To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

Joe Pilates had a keen eye.

Joe looked at the skeleton and noticed the specific way our feet hang on the skeleton.2-Way Stretch and the Anatomy of Pilates

In the natural position of the bones the feet have a slight splay to them.

For this reason we use the heels together-toes apart position in our beloved Pilates method.

You may have learned this position as Pilates Stance.

Jay Grimes maintains there is no such thing as Pilates Stance. It is a made-up word. Joe didn’t make it up or use it. Joe simply looked at the way the bones hang on the skeleton.

To V

To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

I love the connection and organization of the lower body I get from using the heels together-toes apart position. It's great when standing and even better when I have my lower body reaching into the air.

To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

For me – I've got a slight bow to my legs – I find it to be ideal.

However, the V is not the only option we've got for our Pilates exercises.

Parallel feet hip-width apart proliferates in the method as well: Neck Pull, Short Box, Long Back Stretch, Up Stretch, Elephant.

Joe Pilates wants us to have it all.

Or Not to V

To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

Certainly there are individuals for whom the V position of the feet is not appropriate.

  • Structurally those with knock knees often need a parallel-feet-apart position to have room for their knees to not overlap.
  • An individual with a knee issue may need to omit the V position – among other things – for a while.
  • The ballet dancer who lives life in turnout could find a nice challenge in a parallel position.
  • Those with a weaker side – also me – benefit from using a parallel position so each side must work individually and cannot rely on the other.

But what about those who could kinda do either position?

In our Pilates method there are no hard-and-fast rules. In fact, if you learned certain rules in your training, what would happen if you considered them to be simply guidelines?

Maybe the V position looks okay, but upon closer inspection it doesn't seem to be… quite… right.

What's to be done?

Let connection be your guide.

Every lesson we teach – just like our own lesson – is a work in progress.

Diligently we work on connecting our various parts into center. We work to exert greater control over our muscles, our movements and our daily life.

There's no reason we can't weigh a few options for our foot position while we're at it.

We're learning too.

Our feet are far away from our center and cultivating the muscles of the back and seat with our foot placement is a noble quest worth exploring.

Let's look at a bit of Footwork on the Reformer as an example:

As you perfect your 1st Footwork exercise – Toes – and also the 4th Footwork exercise – Tendon Stretch – ask yourself some questions based upon what you're seeing in front of you:

(Eyes open, mouth shut preferred.)

  • Do the knees look crowded or overlapped?
  • Does it look like one side might be working more than the other?
  • Do one or both knees want to lock?
  • What does the hip look like compared to where the knees and feet are?
  • How's the alignment of hip, knee and ankle?

If you answered ‘yes' or ‘not great' to the above questions it might warrant a trip to the Parallel Universe…

Wait.

What's all that about connection?

In our Pilates workout we're always looking for more action in our center.

All our Pilates exercises for the feet are magical and wonderful for the health, flexibility and well-being of our feet. Agreed.

But wait, there's more.

Imagine if you will, our 4th Footwork exercise again – the Tendon Stretch:

To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

Using the strength of the center – stomach lifting and bottom working – we'll stay light on our feet.

The whole body works to lift up in the front and lengthen downward in the back culminating in the heels reaching under the bar.

Often students will want to drop their weight when the heels drop and the ankle must overwork to hoist them back up to the toes. Boo… unhappy ankles…

Constant controlled motion is required as you reach lower with the heels and rise up again.

Hey! This maneuver done standing up is also a great way to end a Mat class:

  • Can you rise up to your heels with the strength of your center and not just by leaning forward?
  • Can you lower your heels without getting any shorter?
  • Never underestimate the Pilates exercises done lying down… you will eventually be asked to do them standing up!

Embrace the Grey

Part of the excitement and the teeth-gnashing of our beloved Pilates Method is there is no one rule to apply to every body you'll meet.

On one hand, Yay! There are not really wrong answers only better and more informed choices to be made.

Conversely, our powers of observation require constant cultivation.

