Pumping in the Pilates Method: Don’t be a Victim of Choreography!

Jay Grimes Quote

Welcome to this week's blog post.

Thanks so much for becoming a subscriber and for joining me on the Pilates Path.

I'm about to teach a new workshop. The Pilates nerd-o-meter may climb to new heights with this topic.

More information about where and how to book at the end of this post.

All of your Pilates exercises are full-body exercises.

It's what makes Pilates Pilates, right?

There are no arm exercises or leg exercises, your goal is balanced musculature: everything working as a team toward the larger goal of body control.

Controlling the movements of the exercises (the choreography) takes you one step closer to everything working together like a well-honed machine.

And it's not just pumping exercises, right? Pumping is one of our most basic moves, but soon you'll be asked to do more challenging movements as well.

Common choreographic elements in Pilates exercises:

  • Pumping: Hundred, Footwork, Frog, Push Down on the Wunda Chair, Pumping on the High Chair
  • Beats: Beats, Coordination, Boomerang, Seal
  • Scissors: Scissors, High Scissors, Tree, Control Balance
  • Circles: Leg Circles, Arm Circles, Roll Over, Corkscrew, Bicycle, Helicopter

Think of the choreography elements on a continuum.

As you learn your Pilates exercises you start with basic iterations (pumping and beats) and proceed to more complicated movements (circles and bicycles) with greater proficiency.

You'll use your Pilates choreography to:

  • connect your extremities into the center
  • strengthen your oppositional forces, your 2-way stretch
  • challenge yourself with progressively more complex movement patterns
  • create length, enhance and decompress the trunk of the body – your center

The movements in any given exercise will always serve the same goal when you use your 2-way stretch.

Use the choreography of the extremities to increase the strength and suppleness in your center.

My favorite “rule” in the Pilates method (and I use the word ‘rule' loosely) is that the part of the body that is lying/sitting there doing nothing is doing all the work.

The Pumping on the High Chair is a perfect example:

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

You'll control the spring as it opens and closes to connect the lower body into the center.

Your lift is tangible as you sit tall against the supportive yet unforgiving wooden back of the chair.

You'll sustain your lift throughout the movements of the exercise.

In your first Pilates lessons, the movements are simple without many changes of position. You'll hone your skills here and in other “simple” pumping exercises like our old favorite…the Hundred.

100 on the Reformer

The position of lying down is both a help and a challenge but you've got that moving carriage underneath you to assist you with elongating your back on the mat.

Summon your (Oppositional) Forces!

I like to define the oppositional forces as simply as possible for now, to help reframe the choreography into a useful tool to wrangle your 2-way stretch.

1. Lifting up!

Illustration of the lift in the Pilates method

Everything that sits on top of the Short Box must LIFT!

Your signature move in the Pilates method has you defying gravity. What luck! You can work on it in every exercise. Extra points if the exercise isn't neat and tidy like our Pumping on the High Chair example.

Think of all your exercises done upside down or lying on your stomach.

2. Standing Down.

Superficial Back Line from Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers

Standing down enlivens the long line of the entire back of the body.

From Anatomy Trains by Thomas W. Myers: “The overall postural function of the Superficial Back Line (SBL) is to support the body in full extension, to prevent the tendency to curl over in flexion.”

“…the overall movement function of the SBL is to create extension and hyperextension.”

Yes, extension. You are literally standing yourself up in every exercise.

In the Pumping on the High Chair example, you've got the supportive pedal to stand on.

But remember all those OTHER exercises in which you are asked to stand in the air.

Teaser, anyone?

Teaser on the Mat

Does this sound like your jam?

I hope so.

I'm pretty stoked by this topic.

Join me on Saturday May 15, 2021 via The Pilates Firm, Las Vegas for my newest virtual workshop.

The workshop will meet 10am – 12pm PDT.

Register today.

PLUS! Juliet (the owner of the Pilates Firm) has extended an early discount of $10. (valid through Sunday April 11 at midnight) to you, my dear readers. Thanks, Juliet.

Questions? 

Hit me up in the comments below 🙂

Protected: Welcome to my Transitions on the Reformer Workshop 2021

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Pilates and the Moments In-Between: Transitions on the Reformer

Into the Short Spine Massage on the Reformer

Hey there!

It's a beautiful Valentine's Day here in San Diego! I hope you had an amazing weekend in your part of the world.

Thanks for taking the time to join me for another day on the Pilates Path.

Department of Foot Corrections Recap

Ball of the Foot on Foot Corrector

Two weeks ago I proposed a challenge I fully expected to fail.

Good news! I'm halfway through this monthly challenge, I've managed to do my exercises at some point every day and I've nearly got a brand new pair of feet.

Well, they look the same but they're definitely more talented!

I thank you for playing along.

TBH there were a couple of nights I was lying abed about to fall asleep and I bolted upright, realizing I'd neglected to do my exercises. Yikes!

Good save.

