Why can’t I do overhead exercises? How can I work on this?

Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

Hello there and welcome. And thank you for taking the time to read my blogpost.

OMG Speed Networking??

Last Friday I participated in a Speed Networking event hosted by Core Connections with Martin. Check out his IG @personalvictory. He's conducted inspiring interviews with many of my wonderful colleagues.

Full Disclosure: I'll chat with Martin on IG LIVE on February 2 at 7am PST. 

I stepped out of my comfort zone and signed up for the event. And I had a blast!

It was fun and I got to chat with colleagues who were new to me, some familiar faces I'd not actually met “in person” and also some dear, dear friends.

Thank you so much to everyone I got to hang out with for 5 or so minutes! I truly did not anticipate the kind words for my blogposts and YouTube videos. Sometimes I think I am typing to no one, and I just want to say if you have found value, information, or inspiration from my Pilates ranting, I thank you, thank you with all of my heart.

There is nothing I love more than a new way into greater connection or proficiency.

It can be so exciting! If you've enjoyed the workouts on my YT channel or you got a skip in your step after a sweaty Reformer workout with me – during this last year especially – I am beyond thrilled.

Pilates moves me, and please know that you've moved me as well.

Meanwhile back on the Mat…

Today I'd like to explore a question I received from an IG follower in Brazil. I love having Brazilians in my life!

The question is such a good one and it scares me a bit.

That's usually how I know it's time to get writing.

It's also a process I am currently in the midst of sorting out in my own workout.

But first a little history…

Back in the Day

Full disclosure, I've always been able to do the Pilates exercises in this “overhead” category: lifting the body upside-down. In my childhood and younger life, I had dance classes and I loved gymnastics. All the Pilates exercises where you get to be upside down were and continue to be my favorites.

I couldn't do the Roll Up or the Neck Pull at all, but the Overhead, Control Balance, and anything hanging from fuzzy straps on the Cadillac were in my wheelhouse and super fun.

I think one reason I stuck it out in my first Pilates Mat classes – while continually stuck trying to roll up and down on the Mat – was that I could see the teachers working on the Reformer across the room and doing Control Balance. Wow! When do I get to roll off the Reformer and roll back on again? Better keep working on my Roll Up.

Le sigh…

Yes. I would do the Roll Over.

Does that mean I was doing it properly?

No.

I was doing it because I could. It was familiar to me. It wasn't dangerous and it was only gonna get better.

Fast Forward

Many years later I realize the many compensations in my body – from sports, gymnastics, old surgeries, life, etc… – were enabling me to do these overhead exercises. Today I have considerable Pilates tools in my body and I'm beginning to find the integration necessary to lift my body overhead properly.

I'm refining and finding balance in my musculature to create a full-body experience. Less heave-ho, shall we say.

Oh, I was good at the heave-ho, so perhaps it looked like skill for a while.

But out there on the Pilates horizon, there is still ‘better.'

And I'm on the road to find it.

Getting a Leg Up (literally…)

As a human who looks down at the front of my body, it's hard to remember that the legs don't begin at the hips.

Only the ‘heave-ho' version of going upside down begins at the hips and legs.

You're going to need all of your back to lift it up and over.

This was news to me.

Joe Pilates starts us off with our back fully supported by the Mat and apparatus. The fundamental exercises are meant to give you an experience of what's going on back there. But depending on who you are, it may still continue to be a bit of a mystery (raises hand).

The Awareness is all…

You are now toiling in all your fundamental exercises on all the apparatus: Reformer, Mat, Cadillac, High Chair, Arm Chair, Wall. All these places where you can develop an ever-growing awareness of the muscles on the back of you.

You'll literally bring them to life.

Depending on who you are this may take months or years. And you've got to really want it. You've gotta put in boatloads of repetition, which will also be your teacher.

You must practice. Over and over. A LOT.

Your fundamentals will get better and provide you (over time) with new skills.

Progressing your workout beyond the fundamental exercises is the definition of preparation meets opportunity.

It puts the ‘method' in ‘Pilates Method.'

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in't”

As you begin to add more complex exercises – including our overhead friends – you'll always get a few of them which provide assistance. At first…

Exercises you are already doing will also help.

Above all, learn to ROLL correctly.

