then packaged into a neat and tidy answer, but the information it compiles might not always align intelligently.

Folkard, on the other hand, knows from experience what makes a successful Pilates session. When I’ve interviewed her before, I’ve always been impressed by her detailed descriptions of the exercises she teaches. She’s able to do this because she tries her routines first, feeling out which form cues and minor movement tweaks can help her clients get the most out of each move.

“Pilates is a practice based on six principles; breath, flow, concentration, precision, control and centering,” Folkard explains. 

“Precision comes from detailed cues and small adjustments, whereas this routine is rather superficial. There is no opportunity to get deeper into the moves or incorporate the micro-movements that make Pilates the safe and efficient practice it is. 

“There is definitely a concern that the exercises could be carried out incorrectly, and therefore there would be more opportunity for injury.”

She also points out that the moves don’t flow together particularly well, leading to a disjointed practice and “ruining that meditative focus everyone loves.” 

3. Inaccuracy

As mentioned above, ChatGPT pulls its information from a huge range of resources. But that doesn’t always ensure accuracy, which could lead to an uncomfortable or ineffective workout. 

“The exercises in this routine are definitely examples of traditional Pilates, which is positive,” Folkard says. “But the descriptions are pretty average and there are some inconsistencies with what would normally be taught, which might only be spotted by a certified instructor.

“For example, the class starts with breathing, which is great. However, it mentions placing the hands on the top of the ribs and feeling them rise up. 

“It’s a small detail, but this insinuates breathing up into the front of the ribs when we would normally cue [breathing into] the sides – lateral breathing. This is important for stability of the pelvis and spine as clients move through the exercises.”

4. Lack of personalization

ChatGPT’s routine gives you a set list of moves and tells you to complete them regardless of your age, ability level, or other contextual factors. This could be combated by providing the platform with a more detailed prompt, but only to a point. 

“There’s a lack of options, which is what makes Pilates so accessible to anyone of any age and ability,” Folkard says. 

“Even as a mostly online teacher, I can still watch and correct people in the moment during live classes. This information then fuels the next class as I see how my clients are progressing and what they’re struggling with.

“I’m sure if you questioned ChatGPT again and asked for a more detailed routine with your age and ability in mind, it would respond well. However, can it replace a teacher giving specific adjustments based on how your body moves? Not yet.”

Folkard and I agree that exercise should be fun; it’s unlikely you’ll return to an activity or class if you can’t stand it. 

“Movement has to be enjoyable, and body language counts,” Folkard says. “Seeing a smiling teacher who can read the room, bring the energy and encourage students is essential to lift mood, boost confidence and keep people going back for more.”

That’s not the only advantage of an in-person class; there’s also the camaraderie that comes with it. 

“Community is really important in movement practice, and not just for fun and motivation – human connection has been proven to aid longevity,” Folkard adds. “For some people, their local weekly class is a chance to remove themselves from any stresses or strains in their life and connect with others, building bonds and friendships.”

“I’ve also learned that people like to work out with you because the struggle is shared and you’re in it together.” 

A Pilates instructor’s final thoughts on ChatGPT’s AI routine

ChatGPT gets the basics right here. The class length isn’t too far off, and the routine is filled with foundational Pilates exercises with a proven track record. But it’s far from perfect. 

Two of its biggest shortcomings are its lack of detailed instructions and the fact it doesn’t cater to different audiences, ages, and ability levels, limiting the routine’s accessibility. 

You could argue that giving ChatGPT a more precise prompt might solve this, but that’s missing the point, especially if you’re not experienced enough to know exactly what you might need from your workout. 

People don’t just go to classes to do an activity for an hour, they go to learn something new – you’re unlikely to catch Slash in “guitar for beginners.” An instructor is there to field your queries, sure, but also to provide insights you didn’t know you needed. 

For example, Folkard highlighted the lateral breathing example; newcomers to the practice are unlikely to ask their instructor (or ChatGPT) how to breathe correctly – this is a skill we all assume we can do. 

Without an instructor to intervene, you might end up breathing incorrectly throughout your workout, leading to a sub-par session. The same applies to exercise techniques, with very specific advice often required to achieve perfect form and elevate the effectiveness of a move. 

Still, Folkard says she “isn’t against AI workout plans” and is “interested to see where it goes.” 

“It wasn’t long ago that virtual classes were frowned upon,” she says. “However, for now, I would always choose a certified instructor for exercise, particularly something like Pilates which requires detailed cueing and flow. Plus, on a human level, knowing your teacher and building a relationship is really important.”

In-person classes are your best bet for this. However, if you want to practice Pilates at home, lean towards apps like Folkard’s Shape Pilates which offer live classes, or failing that a follow-along YouTube video from a certified instructor. These will still have expert insights and detailed movement cues to help you master your form for a more effective session. 

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