Day 9 connected my stomach to my feet for perhaps the very first time. I kinda get stuck gripping in the hips and buttocks. By Day 10 I lifted out of that stuck place and my back tells me I'm on the right track.

Thanks, Foot Corrector!

And on Day 11, I placed a whole new pair of feet onto the footbar to start my Reformer workout.

Wow. I did not expect that.

Or did I?

All the little balls were lined up like they knew exactly where to go.

And we're only halfway through the month.

Imagine if I were to adopt this habit daily. Or for the foreseeable future…

Thank you, thank you, powerful Pilates method.

How is it going for your feet? Drop me a comment below and share your progress. Feet are exciting!

Transitions on the Reformer

Out of Swan into Pull Straps on the Reformer

Adding transitional moments to your Reformer workout is not easy to do. This requires mental and physical control.

You must first be proficient in the 2 exercises you are connecting.

Next, you must know where you're going and get there.

The above transition out of Swan on the Long Box and into Pulling Straps/T-Straps removes one spring and adds a moment of counter stretch. Win win!

Also in life, it's the moments of transition that potentially pose a true challenge.

These in-between moments steal your focus from the tasks at hand.

You're thinking about where you've come from or where you'll be moments from now. It's hard to stay in the moment, in these often awkward moments of transitioning from one space to another.

Enter the Pilates Method

Arches into Heels on the Reformer

Transitions are a brilliant feature of the Pilates System. Early on in my Pilates practice, I enjoyed the specificity of the instruction of how I was to move from one exercise to the next.

You know me, I love a good plan.

Although mainly taught on the Reformer, transitions add an extra layer of proficiency to every piece of Pilates apparatus.

What's the point?

Backstroke into Teaser on the Reformer

The iconic Reformer transitions (think Backstroke into Teaser) can be more difficult than the exercises they connect. You can advance your workout without needing to add any new exercises. Woo hoo!

Benefits of connecting the exercises together into one continuous chain of movement include:

  • new challenges to coordination and balance
  • increased stamina and endurance because you're not stopping
  • increased brain function to think faster and anticipate the next exercise in the order
  • Pilates skill infiltrating into pedestrian elements of the workout (reaching for springs, picking up the box, etc…)
  • time available to eventually add more exercises!

Is the goal of transitions to do fancy spring changes while you balance on top of the box?

Not quite.

As you move through your exercises, it's easy to anticipate the end, drop your energy and connection to your body, only to have to scrape it all up off the floor again to rally for the next exercise.

Who wants to do that? That not only sounds hard to do but is also inefficient.

All your precious connections into your center, graciously given to you from your Reformer will stay intact and ready to serve you when you've achieved an efficient transition.

Transitions ultimately can:

  • efficiently take you from one exercise to the next without unnecessary movements
  • feed your progress into the next exercise rather than hamper it
  • please you as you utilize a hard-won skill
  • challenge your focus and concentration
  • surprise and delight you with new capabilities: look what I can do!

My Favorite Transitions

Out of the Hundred and into Overhead on the Reformer

There are several categories of Transitions in your workout.

My favorites are what I like to call ‘personal transitions.' They are not prescribed and often reinforce skills that you've achieved over time. It's a moment of proficiency in your workout – a new skill that now takes you from one exercise to the next.

Examples include:

  • rolling up into a Teaser without using your hands after the Hundred to drop 2 springs for the Overhead
  • placing each foot exactly where it goes (without fidgeting!) when mounting the Reformer for Side Splits
  • stepping up for the Tendon Stretch exactly on the edge of the carriage without sitting on the footbar
  • any precision challenge you give yourself as you arrive at the beginning or end of an exercise

I've been enjoying personal transitions on the Foot Corrector as well. Placing my left foot on top of the Foot Corrector is a challenge to my balance. It's amazing how much that foot is disconnected from the rest of me – meaning my stomach. Losing my balance brought my awareness to this lack of center.

Now I know that I am not in control of this transition. Look! A “new exercise!”

Control and precision can be your friend for life.

Transitions on the Reformer: An Online Workshop

Into the Rowing Series on the Reformer

It's a pleasure to teach my February workshop dissecting the Complex Reformer exercises. Next month my online workshop will tackle all those elusive moments-in-between. On the Reformer and elsewhere, time permitting.

Transitions. The moments in-between. This is where the stuff of life happens!

Picking up a bag of groceries. Reaching behind you. Getting in and out of the car.

Transitions are a part of everyday life. And that's when you really need your Pilates workout.

For the unexpected.

In a total of 8 workshop hours, you'll examine getting in and out of all your standard Reformer exercises. You'll set yourself up for success!

Transitions on the Reformer will meet 4 Thursdays in March: March 4, 11, 18, and 25, 2021.

Class time will be 9am – 11am PST

There will be homework!

Maximum 10 participants.

Prerequisites for this workshop include:

  1. A Reformer, classical apparatus preferred
  2. Pilates experience

Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

More Transitions! Transitions!