Consider the exercises on the Mat where you are taken upside-down for just a moment:

Roll like a ball

Roll Like a Ball

Open Leg Rocker

Open Leg Rocker 2013

Are these exercises already challenging? Do you roll more like a brick than a ball?

If you are stiff in your back (like me) you can benefit from a small cushion or towel on your mat. This tiny “spine corrector” will get you in touch with the part of your back that may have a hard time not only finding contact with the mat but also being on your radar in the first place.

You can see how to do this in my recent YouTube video. In this particular video, I use it to help the Teaser. In the very same manner, you can add the small cushion to inform the Roll Up and the rolling exercises. Once you feel what it can do for you, you'll be able to determine other places you might like its help as well.

Make Roll Like a Ball and Open Leg Rocker (over time) the best they can be. They will reward you tenfold and give you a glimpse of what it will be like to roll upside down with more strength + stretch = control.

Find more help to get the ball rolling in this post of many posts ūüôā

It's the Reformer for the assist!

On the Reformer, you've got another great exercise to build on the fundamental rolling exercises from the Mat.

A big moment on the reformer is your lift off the carriage in the Short Spine Massage.

Depending on who you are/your particular Pilates training, you may have learned to do Short Spine Massage right after the Hundred: Footwork, Hundred, Short Spine Massage.

But it might feel kinda early in your workout for a full-on massage. And you'll be taken right up there by the straps whether you're ready or not. Which may be perfectly fine.

But if the Short Spine Massage is already a super challenging exercise to do – and taking you into that uncharted upside-down territory – that potential massage will be at best wasted.

What would happen if while you diligently work on your fundamental rolling exercises, you considered placing the Short Spine Massage later in your order of Reformer exercises?

Here's one possible scenario:

  • Footwork
  • Hundred
  • Frog/Circles – yes, remember them? they're not just for beginners…
  • Coordination
  • Long Box – Pull Strap/T-Strap
  • Long Stretch
  • Elephant
  • Stomach Massage Series
  • Short Box
  • Short Spine Massage
  • Kneeling Knee Stretch Series
  • Running
  • Bottom Lift

In this order example, I've kept all the fundamentals and added a few extras on your way to complex exercises like the Short Spine Massage.

Now with SSM placed later in the workout, you're warmed up, and you've got a chance to let your rolling practice from the Mat (now with assistance from the straps) inform your Short Spine Massage.

So every time you workout on the Reformer, you'll repeat and reinforce and practice your upside-down skills.

Every time you train on the Mat you'll use your little helper prop until the memory of that prop is emblazoned on your mind and infiltrated into your body.

Over and over again.

You'll know when you don't need to use it anymore. Your body will also let you know if you still need it and you try to get rid of it. Just sayin'.

Every Day a Little Cadillac

You've now got your diligent practice going within your Mat and Reformer repertoire. Now you'll add some Cadillac exercises to assist with your goal of going upside-down.

Leg Springs

Leg Springs on the Cadillac

The Leg Spring Series is your Cadillac fundamental friend to bring awareness to all of the back of you. These you have probably been doing for a long time. If you have also added the Airplane with the Board for assistance, that's even better.

Woo hoo!

Shoulder Roll Down

The Shoulder Roll Down on the Cadillac

The Shoulder Roll Down will be a manageable start to going upside down. You'll learn to support the entire back of the body in the air, with the assistance of that stout wooden Push Thru Bar.

Tower

Tower on the Cadillac

In the Tower, you'll apply the same skills from your Leg Springs and the Shoulder Roll Down, now in a shape more reminiscent of the target exercises: Corkscrew, Jackknife, Overhead, Control Balance.

Use these helper exercises every time you workout. Your own personal Pilates Project.

Your ‘this is for you' section.

The Complex Reformer Project

Today's post is just one example of what I like to call a PIlates problem. It's one that you often refine in your own workout and one that you encounter with each and every client as you work to apply the Pilates system.

How can you use the Pilates System to learn new skills?

It's just two weeks until my February workshop, The Complex Reformer Project.

In a total of 8 workshop hours, you'll tweak the Pilates Project POV to look for skill sets in the fundamentals for all those fancy exercises just like our upside-down friends.

Overhead.

Control Balance.

High Frog.

Limited availability. Reserve your spot today.

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 Рthat we all desperately want to use Рwhich 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 |kyoÕěo|

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!

