Did you ever find a Pilates exercise that was a stumbling block for you? Many people have a love-hate relationship with Roll-Up and Teaser. Others want to break out into the advanced Pilates work but those moves seem more suited for Cirque du Soleil performers rather than “regular” people.
The Question: What do you do to take your Pilates practice to the next level then?
I have heard people say that they don’t like Pilates matwork because it is boring (the same exercises in the same order over and over again) and hard.
The Question: How do you make the matwork exciting again?
The answer: Fine Tune Your Movements!
Last week I took a workshop with Laura Browning Grant in Raleigh, NC that has helped me break through to the next level of Pilates. No, I am still not ready to do my Super Advanced Repertoire on the Reformer but I am getting stronger every day to get there. Let me share a few workshop notes and videos with you.
Laura teaches from her beautiful and spacious home studio that makes you feel like you are taking a Pilates class at a luxurious resort. If you don’t know yet, Laura is a contributor here at PilatesBridge, second generation master Pilates teacher and Lolita San Miguel Disciple Mentor, author of several Pilates workshops and a cover model for the July/August issue of PilatesStyle.
I arrived a little early and got to chat with Laura a bit while she was making last minute preparations: coffee, tea, healthy snacks. Then she introduced me to the candy, a Pilates kind, – Gratz equipment. But we’ll talk about it later. If you ever get a chance to take a workshop with Laura (she has a couple of them coming up in the fall including Pilates for the Athlete and Pilates for ADHD – get more details here) then definitely jump on it. You will learn, have fun and discover a new layer of Pilates practice.
But today I want to share my personal notes and discoveries from the Pilates Fine Tuning Workshop that will help you take your practice to the next level.
#1. It all starts with the Box
Begin each Pilates session by engaging the Box. The extra minute or two that you spend on firing your muscles will yield big results and help you really find strength from within.
Follow Laura’s cues to start working within the Box before you do the Footwork:
Find Your Box
- Lie down on the carriage or on the mat
- fingers reach long
- head reaches longer
- shoulder blades pin into the mat
- ribcage knits together or softens into the body
- abdominals scoop in and up
- wrap the gluts & engage
- inner and outer thighs connected
#2. Use your glutes but don’t overuse them
I can say that I have always underestimated the importance of glutes while doing Pilates and honestly I was a bit confused hearing different opinions on whether to squeeze my glutes all the time or relax them completely. Based on Laura’s corrections and Shari Berkowitz’ article, here is my current view on glutes.
Squeezing your butt during any Pilates exercise is not good as it will simply put too much pressure on your SI joint, lumbar spine and pelvic floor, however activating the glutes to assist the movement in an anatomical way is a totally different thing.
What is the primary role of glutes? Hip extension, right. So we need to engage them every time that we are moving into hip extension.
What is the difference between butt gripping (something that we want to avoid) and efficient glutes engagement? Try it yourself:
Find Your Glutes
Try this first
- Lie down on the floor with your legs straight and your arms by your side.
- Now squeeze your butt as much as you can and pay attention to what is going on with your lumbar spine.
- Activate your core (if you can!) and lift your head and shoulders up.
- Now lift your legs up slightly above the floor.
Oh, the strain and tension in the quads and lower back are killing you now! Your legs seem like they weigh a ton!
Feel the Difference
- Stay supine on the floor.
- Engage your lower abdominals to gently rotate your pubic bone upwards lengthening the lumbar spine.
- Press your heels slightly into the floor to engage the back body without losing length in your lower back.
- Think about using your glutes to gently wrap all the fleshy parts on the outside of the hip under you.
- Lift your head and shoulders up.
- Now lift your legs above the ground still maintaining engagement in the back body.
Do you feel the difference?
Glutes are part of the core musculature that help you stabilize your body so it is important to learn to engage them in an efficient way. Next time that you are having trouble with your Roll-Up or Teaser try switching your attention to the glutes to see whether you are gripping too much or neglecting them completely.
Working with opposition is one of the main principles of any Pilates workout. If you feel that you have plateaued in your practice focus on finding opposition in every Pilates exercise. Double Leg Stretch (described by some as the only Pilates exercise that you need to know) is the quintessential movement that shows opposition at work.
Find Opposition in Double Leg Stretch
- Start on your back with the knees bent and reaching towards your forehead, head and shoulders up, hands on the shins. Try to bring the knees towards the forehead without lifting your bottom up.
- Use your arms to pull your legs in while using your legs to pull away from the forehead. *Feel your core, upper back , biceps and quads engaging.
- Reach your arms and legs out stretching your body in two opposite directions.
- Circle your arms to the sides trying to reach as far as possible with your fingertips as your arms are going around.Feel as if somebody is pulling you apart by your arms.
- Bring your knees into your chest and hug them in with your arms maintaining strong core connection.
- In every movement try to reach a little further in each direction, this will give you strength and stretch that Pilates is known for.
#4. Watch where you are moving
Your eyes draw a trajectory for your movement. If while doing the Hundred you are looking at your bellybutton then, of course, your neck will hurt afterwards because you are losing length in the front of your body.
If you are looking at your foot while doing Sidekicks then your entire upper body loses its alignment putting you in a slumped position that you are trying to avoid.
Each exercise will have a slightly different trajectory to follow but the eyes are your guide to moving with length. The minute you start looking down or lose your focus you cause compression and poor alignment in your entire body.
#5. GRATZ equipment
Laura’s studio was the first time that I tried working on GRATZ. Until then I didn’t understand what was so different about it. Now I can say that almost everything is different. The mere fact that you have to work to pull the carriage back into the stoppers makes every movement so much more deliberate. I liked the way that the Reformer carriage “hugged” my body when I got on it. It felt cozy and just right.
Working on GRATZ is a great way to fine tune your movement even if you do it just once a month during a specialty workshop.
However, I personally will not be upgrading my equipment to Gratz (personal decision.) While it felt awesome for my body I realize that a lot of my clients will not be as comfortable on it as I was. I have several tall and heavy clients that will feel very awkward on GRATZ. But I personally look forward to the next time that I can experience this “Pilates candy” for my body.
Fine Tune Individual Pilates Exercises
Watch these clips from the workshop where Laura walks you through several challenging Pilates exercises.
Knees Stretch Series on the Reformer with a Box
Side Bend on the Reformer with a Box
Snake and Twist on the Reformer with a Box and on the Mat
Tendon Stretch – the way you SHOULD do it!
What Pilates exercises do you struggle with the most? Or what is your go-to way to fine tune your practice? Leave a comment below, we’d love to talk!