Pilates- A Hard or Soft Approach

By Lesley Powell

“One of my students that I teach private reformer with has brought up the following comments a few times…

1) She is not used to thinking of soft abdominals during Pilates practice and she is having a hard time understanding how her abs are working if the are softer rather than tight and gripping…and

2) She has been sore (good sore) after a few my sessions with her, but not all–and she has this hang up that she needs to be sore the next day, like if she’s not sore she didn’t work as hard…any thoughts on how i should respond??”” BBU Teacher In Training

There are many ways to use muscles.

Make a fist with your hand. Feel how you create a lot of tension in your muscles. But…now try to move your fingers!

Now extend your fingers and wiggle your fingers! You are using a different quality of tone that allows movement.

Dynamic movement requires a constant dance of muscles around the joints to stabilize. If we get too rigid in the muscle tone, we lose movement. The deep stabilizers of the body work in coordination with other muscles groups. The coordination of muscles is phenomenal, but it is never going to feel like a bicep curl. Look at weight lifters flexing their muscles. They have to create a static position to bulk the muscle up. These positions have no relationship to how we move.

To get to the deeper muscles of the core, will never have the same quality of tone as flexing and hardening the rectus abdominus. Remember the way to develop the six-pack is crunches. The transverse abdominus will have more of a feeling of a corset. Pilates is training the abdominals in relationship to movement and posture.

Some client’s pathway is that they must learn to release into strength. Tightening superficial muscles is not the answer to improving core support and posture. Also Pilates does not work on the same overload principles as traditional exercise. Traditional exercise works on doing many reps at one time to fatigue a muscle. Pilates has you do smaller reps with different variations of using the body. By the end of a Pilates session, one might have done the similar reps of a body part as traditional exercise.

Sometimes we must challenge the client into realizing their poor connections. Put them in plank pose for a longer period time. SAFELY put them in an exercise a little above their level. Then bring back the importance of the beginning work to create this kind of strength.

How to work with a client w. Lumbar Lordosis

I have a possble client with a severe lumbar lordosis. Is there specific movements to try on her to correct/help/improve? Any certain ones to really avoid? I have a few ideas but I would love your input.

BBU Student

by Lesley Powell

When a client comes in with certain misalignments, I first observe throughout the lesson how the client organizes movements, what is tight and what is weak. Each client arrives in a certain posture for different reasons: some are structural, habitual, an injury, history of fitness and cultural.

I always go to the basics first, core support, observing what is mobilizing and stabilizing. Their patterns of posture will reflect in all the exercises even simple ones like cat & camel, bridging, basic abdominal training and back extensors training. Part of making change in a client is making them aware of their habits.

How do they lie on their backs? Is the tension of their backs hyperextending their ribs? If I have them stretch the back muscles, does that help? Sometimes just saying “let your back go” can make a change. We all have patterns how we all hold tension. Learning to relax is key. Breath is a great way to help relieve tension.

I always look how they use their legs. When the legs are weak, the back has to carry the load. When they are doing bridging, footwork, etc., what is initiating first; the legs or the back? For instance, observe how they do a neutral bridge. Are they arching their backs to get the pelvis up? Get them to initiate through the legs. Make the movement small until they understand to push from the legs.

Sometimes they are so used to lifting their legs from their backs, they feel pain. Work in small ranges of motion until they can move painfree. Lying prone and lifting their legs, they always feel pain. Take the exercise to a different position and see if they can initiate from the correct place. For example, bridging, Pilates footwork and leg straps or modified side leg kicks. How is their form? Can they differentiate the leg from a stabilized pelvis?

Remember to have patience. A posture is created from years of habits. Keep observing, problem solving and making sure the movement principles are within each exercise.  If a client is always in pain, make sure that they see a medical professional to rule out serious problems like disk herniations.

Pilates- What is classical?

by Lesley Powell

The other day someone called asking what kind of Pilates is at Movements Afoot. There seems to camps now, Classical and sometimes refered as West Coast Pilates. As a teacher of Pilates teachers, I always felt that every student needed to know the classical form, historically. When you understand the original form, it is the springboard to how to structure a session.

In the classical form, the rollover is usually the third exercise. PILATES ROLLOVERThe rollover is a fantastic exercise, but not so great for certain clients with back problems. I now in my 50’s, need a lot more time and other exercises to warm-up my back well. I usually need about 15-30 minutes before I can do a roll up or over properly. I use the mermaid alot to help open my back.

Joseph Pilates’ earliest clients were ballet dancers and deconditioned women in high heels. Both populations had more problems with hypermobility and hyperextension. With our culture changing, too many people are in flexion all day with computer, driving cars and sitting in front of a tv. Being in flexion all day, there is weakness and tightness in the back.

In the back of my head is the structure of the classical form. With each client, I restructure the session in accordance to their needs. My goal might be the Upstretch on the reformer for the beginning client. What do I need to do to create the foundations of strength and mobility for this exercise?

If you are just beginning as a Pilates teacher, I do encourage you to practice the classical form. Come to understand what works for you and not. If not, why and what do you have to do to perform an exercise well? In the Balanced Body University manuals, there are examples of different kinds of workout. Go and practice these formats! What do you like or not about these structures? As you get clearer in your thoughts about how a structure feels on your body, this will take your teaching to a new level.

