Be Mercenary: Turbo-Charge the Method for your own Gain

Be Mercenary: Turbo-Charge the Method for your own Gain

For the past 6 years I have been on a steady course to build my body – and my voice – within the Pilates method.

Serendipitously Seth Godin, my favorite marketing-and-more guru, popped this gem into my inbox:

Like riding a bike

People talk about bike riding when they want to remind us that some things, once learned, are not forgotten.

What they don't mention is how we learned. No one learns to ride a bike from a book, or even a video.

You learn by doing it. 

Actually, by not doing it. You learn by doing it wrong, by falling off, by getting back on, by doing it again. 

PS this approach works for lots of things, not just bikes. Most things, in fact.

Learn by doing. YES.

And learn by doing it wrong – YEEEEESSSSSS!

Using repetition to improve your skill, over and over.

It's a must for the Pilates method.

Joe Pilates has similar advice in his brochure, Pilates' Universal Method, Balance of Body and Mind:

You cannot make yourself strong, healthy, and attractive or magnetic by reading all the books in the world on this subject – or using all the electrical mechanic apparatuses…

No man or machine can correct or create vitality, power or health for you; everything comes from within, you have to unfold it.

Joe didn't call his book Let me Return you to Life.

Joe Pilates' manifesto is called Return to Life Through Contrology.

Notice the imperative tense and the understood subject which is YOU.

[YOU] Return to Life!

Our Pilates mentors and teachers cannot do it for us. For that matter, our teachers are not even here to tell us what to do. Think of them more as a guide through the Pilates Method.

YOU will return yourself to life. Here's some exercises to help out.

So in the spirit of treat yourself like your favorite client – I've got a few suggestions to implement in this week's workout(s).

1. Be Mercenary.

Be Mercenary: Turbo-Charge the Method for your own Gain

I cannot stress this enough.

As longterm practitioners of our beloved Pilates method we must walk the walk. My own workout also gives me the tools I need to be an effective and compassionate teacher.

Mine the method for your own gain. Look at the method from a selfish POV:

What does my body need and where can I get it?

A big question, I agree.

I rely on my private lessons to help me especially with the first part of this question. Through our training programs we learn the countless tendencies our bodies use to cheat and evade the crux of the exercises.

  • What are some common corrections you heard in your training?
  • What corrections do you hear repeatedly in your lessons?
  • If you've photographed yourself doing Pilates – or even better filmed yourself – what does your teacher's eye reveal to you about your own body?
  • Maybe you have a nagging body issue which is alleviated by exercises x, y or z. This is good information to use on your quest!

I encourage you to think like a sculptor.

Take a look around the Pilates studio for help.

Full disclosure:

Joe Pilates designed a specific order of exercises to take you seamlessly through your workout. The body warms up, works hard and cools down within our order of the Reformer exercises and our order of the Mat exercises.

That being said, some prefer to preface the bulk of their hard sweaty Reformer workout with a few ‘warm up” exercises. For years I did not see the value of this prelude.

I mean, I've got the Hundred, right? What more do I need?

And then I fell in love with the Small Barrel.

2. Effective Skill-Building in your Pilates Workout

Be Mercenary: Turbo-Charge the Method for your own Gain

If you're searching for the magic pill to Pilates happiness, I've found a few series of exercises to efficiently address my weak points and prime my body for success in my workout.

Joe Pilates reputedly built his method on his own body. The least I can do is work to understand the depth of his method on my own body.

What I discover for myself assists me to understand the needs of my clients.

For example, the better I learn to connect my upper body into the center, the more I can help others understand and implement this concept.

Place your own oxygen mask on first…

Connecting the lower body into the center

Okay this one is a biggie for me. It's a skill I desperately need to find lift and length in my tight low back. If this sounds like you or your clients, read on!

When working to find your 2-way stretch, it's easy to get excited about the back connection – connecting the upper body into the center.

Boom.

Only 2-way stretch right? Just 1 more to go!

Um, not so fast.

The lower body is the lion's share of the body…and the pitfalls of broken connection at the hips, knees, ankles, feet are a challenge. You also need to figure out how to use your seat – gosh, so much goes on.

Enter the Foot Corrector.

Be Mercenary: Turbo-Charge the Method for your own Gain

You may be tired of me saying this, but pay attention to the apparatus with the word ‘corrector' in the name. Joe Pilates wasn't kidding.

Use the Foot Corrector frequently – daily – and see what happens to your feet, of course, but also to your center and your seat. Every time you place your feet onto the Reformer, the Foot Corrector will inform your body and serve you well.

Just do it.

Read more about my Foot Corrector exercises here and here.