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

For Nan-Young

At Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles, passionate Pilates students convene from all around the world.

We Pilates teachers seek intimate acquaintance with the source of our beloved Pilates method: Joe.

How did Joe Pilates look at the body in front of him?

One student in particular, Nan-Young, inspired this post. Originally from South Korea, Nan-Young is a delightful fixture at Vintage Pilates. It's a pleasure to witness the amazing work and progress she puts in every day.

Make no mistake, she's a Pilates bad ass.

I hope you find this post to be of help, it was a fun one to create.

Exercises for the Body in Front of You

Jay Grimes tells us¬†“Joe Pilates would take one look at you and know your whole life story.”

Joe Pilates knew what your body needed and would give you a vigorous workout plus some exercises ‘just for you.

In Joe Pilates' studio there were simply “Men's exercises” and “Women's exercises.” Along with Joe's order of exercises on the Reformer and Mat, teachers would consider the body in front of them and select appropriate exercises.

Circa late 80s-early 90s

With the¬†advent of formalized teacher training programs, exercises came to be classified as ‘beginner,' ‘intermediate' and ‘advanced.' The labels were added in an effort to codify the broad range of material and teach it precisely and efficiently.

I have now come to understand these labels as guidelines or as a stepping-off point. As you continually observe your students, keep asking yourself questions about what you see (or don't see) in the body and what exercise you might choose to address this.

Basic Pilates Exercises

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

In Pilates there are no black-and-white hard facts.

We learn rules and guidelines in our training programs, but real-life clients rarely fit into neat and tidy categories like ‘basic,' ‘intermediate' and ‘advanced.'

Everything exists in a gray area. As a new teacher, this can be a scary prospect.

Persevere.

Within the murkiness you'll find liberation. Many options exist and our expertise helps us to choose the most effective exercises for any given individual.

That said, let's first consider the basic exercises done on the Reformer and the Mat.

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

What makes an exercise “basic?”

When working with new clients – even those with prior Pilates experience – we often begin at the beginning. Sure they've taken Pilates classes for years somewhere, but in that first lesson we're checking them out to see just what Pilates skills they've got in place.

A basic exercise offers support for the body. Looking at the list above, 5 out of 9 Reformer exercises are done lying down. 5 out of 7 Mat exercises are also lying down. Lying down on either the Reformer or the Mat you are fully supported by the apparatus.

On the Reformer even your head is supported.

How nice.

At the basic level only 1 Reformer exercise has us touching the apparatus with hands and feet only: the Elephant.

Basic Exercises offer straightforward and simple movement patterns. Only 1 of our Reformer Basics works on 1 side at a time: the Tree on the Short Box. There are 2 one-sided Mat Basics: Single Leg Circles and Single Leg Pull, although here you've still got that lying down aspect goin' for ya.

In a basic exercise the body shape is consistent throughout. Nearly every basic exercise on our list keeps the body in the same shape for the entire exercise.

A basic exercise puts the body in pedestrian positions. Lying down, sitting up, standing and kneeling are the only demands of our basic exercises. Most people will be able to do them. We're accustomed to these positions of the body regardless if we've done Pilates or not.

Real-World Basic: Now what?

Armed with your order of exercises and our basic exercises, look at the body in front of you. As the student begins to move through these first Pilates exercises you'll assess the body.

Some questions may arise:

  • Is it appropriate for their head to be up for the whole Hundred?
  • Is the individual in control enough to deal with their feet in unstable straps?
  • Are they stiff?
  • Can they sit up with their feet on the Footbar?
  • Do they feel unsafe sitting on the Short Box?
  • Are the first exercises done on the Short Box already so challenging that you'll leave Side-to-side and Twist out?
  • Should they stand on the Reformer?
  • Can they kneel?

Whew! That's a lot of Pilates problem solving.

Questions like these allow you to determine the appropriateness of even these basic exercises for an individual. Your questioning mind will serve you well as we examine our next tier of exercises: intermediate.

Intermediate Pilates Exercises

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

Many exercises are in the intermediate category. It's huge! I've included the full list with the basics in here too. Intermediate exercises are in orange.