  • We must truly show up and respond to the unique individual in front of us.
  • Maybe watch your student for a while saying nothing and plan your strategy.
  • Assign value to your own opinions about what you see as well as those of your mentors and from your training.

See what you think.

Questions?

Comment and join the conversation, we're a lively bunch!

The Gratz Cadillac: TRULY The Best of its Kind

The Gratz Cadillac: TRULY the Best of its Kind

Photo by Jack Coble

I hope you'll enjoy this re-post of an article I wrote for Gratz Pilates a little while back. Originally published on their blog, I thought you'd also appreciate my bit of Pilates detective work. Treat yourself to a Cadillac workout afterward and you'll be glad you did 🙂

It’s been said that Joe’s Cadillac apparatus received its name from a mid-century General Motors’ Cadillac advertisement which declared the car to be “the best of its kind.”

Would vintage Cadillac adverts help me to locate the specific ad?

I’m curious.

Could this story be true?

Sadly, the roots of the Cadillac name need to be relegated to the category of “more myths about Joe Pilates and his apparatus” as I did not find an ad with the specific wording ‘the best of its kind.'

Oh, but vintage Cadillac ads would please Joe Pilates GREATLY.

They kinda sound like him.

The Cadillac ads of the 40s and 50s share the same emphatic tone we find in JP’s manifesto, Return to Life.

Imagine Joe vehemently declaring the following about his Cadillac apparatus:

The universal symbol of achievement!

(See? Universal – a good Joe Pilates word.)

In a realm all its own…

(so Game of Thrones…)

Magnificent beyond all expectations!

(Mine is built like a Mack truck, yo.)

Styled to be copied for years to come!

(How true, how true…)

Beside it all others look obsolete!

(They really like their exclamation points…)

A great experience awaits you!

It will aid to your Happiness!

(I know, right??)

Come home to it after your vacation!

(Oh gosh yes!!! That’s when I need it the most.)

You get the point.

The idea of the story rings true even if the precise slogan is not “the best of its kind.”

Clearly, General Motors and Joe Pilates were thrilled with their creations.

Simplicity in Form and Function

Years ago I worked in a fully-equipped Gratz studio with a vintage Gratz Cadillac built by Donald Gratz. It featured a unique X-shaped safety chain and the studio owner had further equipped it with numerous spring choices.

We had extra leg springs and arm springs, baby arm chair springs and springs from other manufacturers perhaps as well.

We had a spring for each and every scenario one might encounter with a client.

Truthfully at the time I loved having such a choice. It seemed ideal.

Five years later I ordered my Gratz Cadillac.

My one concern was that my new Cadillac wouldn’t include all those extra springs I had come to rely on and utilize.

How would that be?

Would the springs be “too heavy” for some of my clients?

I really wasn’t sure.

My own Cadillac…

Wow.

Nothing says commitment quite like assembling a Cadillac in your house.

(But it will aid to my happiness!)

Finally the day arrived to try out my new springs Cadillac.

Leg Springs and Arm Springs.

Oh and the Roll Back bar springs – there’s a boon – some extra springs I hadn’t counted on.

But that’s it.

Simplicity.

Lying on the Cadillac I learned a valuable lesson about our beloved Pilates method:

The springs must be sufficient to coax the body into a full body workout.

I need to use my whole body to work the springs properly.

The Gratz Cadillac: TRULY The Best of its Kind

This is no arm exercise!

And these springs are PERFECT.

We live in an era with choices of ridiculous proportion.

Enter the Gratz Cadillac: there are choices. Arm Springs? or Leg Springs? Even a few choices for where to place them – low or high – or for standing exercises.

And that’s enough.

Another ad slogan described my feeling for my Gratz Cadillac perfectly:

It’s a “Cadillac among Cadillacs!”

I couldn’t have said it better.

Again – the finest can be YOURS!

What are you waiting for?

Find me in 2017 at a studio near you!