I require more correcting, please…

Enter the Spine Corrector (or Small Barrel)

Be Mercenary: Turbo-Charge the Method for your own Gain

I use all the exercises in this post daily.

Packed into just 9 fundamental exercises – Arm Circles, Up/Down, Hug, Breathing, Leg Circles, Scissors, Bicycle, Hip Twist and Helicopter – there's a boatload of crucial Pilates skills:

  1. connecting the arms into the back
  2. lifting the waist and low back
  3. anchoring the body into the apparatus
  4. finding support in extension exercises
  5. learning how to do a backbend with length
  6. opening the chest and shoulders
  7. perfecting the Frog a fundamental building block exercise
  8. finding the seat to lengthen the low back
  9. stretching the thighs to open up the front of the hips
  10. working one side of the body at a time while keeping the symmetry in the back

Does this all sound familiar? Soon you'll be mid-Reformer workout seeking identical skills.

“Oh it's just like that other exercise!” 

What are the go-to exercises for YOUR body?

Share your secrets in a comment below.

And here's where to find me in 2017.

Be Mercenary: Turbo-Charge the Method for your own Gain

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

Over the last 2 1/2 weeks I've been obsessed with focused on my Pilates apparatus du jour, the Small Barrel.

It's amazing the discoveries to be had with just these few exercises done daily.

True to form I was surprised (not really) by how my Small Barrel Project has infiltrated my Reformer and Mat workouts.

When one exercise gets better, they all get better, right?

Not news – exactly – but a new experience.

In last week's post I declared the Small Barrel exercises to be a microcosm of our entire method of 500+ exercises.

True, but how do we apply this to our teaching?

Back in the day…

I vividly remember when I knew lots of exercises on the Small Barrel, Spine Corrector and Ladder Barrel, but had no idea what do do with them as a teacher.

When and why would I take someone to the Barrels to better their skills on the Reformer and Mat?

Maybe I didn't even know to ask this question…

How do our Pilates barrels fit into the greater Pilates system?

The Premise of the Pilates Apparatus

Even without springs, the Barrel apparatus offers us all the benefits of support and assistance to better our Pilates skill set.

Remember that's why we're here on our Barrels… to take a fresh look at an all-too-familiar skill we need to improve.

Small Barrel Project Recap

Today is day 21 on my 30-day Posture Intervention on the Small Barrel.

Wow. Only 9 days to go.

Although I may never stop doing these 10-15 minutes of exercises.

Observations from this last week:

  • My back feels fantastic all the time.
  • Weak side and tight hip have come to an understanding with the Barrel's feedback.
  • My head is now completely in contact with the barrel in the Arm Series.
  • I've got a more complete connection along each side of my body from toes to fingertips.
  • My lower body connection is stronger.
  • I've found my seat in exercises in which I didn't even know I needed it: Hip Twist and Helicopter.

Moreover I've furthered the following skills (just to name a few) that I can take to the Reformer and the Mat:

  1. Connecting the upper body (shoulder girdle and arms) into the center
  2. Finding the seat creating length in the low back and extending the hip
  3. Balancing the body side to side to untwist myself

Those are some biggies…

Let's take a closer look.

1. Connect the upper body (shoulder girdle and arms) into the center

Here we are on the Small Barrel:

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

On the Reformer we'll use the connection here, the waistline reaching all the way to the hands into the apparatus (the pole in this case) to sharpen our Rowing Series.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

And our Short Box Series

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

And our Hundred

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

You see how this goes.

2. Finding the seat to create length in the low back and to extend the hip

Our Small Barrel exercise(s):

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

The lower body exercises done on the Small Barrel emphasize the strength of the center driving the action of the lower extremities.

Guess what?

We'll see this scenario everywhere…

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

SemiCircle utilizes the stomach and seat to lengthen the back and extend the hip.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

And the same thing in the Snake/Twist but – whoopsie – upside down.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

And upside down again for our old favorite Knee Stretches Knees Off.

3. Balancing the body side to side to untwist myself

I've often been told that no one is entirely symmetrical. Strength imbalances from sports, old injuries, surgeries and the like can create one side that likes to bully the other.

Sometimes there may even be a little twist in there to wrangle.

Well we've got an app(aratus) for that.

The Small Barrel exercise:

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

In this simple exercise, the Scissors, which shows up every 5 seconds in our Pilates workout in one incarnation or another, we've got an opportunity to see how one side of the center affects the other.

What happens in the center when one leg reaches away? The Small Barrel can give us wonderful information on imbalances in the back and hips.

Where will we use this skill again?