Intermediate Reformer Exercises

  • Footwork
  • Hundred
  • Frog/Leg Circles
  • Coordination
  • Pull Straps and T Straps
  • Backstroke
  • Teaser
  • Long Stretch
  • Down Stretch
  • Up Stretch
  • Elephant
  • Stomach Massage
  • Short Box – Twist/Reach
  • Short Spine Massage
  • SemiCircle
  • Knee Stretches
  • Running
  • Pelvic Lift
  • Side Splits
  • Front Splits

Intermediate Mat Exercises

  • Hundred
  • Roll Up
  • Single Leg Circles
  • Roll Like a Ball
  • Single Leg Pull
  • Double Leg Pull
  • Single Straight Leg Stretch
  • Double Straight Leg Stretch
  • Criss Cross
  • Spine Stretch
  • Open Leg Rocker
  • Corkscrew
  • Saw
  • Swan
  • Single Leg Kicks
  • Double Leg Kicks
  • Thigh Stretch
  • Neck Pull
  • Side Kick Series
  • Teaser
  • Seal

What makes an exercise “intermediate?”

The Intermediate exercises are many and varied. Some are simpler and less complex than others.

An intermediate exercise will incorporate skills you achieve in the basic exercises. The Pilates method has a POV that's unique. With focus, repetition and consistency you'll accumulate skills to serve you as your workout progresses.

Intermediate exercises include potentially unfamiliar body positions. Now our exercises will include twisting and back extension. You must also lie on your side and be upside down. The rolling exercises are more elaborate than our basic rolling exercise, Roll like a Ball.

Intermediate exercises demand considerable coordination and balance. At the intermediate level our balance will be tested in several body positions and orientations to the apparatus. We'll be standing up on the Reformer for two exercises done kneeling and standing on 1 side. 

Real World Intermediate: Now what?

As you work your student through the manicured paths of the basic exercises you'll make some decisions about moving their workout into the prickly landscape of intermediate exercises.

Let's think of this a little differently. Collect all the skills your client possesses and see what you come up with.

  • Can he lift his hips?
  • Does he roll well?
  • Is he stiff or flexible?
  • What skill is missing that you want to see? What are some things you might use to address this?
  • What does your student do exceptionally well?
  • How about¬†the mental component of the student? The¬†more challenging the exercise, the more the willpower of the student must be present.

Now looking at our 2 groups of exercises, the basic and intermediate, you'll notice basic exercises that may serve as prerequisites for the more involved and challenging intermediate exercises.

This is the key to moving beyond the labels of ‘basic,' ‘intermediate' and ‘advanced.' What does the body need? What is the body capable of currently?

The progression of skills may fall along the lines of our basic, intermediate and advanced distinctions, but maybe not depending on the body in front of you. Assessing your student's skills will aid you in adding more complex exercises over time until they may be able to accomplish all of them and beyond.

Again, much of this depends on the student.

For example, if a student struggles with the Roll Up, you may choose to delay adding the Neck Pull until the Roll Up skill is secured. And why can't they Roll Up? Find some exercises for that.

Perhaps your student rolls very well but is stiff. Open Leg Rocker might build on his rolling skill and challenge/address his flexibility.

Keep thinking about the skills we'll build on as we move from basic to intermediate. Now get ready for taking those skills to the next level when things get crazy in the advanced exercises.

Advanced Pilates Exercises

The Pilates System: Beyond Basic, Intermediate and Advanced

Some students may not do every exercise labeled ‘advanced.' Many of the advanced exercises depend on the strength, control and stamina that must be cultivated from the very beginning.

These exercises are not just going to happen. The student must be disciplined and will themselves to rise to the challenge.

It's not unusual to work for many years to accomplish these exercises. It's taken me considerable time to feel proficient at many of the advanced exercises. And by considerable I mean over a decade…

I've included the full list with the basic and intermediate exercises in here too. Advanced exercises are in orange.

