Before progressing to advanced Pilates, never forget the basics. Even though you are advanced it doesn’t mean you are too good to do your fundamental exercises. Most of the first exercises you ever learn are there for a reason – to prepare your body for every other exercise you are about to do. The basics warm up the spine, get the blood flowing and oil the joints. I have known students that think they are too strong or advanced to still do something like foot work. Then later in the class they try to do an advanced foot move and they hurt themselves because they didn’t warm up properly.
How do I know I am ready for an advanced class?
When asked this, a Pilates teacher has many questions to answer. How is their form? Do they recruit the proper muscle group for a safe advanced movement? How is their breathing? Have they learned how to connect the movement and breath together so it flows? Have they become deep breathers? Do they look like they are struggling to learn the movement because the fundamentals were not taken seriously? Can they maintain their own bodyweight; is their strength where it needs to be? Have they become flexible enough to even do the movement? If they were injured, have they healed properly? As you see, it is not such a simple answer.
Pilates is very cerebral and complex, the more advanced you get the better your understanding of it should become. But no matter what level you are, you are NEVER perfect. There is ALWAYS something to work on.
Are you really breathing?
Yes, you are breathing, but mostly because it is involuntary and your body is just doing it for you. You are not really thinking about doing it. Most people, unless taught otherwise are what we call in Pilates “shallow breathers”. Meaning your breath is coming from your chest and not from the deep expansion and contraction of your lungs. “Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry.” Joseph H. Pilates.
In Yoga the Sanskrit word used is “Pranayama” which means extension of the prana (breath or life force or breath control). Everything in your being needs breath to survive. Learning how to really breathe deep, strengthen your lungs and energize your body is a beautiful lesson we should all happily want to learn.
Try placing your hands on each side of your ribs as if you were going to pick yourself up: right hand on right rib, left hand on left rib. Now just like playing an accordion, as it opens up take a deep breath in through your nose, filling your lungs and letting your sides expand into your hands. Breathe wide, not high. Then on an exhale from your mouth, start to contract your abdomen as you press your hands into your ribs, allowing your lungs to release all the air you just took in, making your ribcage smaller and smaller until every ounce of air is out. This is breath training, and training yourself to breath properly can change your life. It is also a FUNDAMENTAL in Pilates!
Pilates vs. Yoga
I get asked a lot which I like better. I teach both, and I love both for different reasons. They’re like two cousins, connected but from different parents. When most people hear Yoga, they only think being static and holding a pose forever or meditating. And yes, that is a part of it but only a part. This article explains the different varieties of yoga. I personally love the deep stretches and restorative aspects of yoga. I love being part of something that is thousands of years old. Vedic yoga is the oldest form of yoga. I love that it’s just you, a mat, and the ultimate strength of your mind: being put in a position where you are holding an impossible position and the sheer strength or weakness of your mind can help or hurt you. On the other hand, Pilates is like a dance, having to focus on a continuous flow of movements that have lots of curves and sways to them. Then you add a machine to the mix in Pilates, and now you are forced to learn how to control your body doing these movements on a moving surface.
If you have read any of my other blogs or seen my videos you will know that one of my loves of the Total Gym stems from being able to do these two practices on the same machine and sometimes at the same time. For me, having them blend so beautifully is like Heaven.
NOTE: These exercises are for Advanced Pilates users only
Snake: level 2/3 with toe bar
- Stand on your glideboard and face the tower
- Place your left hand in the center towards the top of the glideboard (fingers facing the tower).
- Place your right hand (a hand’s distance) down from your left hand (fingers on the side of the glide board).
- Place the left ball of your foot on the toe bar.
- You will now start to put all your weight on your hands and left foot by going into an “L” shape handstand and hooking your right leg behind your left ankle.
- With a long neck and shoulders down, abs in and inner thighs engaged.
- Inhale and start from your pelvis rolling out into a plank.
- Now you can stay in your plank, or twist your upper body towards your right, dropping your left hip and arching your upper back.
- Exhale and roll from your head-chest-ribcage-bellybutton-pelvis back to your beginning position.
- Repeat 5 times, then switch sides (remember to switch your hands and feet when you switch sides).
Tips: Remember, abs, abs, abs! Your breath and abdominals are your key movers here. Try rolling through your spine one vertebrae at a time, instead of being stiff and straight backed. Your shoulders MUST be down, and you must keep a long neck or you WILL end up with neck pain.
Standing balance control: level 2/3 with foot bar
- Stand on your glideboard and face the tower.
- Place your left leg up towards the top of the glideboard in line with your left hip.
- As you bend your left knee place your hands on each side of the glideboard at your left foot level.
- Lift your right leg and place the right ball of your foot on the toe bar.
- Now your left leg should be 90 degrees and your right leg should be long and straight behind you.
- Start to lift your upper body until your head is reaching towards the ceiling with your arms reaching out to each side.
- Inhale and straighten your left leg moving the glideboard up towards the tower.
- Exhale and bend your left knee back to a 90-degree angle.
- Repeat 8 times.
- To transition to the other side, place your hands back down on the glideboard.
- Put your left leg up on the toe bar (you are now in a plank position) and switch sides bringing your right leg on the board.
Tips: This exercise is very BALANCE intensive!! Hence the name “balance control”. Never did the meaning of opposition or reach matter more than in this exercise. Reach your head to the ceiling, stretch your arms like a tug of war rope as you extend your back leg pressing through your heel as much as you can!! Lift, grow, reach!
Teaser: level 2/3 arm pulleys
- Holding on to your arm pulleys.
- Sit towards the bottom of the glideboard facing away from the tower.
- Lie back on the glideboard with long legs parallel to the floor and arms reaching towards the tower.
- Engage your inner thighs, pull your abdominals in, knit your ribs and draw your shoulders down your back.
- Inhale and press your hands into your handles.
- Exhale, and start to curl up as your arms make a scooping motion towards the floor, bringing your upper body and legs up into a V position.
- Reach your toes to the ceiling and your arms towards your feet.
- You should be balancing between your tailbone and lower back.
- Then exhale and reach your arms and legs towards the ceiling as you roll back down, then bring your arms and body back to beginning position.
- Repeat 5 times.
Tips: When you start this exercise and engage your body, you should stay that way until you are done with the last one. If you are not strong enough to lift your legs from your abdominals without your quads and hip flexors gripping, then bend your knees until you can.
I leave you with this one note, and it applies not only to Pilates but to life… “You get back what you put in.” Put in the work and attention and you will be rewarded for your efforts.
Until next time….