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

Oh Tree, is there anything you can't do? Use the feedback from the Barrel to inform your center here where you don't get the luxury of support from the apparatus.

Skill Building with the Pilates Barrels

OMG look familiar? Again, in the Side Kicks Series you must figure out what's going on in your center sans support and feedback.

So jump on those Reformers and dust off your Mats.

Flaunt your new skills in your next workout!

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? 

Here’s where to find me in 2017

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

In last week's post I threw down the gauntlet.

I've given myself a 30-day posture intervention on the Small Barrel.

Today makes 7 days in.

23 more to go…

What I've been doing…

Today's video workout features my 30-day Small Barrel workout. I do my exercises at least 2x each day. I like to do 1 time in the early morning before I start my day and another time later in the evening after work.

I've done my exercises as late as directly before bed.

That's nice too.

What I've noticed so far…

  • I now feel back muscles that run up and down the center of my back. It feels like I've convinced them to work to hold me up better.
  • My back feels fantastic.
  • I've become hyper-aware of how I hold myself in daily activities: when I look into the mirror to apply makeup I have particularly bad head-forward-crunchy-neck-posture…how NOT beautiful.
  • I curl my body up when I sleep. These exercises done first thing in the morning feel amazingly invigorating: such wonderful wake-up exercises!
  • In this video my shoulders are more flexible overhead than I have ever seen in photos of myself. Interested to see how this develops over the next 23 days.

Observations from others…

Body awareness during everyday tasks has been a big eye opener for other Small Barrel Project participants.

How we use our bodies during our daily lives is a big part of our day, right?

And generally we do these slumpy things to ourselves. How nice to have our round apparatus to help us stay upright. Thanks Joe!

Exercises in this video…

Circles (with 1lb. weights)

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Up/Down

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Hug

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Breathing (with bar)

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Change position on Barrel

Circles

The Small Barrel Project: One Week in!

Scissors

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Bicycle

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Hip Twist

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Helicopter

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Rolling/Rest

The Small Barrel Project: One week in!The Small Barrel Project: One week in!

Enjoy this short workout. 

Join me for 30 days and let's see what happens 🙂

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? 

Here's where to find me in 2017

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Stomach Massage Series

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Stomach Massage Series

The Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer is just one example of the cumulative power of the Pilates method. Valuable skills reside in the 4 exercises found here. They will serve you well as you advance along your Pilates path.

I invoke the Stomach Massage Series countless times during my workday:

“Remember that moment in Stomach Massage 3? It's the same thing now (in this other exercise).”

Often I hear the Stomach Massage Series is disliked, misunderstood, maligned and/or cast aside.

Awww, frownie face…

It's my fervent hope you'll come to find as much value and juiciness in this series as I do.

Find out more about each of the 4 exercises in this fundamental Reformer series in a related post.

What's in a Name?

Nearly one year ago I published my first post on the Stomach Massage Series.

I utilize these exercises every single day in the studio so it was hard to believe it's been a year since I've devoted an entire post to the Stomach Massage Series.

True, no one is happy with the name of this series.

Waaaahhh…we want our massage!

Consider that in each and every moment of these exercises our stomach – our center – is leading the way.

This is one of the challenges: sustaining the depth of engagement of the stomach gives a deep internal massage (and shower!) to our organs and our backs.

Consider also the wind-relieving potential of these exercises. We're not talking about abs glistening in the sun here, we're talking about the health of our bodily systems.

In my future post post on Pilates and its myriad benefits to our digestive system (I promise), the the Stomach Massage Series will be at the top of the list. I tell you it goes deep!

And if you are stiff, persevere!  There awaits for you a wonderful global stretch of the back.

How does Stomach Massage fit into the Order of Exercises?

I have a deep love and respect for Joe Pilates' original order of the Reformer exercises. It's a wonderful puzzle to examine and explore. As a result we move still closer to Joe's vision for training our bodies.

Seated on the Reformer, the Stomach Massage Series echoes our first series on the Reformer, Footwork. Footwork coupled with the lift of the Rowing Series (which also precedes the Stomach Massage Series) progresses our workout from lying down to sitting up.

Also in this series a new element is revealed for the first time: rotation.

See? You don't want to miss the excitement!

How do I know where to sit?

Depending on our training and our body, we may have been asked to sit on the very edge of the carriage. This may indeed be an eventual goal of the exercise, but what if it's not today's goal?

Let's find a place to sit that will be advantageous. This placement will help to find success in the exercises.

You'll know you're in the right place if you can tangibly feel the lift in the low back and maintain it without leaning back as the carriage moves. Stiffer folks may need to sit back a bit further for a bit.

What about overworking hips?

