Margaret Whitehead defines physical literacy as follows, “As appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to maintain physical activity throughout the life course.” (pg. 11)

Not everyone has felt the same, regarding the word combination of Physical + Literacy.  In Margaret Whitehead’s, Physical Literacy Throughout the lifecourse, it is noted originally some have felt the terms were unfortunately dualistic.     “’Physical’ was seen to be perpetuating the idea of the ‘body’ as an object, and ‘literacy’ was seen as being too closely related to the ability to read and perhaps not a term that was appropriate to use in relation to our embodied capability.” (pg. 6)

Margaret Whitehead’s years of study in existentialism and phenomenology grounded her conviction “that dualistic thinking about mind and body is both limiting and damaging.”   When she presented her definition of Physical Literacy, as the keynote speaker at the 2001 Congress of the International Association of Physical Education and Sport for Girls and Women, Alexandria, Egypt, its relevance as a universal concept to physical education pedagogy received international recognition. (pg. xv)

When I was first introduced to the term Physical Literacy, I had already been leading physical fitness group classes and instructing individual trainings for a few years. The phrase gave me a welcome definition, both as a learner and instructor, that I identified with immediately.  The initial understanding which I interpreted from the phrase, reinforced the idea that mind and body connections are monistic.  This oneness has always resonated in my personal experience in fitness and, also, through my teaching.

As at Living Well Pilates, we see our clients following and benefitting as stated in the above definition of Physical Literacy. People of different ages, backgrounds, cultures are welcomed and take part in learning activities appropriate to themselves, be it a ‘normal’ range or remediation, compensation, or rehabilitation.  Client’s gain motivation by taking part and then continuing in their physical activity, they gain confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding.

Living Well Pilates defines its mission statement of “empowering all clients to work to the best of their abilities” based on the Physical Literacy approach. It impacts how our instruction is designed and taught.  It creates the framework for the positive, non-competitive, and non-judgmental studio environment and workouts.


Physical Literacy Throughout the lifecourse, edited by Margaret Whitehead, Margaret Whitehead, Kenneth Fox, Paul Gately, Patricia Maude, Len Almond, Philip Vickerman and Karen DePauw, Dominic Haydn-Davies, Elizabeth Murdoch, Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, OX and New York, NY, 2010.