Advanced Reformer Exercises

  • Footwork
  • Hundred
  • Overhead
  • Coordination
  • Rowing 1-6
  • Swan
  • Pull Straps and T Straps
  • Backstroke
  • Teaser
  • Breaststroke
  • Horseback
  • Long Stretch
  • Down Stretch
  • Up Stretch
  • Elephant
  • Long Back Stretch
  • Stomach Massage
  • Tendon Stretch
  • Short Box
  • Short Spine Massage
  • SemiCircle
  • Chest Expansion
  • Thigh Stretch
  • Arm Circles
  • Snake/Twist
  • Corkscrew/Tic Toc
  • Balance Control
  • Long Spine Massage
  • Frog/Leg Circles
  • Knee Stretches
  • Running
  • Pelvic Lift
  • Control Push Up Front
  • Control Push Up Back
  • Side Splits
  • Front Splits
  • Russian Splits

Advanced Mat Exercises

  • Hundred
  • Roll Up
  • Roll Over
  • Single Leg Circles
  • Roll Like a Ball
  • Single Leg Pull
  • Double Leg Pull
  • Single Straight Leg Stretch
  • Double Straight Leg Stretch
  • Criss Cross
  • Spine Stretch
  • Open Leg Rocker
  • Corkscrew
  • Saw
  • Swan Dive
  • Single Leg Kicks
  • Double Leg Kicks
  • Thigh Stretch
  • Neck Pull
  • High Scissors
  • High Bicycle
  • Shoulder Bridge
  • Spine Twist
  • Jackknife
  • Side Kick Series
  • Teaser(s)
  • Hip Circles
  • Swimming
  • Leg Pull
  • Leg Pull Front
  • Side Kicks Kneeling
  • Side Bend
  • Boomerang
  • Seal
  • Crab
  • Rocking
  • Control Balance
  • Push Ups

What makes an exercise “advanced?”

Within our beloved Pilates method you'll find exercises that speak to your strengths as well as those which challenge and exploit your shortcomings. Revel in your ability to do the former and doggedly practice the latter for years until you whip your body into compliance.

Adding these exercises into your students' workout is very individual. Some you may add quickly and others they may never see…although I never say never.

An advanced exercise is complex, usually including 2 or 3 body positions in the same exercise. Think of your Snake/Twist which requires the body to be round and then arched and then a combination of round and twist.

In an advanced exercise you will be minimally connected to the apparatus. The number of exercises done with just hands and feet connected to the apparatus increases significantly. The student must have a strong center to survive and support the weight of their body while performing the exercise.

Advanced exercises continually place the body in unfamiliar and challenging positions. You'll be upside down now for many exercises. You'll also be rolling off the Reformer and getting back on again.

In advanced exercises you must lift yourself off the apparatus without the assistance of straps. On the Mat we have the Roll Over and on the Reformer we have the Overhead. These are at the beginning of the workout and will continue throughout.

And perhaps most importantly…

An advanced exercise requires a complete focus on the exercise at hand. These exercises are no joke and if the mind is not focused to control the body they can be dangerous. If your student is mentally out to lunch, these exercises may not be for them.

Real World Advanced: Focus and Control

Just like some of the intermediate exercises, we've got several options around the studio to address the demands of these challenging advanced exercises.

Sure the student needs the skills of, for example, Chest Expansion, but maybe not on the Reformer just yet.

What a brilliant system!

Using all the apparatus to build the student's program will progress their workout slowly and steadily.

For example, the Arm Chair will teach 4 of the Rowing exercises brilliantly. The Cadillac can address Chest Expansion and Thigh Stretch (which they'll also be doing on the Mat).

The Spine Corrector will take care of the High Scissors and High Bicycle as well as train your body to be a mean rolling machine. It's just such a perfect apparatus!

The Breaststroke can be developed on the Cadillac as well and there's nothing Tower and Monkey cannot address. Remember lifting the body off the apparatus? Here's your training ground.

Life Beyond Labels

Keep the qualifications of the exercises foremost in your mind as you move past the “rules” and learn to look at the body deeply and effectively.

Keep the student safe and err on the conservative side.

Work to understand the thought behind the labels of ‘basic,' ‘intermediate' and ‘advanced.' With practice and getting the exercises in your own body, you'll begin to see how the exercises early in the workout progress and transform into exercises of great complexity.

Questions or comments about progressing your students? 

Leave me a question and I promise to answer in a followup post ūüôā

Stay tuned!

You’ve Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

Thank you, lovely Pinterest followers for making the above image into my most popular pin.

Pinned 206 times as of this writing, it's the mantra I use to improve my teaching skills.

Every. Day.

Let's throw down the gauntlet and aspire to greatness.

Choose Wisely

When skill-building in the Pilates system we are faced with a never-ending series of choices.

It's a Pilates choose-your-own-adventure! The choices you'll make will lead you and your clients along the Pilates path in as direct a manner as possible.