The Pilates Language: Laying the Foundation

The Pilates Language: Laying the Foundation

An internet search of the benefits of Pilates reveals the following:

“…Women strengthened their rectus abdominis (the muscle responsible for six-packs) by an average of 21 percent, while eliminating muscle imbalances between the right and left sides of their cores, according to a Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study.”

Okay, your abs will be amazing and a stronger core will help with everything.

“Researchers believe that by stabilizing the core's lumbar-pelvic (lower-back) region, Pilates alleviates stress on the area and ups mobility.” 

If you have back pain, Pilates will help.

“Pilates elongates and strengthens, improving muscle elasticity and joint mobility.”

If you have joint pain, Pilates will help.

“You'll learn to control the movement of your body.”

You'll need to think and pay attention.

“Pilates: It's amazing for sex.” 

From “Look better naked,” all the way to claims I'm blushing too much to offer here on the blog. 

“…you can learn moves that mimic and improve performance in your sport of choice.”

You'll get better at your chosen sport, even if that sport is life itself.

Gain long, lean muscles and flexibility.” Pilates will give you “a dancer's body.”

Really?

The Art of the First Lesson

Despite the accuracy of the above claims, that's a lot of language.

Lengthen.

Decompress.

Eliminate muscle imbalance. 

Yes, please.

But this language is not actionable.

Who really knows what we're talking about in their first lesson?

What does “improving muscle elasticity” mean to a first time student trying to learn to do a Roll Up?

The First-time Student

Pilates has a different point of view on exercise than traditional fitness. We also have a language – that we all desperately want to use – which will be unfamiliar at first.

As a teacher, I consider efficient communication to be one of my main jobs.

With any beginning student, even an athlete, we must lay the foundation.

How can I effectively communicate to Mr. X in his first lesson?

Consider the difference between asking someone to “lengthen the back” in a seated position.

I'm not suggesting these words would be used in this situation, but it's what we all want to see as a result, yes?

Yet who knows what this means sitting on the Short Box for the first time?

We must lay the foundation.

We also must never underestimate the power of silence. Communication does not imply a lot of talking.

Pedestrian Language

I like to think in ordinary, everyday words. The exercises will feel foreign enough on the first lesson. Elaborate language will not be helpful at this point.

Let's use words we all understand and things most people can figure out how to do:

“Sit up taller.”

“Pick your head up and reach your arms forward.”

“Roll up off the Mat and reach past your toes.”

“Lower your heels slowly.”

“Use this.” accompanied by a poke of my finger.

“Lie down.”

“Sit up.”

“Stop.”

“Go.”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

Occasionally even these directions may misfire.

Relax…it's not a sin to get up and show Mr. X what to do.

“Oh yeah, I can do that…” the visual learners will love you.

The Collection of Cues

The word ‘cue' is not a favorite of mine.

cue 1 |kyo͞o|

noun

  • a thing said or done that serves as a signal to an actor or other performer to enter or to begin their speech or performance
  • a signal for action
  • a piece of information or circumstance that aids the memory in retrieving details not recalled spontaneously

Hmmm…

In progressing students toward autonomy, I prefer to think in terms of making ‘suggestions' or ‘corrections' rather than prompting them into action.

What you say vs. What you SEE

My formal education is in the theatre. I absolutely love the craft of acting and I enjoy a good narrative almost more than life itself.

As an actor, the skills you cultivate in your training and through the rehearsal period will serve you well in performance. All the preparation is built into you until the curtain goes up and you are live and in person.

At this point in the process, you must show up and respond to your fellow actors.

Similarly our years of Pilates training, CECs, weekly lessons and countless observation hours prepare us for anything and anyone to show up at our studio.

We are thoroughly prepared and now we must show up and respond.

Even crazy can be effective…

Through the years I've uttered things that work perfectly yet really shouldn't. Clients also contribute to the dialogue with suggestions that work beautifully for them but which would mean nothing to anyone else.

I've used the following bizarre directions with great success:

“You need to slouch more.”