You may find for yourself or students that hips and thighs want to take over in the Stomach Massage Series. Maybe this discomfort even causes you to dislike this series.

Don't blame the exercise.

What are you doing for this elsewhere in the system? If tight hips and thighs are taking over in this series, it's more than likely they're showing up in all the other exercises as well.

We all have muscle groups that are strong – very strong – and like to do everything for us.

Find places in the system to focus on opening hips and thighs and you'll strengthen the stomach and seat.

Some possibilities:

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Got a Stiff Back? You need the Pilates Barrels!

Think Like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Over time with your newfound skills you'll reap even more benefit in the Stomach Massage Series.

Um, how do I keep my pants on?

A little fringe benefit of getting out of the hips and legs will also keep your pants on!

Amazing 🙂

From Zen and the Art of the Stomach Massage Series:

Keep your pants on!

“So why do my pants come off?”

I have heard teachers answer this questions numerous times thusly:

“If you use your stomach, your pants will stay on.”

While I do believe this to be true, it’s not quite the whole story.

To work this exercise well (and avoid wardrobe mishaps) use this recipe for maintaining a well-fitting pant:

Press your feet firmly into the footbar.

  • Press your heels fiercely against one another.
  • Find your upper stomach and your seat. Use them to push into the footbar and move the carriage.
  • If you can work primarily in the powerhouse (stomach and seat) and less in the legs, you’ll have a great chance of keeping your pants on.
  • Give it a go!

Enjoy this short video tutorial.

Want to see videos like this on other exercises? Tell me all about it in a comment below.

Thanks for watching!

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27, 2016 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

In my weekly lessons (mostly on the Reformer because I am obsessed), Karen Frischmann has been encouraging me to reach my legs/thighs long and away from my center.

At first I admit I had no idea what she was talking about.

It was not until months later in the midst of the Overhead on the Reformer that I understood.

I am my own Spine Corrector.

Over time, using the entire Pilates system, the gifts we receive from each of the various apparatus get built right into our bodies.

How nice.

It's no secret that the firm support of all the apparatus act as a template for the shape of our backs: lying down on the Mat, Cadillac and Reformer; upright and tall along the Electric Chair and Arm Chair.

But what about the round apparatus? Surely they are our teachers too.

31 Days of the Hundred

March MATness 2016 coaxed me to get up close and personal with my Pilates Mat exercises.

In the Hundred, figuring out how to maintain the length and strength of my back despite my legs reaching lower became one of my pet projects for March (and beyond, evidently).

A noble pursuit.

I begin my Hundred lying down and lift everything into position.

Wherever I park my legs I can get the job done, but are they really connected to my center?

Perhaps not.

Enter the Spine Corrector.

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

The Spine Corrector is an amazing apparatus that truly lives up to its name. With the opening and ‘correcting' of the spine, this apparatus also promotes an opening of the hips, thighs and shoulders.

Over time, the muscular action we cultivate in the Spine Corrector exercises will infiltrate the body.

And elsewhere in the system we've got numerous occasions to be our own Spine Corrector:

  • High Scissors and High Bicycle on the Mat
  • Other inverted exercises: The Overhead, Corkscrew, Control Balance
  • The Hundred and the Ab 5 on the Mat: Yes you are working your stomach, but there's a lot of hip opening and seat action to complement your abs of steel.

One clear example is the High Scissors and High Bicycle on the Mat.

We do the identical exercises on the Spine Corrector.

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the HundredI am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

Now you see the Spine Corrector…and now you don't!

Or do you?

Now let's take that same idea and apply it to another inverted exercise, the Overhead:

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

S-t-r-e-t-c-h those legs up and over the imaginary Spine Corrector behind you.

Now to the Hundred to look for length in the back by being our own Spine Corrector.

Perhaps the hardest of all…

I am my own Spine Corrector: How to Lower your Legs in the Hundred

I can use the same feeling in each of these examples: the same scoop of my stomach and I can imagine reaching my thighs and legs over the apparatus which is now imaginary.

An integral facet of our minds, imagination is a fantastic tool to control our muscles.

Romana Kryzanowska spoke about the 5 parts of the mind inherent in our Pilates workout:

Pilates is “Intelligence guided by the will using memory and imagination assisted by intuition.

You know how I feel about control.

The mind in charge of the body.

My favorite.

It is called ‘Spine Corrector

Remember the Spine Corrector is best at doing just what its name suggests. As it lengthens and balances our various curvatures, our lower body learns a new way of moving along the Spine Corrector.

And over time…you are your own Spine Corrector!

Give these tips a try in your next workout.

Questions? Leave me a comment and let's have a chat.