Pilates is amazingly interesting. Learning how the body works and understanding how lever length, body position and gravity can change and affect your ability to perform exercises is phenomenal. Teaching participants to activate muscles they never knew they had and watching their body awareness develop over time is something to be proud of. Seeing the difference you can make to people and how life changing it can be is beyond anything I ever thought possible as an exercise instructor. So all we need to do to maintain our clients’ interest is to help them understand the nitty gritty of each exercise and become as enthusiastic as you are about it.
The first step to understanding the exercises is to help your clients learn what Pilates is about – the ability to stabilise against mobility in most exercises. We can help them appreciate this by giving them something physical to feel to check their own technique. They need to understand exactly what will happen unless they prevent it with their stabilising muscles and how to check if they have achieved it. They can only strengthen their stabilising muscles if they are using them to stabilise and prevent unwanted movement.
For example, a teaching point we often say in the One Hundred is “Keep your pelvis stable”. This is because we know that the pelvis will tilt as they lift their first leg in to Table Top. Whichever leg they lift, that hip will lower and they will have a perfectly neutral spine with a wonky pelvis at the end of it. They will have to work really hard to prevent that hip from lowering with their stabilising muscles. These are the muscles we are trying to strengthen, so it’s good to work them really hard. However as a participant, they may be unaware of the pelvis tilting and in turn that the muscles they’re trying to work are switched off. We can provide a simple explanation of how difficult it is to stabilise the pelvis. Ask your clients to put their hands on their hips so they can feel the hip lowering and they can then work really hard to try and prevent that by using their stability muscles. They can then begin to understand the complexity of what you are asking them to do.
They think lifting one leg to Table Top is easy but we know it’s hard. If we allow them to understand how hard it is, this may prevent them from rushing through your layers with poor technique and no stability, giving them no results. If they really appreciate how hard it is to do the lower layers well, then this gives them both a mental and physical challenge, with a possibility to feel their own progress which is encouraging for them. Once they really understand the stability, this will open so many possibilities for them as they are able to really focus on strengthening their core stability muscles. This in turn will lead to them needing to know what the next layer is and how they can check their own technique on that.
In the case of the One Hundred, the next level would be to learn imprint, then lift 2 legs to Table Top. Once the second leg is lifted the body is equal, so there won’t be a pelvis stability issue unless there is an injury or condition you are aware of. Participants will find it difficult to keep their TVA engaged as their second leg lifts off the floor. This is really important as they are quite literally hanging the weight of two legs off their spine and they need their TVA to stabilise them and keep their spine in neutral. So firstly explain that to them, then ask them to place their fingers either side of their belly button and gently push in. As they lift their second leg, see if their TVA pushes up or stays in. If it pushes up against their hand it hasn’t contracted enough to stabilise the weight of their legs and they need to go back to just one leg. The technique, control and precision must be there to create maximum opportunity to strengthen their stability muscles. If those muscles (in this case TVA) have given up and switched off, then they can’t strengthen their core. Everybody has different weight legs. Some are taller, some denser and more muscular. The weight of their legs makes a huge difference to their ability to keep their TVA in. They need good core strength in relation to their body weight. Explain all this and encourage them by letting them know that about half of all Pilates participants cannot keep their TVA in while they lift their second leg. It takes commitment and practise with good technique on one leg to slowly strengthen enough. This is an achievable target though. Your clients will be able to get there if they are focused and don’t try to rush before their body is ready.
If it were a marathon, they would jog a mile first and gradually build their pace over a period of a few months. If it were lifting weights they would start small and gradually increase. Pilates is the same. Just because they are lying supine doesn’t mean they should be anywhere near Table Top with two legs for a very long time.
Written by Heather Oakes