“More parenthesis here.” (to elicit the Round shape of a new exercise)

Fielding the question “Am I to squeeze the asshole?” giving it a try and then responding, “Yes.”

“Pretend you are round.”

“Yes. Now do that forever.”

“Can you be taller upside down?”

The Experience of the Exercises in our Bodies

I firmly believe our intimate experience of the Pilates exercises in our own body serves us immeasurably as a teacher.

How the exercises feel and how they perform in the body enables us to choose wisely for our students.

The order of the exercises also informs us about the exercises.

  • What are they doing for the body?
  • How do they progress us forward in our workout?
  • What are the demands on the body that show up later in the order?
  • How are we being prepared for them in the early exercises?

Get your own personal workout on a regular basis and cultivate depth in our Pilates exercises. Your endeavors will reward you tenfold!

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

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27 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 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 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

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!

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in Your First Lesson

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

The Pilates Method is systematic and cumulative.

The skills you'll learn in your very first lesson will lay the foundation toward greater and refined proficiency. Collectively, these skills will serve you well as you progress to the more difficult exercises.

Early on in your Pilates lessons you will learn Footwork and Elephant in your order of the Reformer exercises.

In your order of the Mat exercises you will learn Roll Like a Ball.

Footwork, Elephant and Roll Like a Ball are on our list of “basic” exercises.

Remember: depending on who you are, the Footwork, the Elephant and Roll Like a Ball may be not so “basic.” Tight folks may roll like a brick for a while…the carriage may bang on the Elephant or it may not close at all.

Even these fundamental exercises provide years of challenge for most of us.

But what are we learning in these 3 exercises?

1. Footwork

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

We could discuss the purpose of the Footwork for years. There's a lot going on in these first 4 Reformer exercises.

For our purposes the Footwork serves to warm up the lower body.

Using the lower body as a whole is a skill we'll repeat in every other exercise.

Let's follow our Footwork skill through a Reformer workout.

Think of the integrated lower body movement in the following exercises…

The Hundred

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Frog and Circles

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Overhead

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Coordination

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Swan

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Teaser

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Stomach Massage Series

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

and so SO many more… it's no wonder we start off with the Footwork!

The lower body is learning how to move as a unit.

What about exercises in which the lower body is not the moving part of the body?

Guess what? The lower body must work fiercely in these exercises as well.

Rowing

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Short Box Series

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Chest Expansion

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

The lower body is working as a solid unit to allow freedom of movement elsewhere.

And it all begins with Footwork.

2. Elephant

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

The skill of closing the carriage in the Elephant will repeat over and over again throughout our workout.

Pretty much every time you are facing the carriage and closing it with your whole body you are using the skill of the Elephant.

Let's follow our Elephant skill through a Reformer workout.

Here's a just a few examples of where your mad Elephant skills will come in handy…

Up Stretch

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Up Stretch Combo

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Tendon Stretch

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Headstand 1

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Snake/Twist

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Russian Splits

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

And the beat goes on…

La-di-da-di-DEE…

La-di-da-di-DAH…

3. Roll Like a Ball

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Roll Like a Ball is the first place you will learn to lift your bottom off the mat without assistance.

It's more than likely you'll learn it in your first lesson.

This is a crucial skill you must collect to perform the difficult “advanced” exercises.

Let's follow the skill of lifting your bottom through a Pilates Mat workout. 

Here's just a few times you'll need to lift your popo.

Roll Over

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Open Leg Rocker

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

High Scissors/Bicycle

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Crab

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

Control Balance

The Pilates System: 3 Mad Skills to Start in your First Lesson

And so many MANY more…

You got skills, Baby!

Footwork, Elephant and Roll Like a Ball represent just 3 skills you'll encounter throughout your Pilates workout.

See what you think in your next workout.

Of course you'll find other skills that repeat and increase in difficulty as you proceed through your exercises as well.

It wouldn't be Pilates if you didn't!

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

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Saturday November 27 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 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 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