Into the Backstroke on the Reformer

A few years ago I created a series of posts and videos all about these beloved in-between moments.

Check them out on the blog:

Or watch the playlist on my YouTube channel.

Until next week: Stay efficient, my friends!

Foot Department of Corrections: 28-Day Challenge!

Heels on the Foot Corrector

Jay Grimes is a treasure.

He’s given me numerous corrections over the years, which I often “understand” at the moment only to realize years later their full ramifications system-and-body-wide.

Like the ones about my feet.

I do use the Foot Corrector and the 2×4 regularly.

But not every-damn-day regularly.

And I always manage to slack off right about the time I show up in front of Jay.

“Have you been doing your foot exercises?” he says before hello.

Translation: “I see you’ve NOT been doing your foot exercises.”

Yup. Every time.

In my defense, I know they’re good for me. And I “know” what they do for the rest of my body.

Well, I thought I did.

Like everything in Pilates, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Until you do.

#footprobs

See, I don’t really have any arches. Well, I kinda have one, but it’s not much to write home about.

And that Foot Corrector is perfectly named. Use it regularly and you’ll suddenly stop mid-stride, shocked to feel an arch! Right there in your foot where there never was one! It's brilliant.

Oh yeah, it’s that good.

Turns out arches are supportive (insert shrug emoji).

While you're at it, next time you find yourself on the balls of your feet, check to see if you are actually on the balls of each of your toes (especially the tiny ones!) or just on that in-between nowheresville which is neither toe nor ball.

Also turns out you need balls to have arches.

No doubt.

Upon finally discovering my arches, imagine my surprise to feel a whole bunch of other shit I don’t have control of light up like a fucking Christmas tree.

Arches are powerful stuff, man.

Foot Fetish February

In the spirit of harnessing the power of what a pair of arches can do for your Pilates workout, I’m dedicating the month of February (and beyond hopefully) to a daily foot fetish ritual workout.

I hope you’ll join me.

It takes mere minutes to do the Foot Corrector basics and a couple of extra goodies on the 2×4.

If you don’t have a proper corrector you can substitute an appropriately sized firm ball like a tennis ball.

2×4 exercises can also be done on the floor.

No excuses.

The Plan

Foot corrector:

Ball

There are many standing positions for these exercises at the Foot Corrector. I prefer a lunge stance for this first one so I can stand evenly on both sides. I have tight calves so if I stand with my feet side by side as I do in most of these exercises I kinda fall over…

You’ve got a few options with regard to the standing position and what to do with your arms LOL

Ball on the Foot Corrector

Heel

I find this exercise to be super satisfying. The pedal spring is considerable and I love how it fosters so much lift in the whole body.

Heel on the Foot Corrector

The Massage

Enjoy! Keep trying to lift up and away from the pedal as you hold it steady during this serious massage of the whole foot. Hard to do, but well worth the effort. I add socks or a towel for The Massage for more slideability (I'm sure that's a word…).

The Massage on the Foot CorrectorThe Massage on the Foot CorrectorThe Massage on the Foot Corrector

Arches 🙂

Lift your arch up away from the pedal and see what else in your body comes alive.

Arches on the Foot Corrector

On Top

I find it super challenging to isolate the ball of the foot on top of the Corrector. When I do find it, the pedal often bangs around noisily. Coincidence?

On Top on the Foot Corrector

2×4

Tendon stretch

Keep your lift on the inside even as you descend in space. Try not to get shorter!

Tendon Stretch on the Pilates 2x4

(And for you overachievers, don't forget to do the One Foot Tendon Stretch)

Combo

I should do this one hands-free.  You can see my poor arm trying to do the whole exercise… well I've got a month to work on that.

See this one in action in this video.

Foot Exercises on the Pilates 2x4

If you’re one-foot-challenged like I am use a pole to help you balance so you don't fall to your death.

Throw in a few Toe Corrector exercises if you’re on a roll.

Further Foot Fine Points from YT and the Blog:

Read: 

Hey that thing really works! A Foot Corrector Love Story

Fix Your Feet, Fix Your Powerhouse: The Pilates 2×4 Exercises

Watch:

A Short Tutorial on the Pilates Foot Corrector.

Treat your Feet: A Pilates Toe Corrector and 2×4 Workout

Last Chance, Fancy Pants!

The Complex Reformer Project is set to begin in mere days.

If you've enjoyed working your Pilates Project POV in my most recent workshops, the Complex Reformer Project will land us smack dab in the middle of the Baby, You're a Star! kind of exploration.

How do your years of toiling in fundamental exercises on the Reformer all culminate in Joe Pilates' show-off exercises: Snake/Twist, Horseback, Control Balance Stepping Off, and (of course) the Star?

Reserve your spot today. The fun begins on February 4.

Added bonus: Jump on board for this Foot Corrector challenge and I bet you'll find out how much a supple and lifted pair of arches will help all your Reformer exercises.

I ❤️ Jay Grimes. That guy is always right.

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