OMG this is the Holy Grail for Pilates instructors.

It's a tall order, I know.

But time is on our side and they tell me Rome was not built in a day. We'll move toward our goal incrementally each day.

Success in the Pilates method is more marathon than sprint. Keep this in mind.

  • Day 1: you will plant the apple seed.
  • Day 2: you will not yet be enjoying a juicy apple!

Patience, grasshopper.

I choo-choo-choo- choose you

Joe Pilates has given us numerous opportunities to choose wisely.

Take a look around the studio.

In addition to our old standbys the Reformer and the Mat, we've got a trio of chairs and of barrels.

It's the collection of exercises on these 6 pieces of ofttimes peripheral apparatus that we can turn into one of our greatest assets. Within this grouping of chairs and barrels lies the perfect spot to work on a variety of connections for lots of different folks.

The Spring Remains the Same

At first blush, the work you'll do on the Chairs and Barrels may feel different from the Reformer and Mat exercises. But remember they are all part of a larger system.

All Systems Go

When viewed through the lens of the entire Pilates system the 3 Pilates Chairs and 3 Pilates Barrels become remarkably similar to our old friends the Reformer and the Mat:

For example, on the Chairs the springs are familiar.

  • They assist us.
  • They offer us support.
  • They remind us with a bang when we've gotten out of control.

We must use our lift and always aspire to close the spring with control.

This is the main objective of any apparatus with springs.

In Elephant on the Reformer you will close the spring.

Same for the Pull Up on the Wunda Chair.

I think I'm gonna like it here.

In comparison, the Barrels are bereft of springs and therefore more similar to the Mat. Like the Mat, they require you to fasten some of you into the apparatus while other parts of you reach long and away. The round shape of the barrel apparatuses allows gravity to work in our favor for a change.

The upper body reaches over the fastened in lower body in the Roll Up.

Arm Circles on the Spine Corrector again fasten you into a seated position while the upper body reaches back over the barrel.

We can get even more support here, and a template upon which to correct our upper backs, chest and shoulders.

Quite a nice little bonus.

Scrubbing Bubbles

I have found several exercises on the Chairs and Barrels that fall into the category of exercises I call “The Scrubbing Bubbles.”

What?

Yes, I'm always on the lookout for an exercise I can use to do my work for me.

Get ready for the Chairs and Barrels, friends…

We only have one exercise!

Arm yourself with the premise of the Pilates method and you are all set for a Chairs and Barrels choose-your-own-adventure!

Our mission:

To find the 2-way stretch at its most advantageous.

The Arm Chair

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

One of my favorite go-to exercises on the Arm Chair is simply the Arm Circles.

Small or big circles, the Arm Chair with its light springs really teaches people how to use their back muscles instead of their arms and shoulders.

And make no mistake, it is the Chair that is teaching the exercise. I am merely a guide. At first, this apparatus will be unfamiliar to the student. With repeated practice and time, you'll watch these exercises greatly improve, magically, before your eyes.

The Rowing Series (#3,4,5,6) is a frickin' dream here. The back of the Arm Chair is supportive and communicative.

The Rowing exercises on the Reformer will reap the benefits of diligent Arm Chair practice.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

Photo courtesy of Fredrik Prag of Pilates Scandinavia

The High Chair

Going Up Front is an amazingly valuable exercise and the High Chair is a safe and sturdy place to work it.

Talk about lift!

The vertical orientation of the Chair communicates the 2-way stretch clearly.

The springs provide strong support and assistance to lift the pedal.

What goes up…

Must come down…

WITH CONTROL.

In opposition of the lift upward, here students can discover their lower body.

Now with a new awareness of the lower body, the student can begin to find their seat and sort out their hips.

Weaker sides rejoice!

And for those of us who are a bit unbalanced, uh… who have imbalances… (like moi) Going Up Front will provide years of challenge and entertainment.

Give it a go. Use your 2-way stretch to pull yourself apart at the waistline.

Reach begets lift.

The Wunda Chair

On the Wunda Chair you'll find one of the most effective tools for perfecting Footwork on the Reformer.

Whoopee!

It's quite a Scrubbing Bubbles exercise for me.