Underlying Structure of a Pilates session

by Lesley PowellWhen structuring a pilates session, private and group, I think of the theme, the timing of the session and the level of the client. Always in my mind, I have a structure of the timing of the class.
Pilates Pink

  1. Warmup – 5 minutes
    I usually like to get the client moving such as with mermaid, cat & camel, poodle’s tail, rolldown with the rolldown springs. When the spine is gently warmed up, the client will have more success with advanced movements. Try doing a crunch with no warm-up and observe the range of motion. Now do a small warm-up and then perform a crunch. Notice that you have more range.
  2. Warm-up of center – 5 minutes
    This is also a training of concentration, use of breath and getting deeper muscles woken up.

  3. Upping the ante- 10 minutes
    This is connecting the center to the limbs. In mat work, this could be single leg circles, single and double leg stretches, bridges, hundreds. On the reformer, this is footwork, arm series and some bridging.

  4. Training the extensors -10 minutes
    Especially with so much flexion in our workplace, driving in cars and sitting for long periods of time, it is important to train the back muscles. I start simply with wakening the multifidus and the legs muscles for hip extension. Then thread them into Pilates exercises such as single/double leg kick or on the long box – pulling straps, swan, etc.

  5. The next level – 10 minutes
    Working against gravity challenges the use of the core and helps the client coordinate the muscles necessary for standing. Sitting and Kneeling demands a different coordination of the core compared to lying on the floor. It is coordination of front and back.

  6. Connecting the Dots- 10-15 minutes
    Full body movement!! This could be any series that moves from all fours; knees off, plank pose, downward dog to maybe only 2 limbs. I usually like to end with some standing so the client can make applications how to coordinate the body for everyday standing.
  7. Cool down 5-10 minutes
    This is with some stretching and releasing depending on your client’s needs.

Abdominals come in many Flavors

by Lesley Powell

“Abdominals come in many Flavors” Doris Pasteleur Hall

“I do have a question – on the KNEE STRETCH & KNEELING ABDOMINAL SERIES – why would you choose the rounded back vs the flat back — would it be for body type, body issues, difficult/easier, different focus? Could you explain.” Kris

For a healthy body, training the abdominals with the spine in many positions of neutral, flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation is very important. The core muscles coordinate differently for each position. Training core muscles for dynamic movement is essential. This kind of training supports the physicality for good posture and necessary for our movement loves. This will also teach clients how to use their spines without unhealthy compression. A healthy spine should be able to move through all planes: flexion-extension, lateral flexion and rotation.

Knee stretch is the preparation for Advanced Knee Stretch, plank pose, downward dog, Long stretch and Up stretch. It teaches the client the coordination of the all the limbs with the core.
Knee stretch

Advanced Knee Stretch

Certain health conditions require modifications. With osteoporosis of the spine and disk problems, knee stretch in flexion is contraindicated. With Stenosis and spondylolisthesis (go to BBU’s Movement principles – info about neutral spine), knee stretch in flexion is a great exercise. As with Stenosis and spondylolisthesis, you might have the client perform a neutral spine with a imprinted spine or supported neutral.

Ready, Start, Go – learning to teach Pilates

by Lesley Powell, faculty of Balanced Body University.

After teaching Pilates Teacher programs for many years, the hardest thing for the new teacher to find is putting time aside for their practice. Even though one has made a committment to take the necessary courses to become a teacher, most have trouble reorganizing their lives for this.

Pilates is a complicated system. First there is the philosophical, anatomical and repertory concepts to be learned. Then there is learning how to use the machines, how many springs, how to place the client, the footbar, the ropes, etc.

Understanding Level I/Reformer I is an essential building block for understanding and performing more advanced exercises. Even as a Pilates teacher of 18 years, plunging back into Level I materials reconnects me to my body and the richness of this material.

As all performers, one has to keep the practice fresh. Otherwise one becomes rigid and wooden. A teacher needs to keep alive their learning. Wooden/robot teaching is deadly to the teacher as well as the student.

Each time I practice, my brain finds new ways/images to perform an exercise. To move without consciousness, real change and connection cannot happen. As I enrich how I feel as I move, I have something more to give to my students.

Knowledge comes in layers.

  1. What is the name of the exercise, equipment setup & setup of client on the reformer?
  2. What Balanced Body U’s movements principles will deepen/warmup one’s experience of a exercise?
  3. What is the theme of the workout? Does it flow? Does it prepare the client with a good warmup and executing more difficult exercises?

Where is your practice this week?

  1. How many hours did you put aside for practice/observation?
  2. Did you make a date with your fellow colleagues to go over the material?

Let me know how it goes!!

Pilates Reformer vs Pilates Tower

by Lesley Powell, Director of Movements Afoot

The beauty of all the Pilates equipment invites different physical experiences. Most of the exercises can be done on both pieces of equipment. The reformer with its moving bed can challenge balance, mobility and strength. The tower has many possiblilities of spring tensions. With the placement of the springs at many heights on the tower, can invite different fuller movements than the reformer.

Because the ropes are close to the rails, there are limitations of certain movements. My favorite exercise is side springs on the tower.
Tower side leg springs-adduction
Here you can work on your adductors, hamstrings, mobility and core strength. You can do side leg exercises on the reformer, but it is more complicated. One has to be in the right position so the ropes clear your body.

Tower - Full Bridge
Because the tower bar and springs are a higher height, there are wonderful full body exercises to be done.

The ropes on the reformer can offered more range of motion such as short spine. The springs on the tower have more resistance. The springs have the most resistance when moving legs away from your center. They lose resistance with the leg coming closer to you. Especially with clients with tight hamstrings, there is an advantage of the springs. Here you can work on strengthening and core support. When a client is too tight in the hamstrings, bringing their legs up beyond their capacity affects their core form.