Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

For Nan-Young

Recently on the blog we've examined the value of categorizing the exercises in the Pilates Method.

We took a look at the labels “basic”, “intermediate” and “advanced” and how they apply to the body in front of us.

The Shape of Things

In 2012 I completed The Work, the phenomenal program of study at Vintage Pilates‘ in Los Angeles.

Through my study at Vintage (and beyond!) we learn to look at the Pilates repertoire through the lens of Body Shapes.

In the Pilates method we have 5 archetypal shapes of the body (the back):

I find using the body shapes to be a wonderful teaching tool.

We can convey complex exercises to clients by reminding them of skills they've achieved in simpler exercises that share the same shape.

With this POV and the body in front of us, let's ask ourselves some questions based on the evidence of the exercises.

Here are our “basic” exercises:

Basic Reformer Exercises

  1. Footwork
  2. Hundred
  3. Frog/Leg Circles
  4. Stomach Massage Series
  5. Short Box Series
  6. Elephant
  7. Knee Stretches
  8. Running
  9. Pelvic Lift

Basic Mat Exercises

  1. Hundred
  2. Roll Up
  3. Single Leg Circles
  4. Roll Like a Ball
  5. Single Leg Pull
  6. Double Leg Pull
  7. Spine Stretch

1. What body shapes are most prevalent in the “basic” exercises?

I spy mostly the Round and Tall shapes, with a few moments of the Arched Back in our Stomach Massage Series and Knee Stretch Series.

The Short Box gives us one moment of Side Bend and we have a couple Twists in Stomach Massage Series and the Short Box.

2. Why is this?

Pilates begins in the very center of the body.

We'll concentrate on the scoop only for a while. Only when the center is strong can you build up other solid strong things on top of it.

We'll get to the fingertips but it's gonna take a while.

3. What does this say about the organization of the order of our Pilates method?

The order of the exercises is our teacher – make no mistake.

Moving through our “basic” Reformer exercises, our scoop in the Round and Tall positions will strengthen the center the most.

I think about the Round and Tall shapes as familiar, pedestrian movements. Yes, we must learn to find lift in our center, but these 2 shapes promote a deepening in the center.

We are required to pull in and up, but our body parts are not reaching away from center yet in these 2 basic shapes.

Later we begin to reach away from the center more deliberately with Arched, Side Bend and Twist positions.

Our Tall shape is also the foundation on which we'll build our Side Bend and Twist. If our Tall back is not strong and solid, it's only gonna fall apart when we try to Side Bend or Twist, both of which take us away from center.

The Order of the Universe

Joe Pilates trains our bodies over the full repertoire and also within each of his exercise series in the same manner.

Within each series we also find our theme of Round/Tall positions first – strengthening and solidifying the center – before adding Arched, Side Bend or Twist positions which reach away from the center.

Our series in the basics:

Footwork: only in the last of the 4 Footwork exercises, Tendon Stretch, do we reach away from the center. After we've built in the skill of Footwork over 30 repetitions.

Stomach Massage Series: Within this series we reach a bit more away from center as we move from Round to Hands Back, which takes us more upright in the upper body.

From Hands Back we move to the Reach, a position identical to the Teaser exercise.

Finally we'll move the farthest away from center when we add the Twist.

Short Box Series: The exercises in this series progress us systematically from Round to Tall, and later into Side Bend and Twist.

Eventually our Twist will progress to Around the World, perhaps the ultimate in reaching away from center with the upper body.

The Tree is our first exercise done one side at a time and reaching away from center, and over time it will take the position of our first High Bridge.

Knee Stretch Series: Our Round position must stay intact when we change to the lift of the Arched Back.

In these 2 first exercises our range is modest. Finally the Knees Off takes our solid scoop and reaches long and away from center and back again.

4. Why so much Round?

In our foundational exercises, we are quite scoop-heavy. The body is learning and building strength. Yes, there is a predominance of Round shapes and support from the apparatus in our Tall shape.

Read more info on these Round exercises and discover what they teach us about training the body.

But I want it all!

An example of how internal strength and the eventual reaching away from center work in tandem is found in one of the most iconic exercises in the Pilates method:

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

The Teaser requires a deep scoop in the center making this a Round exercise.

However, as you become more and more proficient your strength of center will support the upright lift of the chest and upper back to challenge the position further.

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

But this lift away from the deep center in the Teaser will not happen on day one.

This is the challenge.

Ideally you want both a lift up in the upper body and a deep scoop of the lower body, but the strength of center must take precedence and be cultivated first.

Out in the Field

See what you think in your next workout.

Notice when you find yourself in a Round position and see where you go from there. You'll begin to notice larger sequences of exercises that start out pretty tame and soon blossom into an extravaganza of Body Shapes.

Here's a sneak peak into one of my favorite sections on the Reformer. It's a long one but such a lovely progression of skills and shapes.

In the middle of the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises we have:

Thanks so much for reading. Have a great workout.

If you'd like to see this final list of exercises in a post of its own or in a video tutorial, leave a comment below and let me know!

email

Pilates Inspiration Delivered Every Week

Like what you read here? Get new posts, workshop updates + good vibes in your inbox.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Comments

  1. Andrea, I learn so much from your blog posts! And your video tutorials are amazing also (I’m a visual learner)….keep ’em both coming! Thanks!

    • Thank you so much Laura, for reading and watching and requesting more 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts here and yes stay tuned for more posts and videos!

  2. susan mcloughlin says:

    would love to see a video tutorial of the more advanced Reformer sequence, thank you so much!

  3. This is BRILLIANT!! ????????????????????????
    it has completely changed the way I now look at each glorious Pilates exercise and how I view my clients! Everything is #connected so you can really appreciate the flow of the exercises, and how they relate to each other (#weonlyhaveoneexercise) whichever level you practice.
    I have a burning question please….Looking at that great photo of you in teaser made me think – is this the 100 but turned through 90deg?? So is the 100 (and the stomach series) in round back? ???? … In fact I think Samantha might have mentioned that to me last time I saw her…. Think I might have just had an a-ha moment!! ????????????
    And yes please- another video tutorial from you on back shapes would be bloomin’ marvellous ☺️ (I’ve gone all English!!)
    #rockon Andrea???????? #pilatesgeeksunite

    • Wowsa – thank you Alessandra! And yes, your observations are correct! I think of the Teaser, Hundred as the same as the 1st Stomach Massage Exercise – it is Round, but it is the long lifted low back and the curve like the Hundred in the rib area. I have a client that described this shape – the Round shape – as a parenthesis – ( – which I dearly love 🙂 You know what I mean – we only have one exercise – and yes I am sure Samantha weighed in on this as well…

      And yes, stay tuned for some more video tutorials on this subject! Thank you so much for being an awesome subscriber and #pilatesgeek – I love it!
      xox
      Andrea

      • Thanks for clarifying!! Really helpful ???? … Now I’m off to practice!! #i❤️Pilates!!
        Looking forward to the next instalment !
        xoxo

  4. Wow loving this Andrea❤️ and our weekly Skype sessions, I learn so much every week????????

  5. Love the parenthesis visual! It’s perfect. Great blog post, Andrea!

    • Hi Shannon 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your kind thoughts on the post here.

      Yes, I loved the image of the parenthesis for the Round shape. I have a lovely new male client to thank for that one. It’s brilliant, and now any time I want him to find the Round shape I just say ‘parenthesis’ and he pops into action! More ways for us to learn to keep our chatter to a minimum ha ha… hope to see you soon! xo

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.