Footwork on the Wunda Chair

A combination of being upright plus the action of closing the springs as much as possible – and it is possible – greatly improves the work of the seat and the entire lower body.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates ApparatusYou've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates ApparatusYou've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

And your Footwork on the Reformer will be the better for it.

Especially for the folks that overuse their legs in the Footwork on the Reformer and have a hard time finding length in the back (guilty), being vertical is amazingly helpful.

And you haven't really felt your scoop in Footwork on the Wunda until that pedal closes.

Oh, scoop…right…

Use your seat to get a smidge more lift upon pressing the pedal down and then really push that pedal away – resist it – as your stomach lifts in and up to close the spring.

Holy opposition!

I'm telling you, this exercise is golden.

The 3 Pilates Barrels

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

Yes. There are many kinds of exercises that can be done on these round apparatus, but I take my cue from the name of one of them: Spine Corrector.

Why are we here?

The answer to this question is very important. The name ‘spine corrector' is the key to understanding the purpose of working on all the barrels. They are all about opening: opening the spine, the chest, the hips, the shoulders. Correcting imbalances in the back.

Get ready for gravity to be your best friend.

The Barrels, especially the Small Barrel and Spine Corrector, pair beautifully with the Mat, which is also bereft of springs. In Joe Pilates' studio the Mat and the Spine Corrector/Small Barrel were constant companions.

Jay Grimes refers to the Spine Corrector exercises as a kind of coda to the Mat exercises.

They go together,
Like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong
Remembered forever
As shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom
Chang chang changitty chang shoobop
That's the way it should be, wha ooohhh
yeah!

Just for the record, Jay did not sing this to me…

The Small Barrel

I simply adore this little guy.

Both the Small Barrel and the Spine Corrector (depending on the body) are my favorite exercises to use to alleviate tension in the arms and shoulders.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

The Arm Circles Series (including Breathing, pictured above) is a wonderful way to introduce students to their backs. They must have a powerhouse first of course, just look at that position.

How easy it would be to just lie back and let it all hang out, no bueno.

I love this series of exercises. It is simply brilliant at communicating (over time) that we should use our arms and shoulders less and find more lift and connection to the trunk of the body.

The waistline must lift as the arms reach – almost as though you could stretch yourself all the way over to the other side of the Barrel. Not just your arms, YOU. Lifted up. And over there.

The Arm Circles get my Scrubbing Bubbles vote!

The Spine Corrector

The series of 3 Mat exercises that are done on the Small Barrel and Spine Corrector are just wonderfully delicious.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

Scissors, Bicycle and Shoulder Bridge are brilliant for teaching the long reach of the lower body. Men with tight thighs, hips and lower backs benefit so much from these 3 exercises.

I love this series for whittling away at those who cannot sit up in Spine Stretch Forward without being all bunched up in the hip flexors. Gradually the Spine Corrector will do all of your work for you.

Plus you've got the Thigh Stretch on the Mat for those peeps and the Tree!

Sigh…what was life like before the Tree?

The Ladder Barrel

The Mack Daddy of the Barrels, the Ladder Barrel does all the Spine Correcting of the other 2 smaller barrels by upping the challenge and being part jungle gym as well.

Here's another place to do the Tree as well as a challenging Backbend series that takes your Roll Up to a whole new level.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates ApparatusConnection to the back? Check!

Lower Body Reach and your seat? You'd better get that together before approaching the Ladder Barrel.

The Ladder Barrel is truly the go-to place for success in the Swan. Gravity is your friend to find length in the back you never knew you had.

This is not an easy exercise and often it's no one's favorite. However, love for Swan on the Ladder Barrel is often found in perhaps the unlikeliest of places.

You've Peaked my Pionterest! 6 Indispensable Apparatus

Male client. 6'8″. Gratz Ladder Barrel. His fingertips literally touch the ceiling and he spans every inch of the Barrel. And. He. Loves. It.

It lights him up. He's got a lot of back to lift and lengthen as well. And he does it beautifully. Check out his Teaser here.

His Swan photo forthcoming…

Want to learn more?

Join me October 1-4 at Everybody Pilates, Portsmouth, UK and – poof! – this post will turn into a workshop!

You'll enjoy 4 jam-packed days of Pilates with me and Karen Frischmann who'll be debuting her new Masterclass format – exciting!! And of course, Amy Kellow and her amazing staff.

#Pilatesbestiesunite

Register today.

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