5 Steps to Invest in Your Own Workout

5 Steps to Invest in Your Own Workout - Pilates Andrea

My article, Self Study, appears in the January/February 2013 issue of Pilates Style magazine. Get their free iPhone/iPad app to download their digital edition. Here's some further reading on the “What Did You Learn Today?” subject. 

Romana Kryzanowska always asked her apprentices “What did you learn today?”

Romana Kryzanowska

“Okay, yesterday I learned the progressions for the teaser exercise and taught an Intermediate Reformer and the Spine Corrector. Tomorrow I will review spotting techniques for the Wunda Chair.” Done. Check. Linear. Literal.

But let’s zoom out and look at the larger world-view of Romana’s seemingly simple question.

Training and continuing one's education in the Pilates Method can be a substantial investment. Independent workouts can be one of the most profound ways to refine our depth of understanding of the method. First, it’s “free” and takes only an hour 3x/week. With every workout there emerges at least one shining moment of new information about my body and therefore the exercise…or about the exercise and therefore my body.  I literally learn something new EVERY day. The more I work out the more I discover the infinite scope of the Pilates Method and the wonderful magic that it has on my mind and my muscles. My full experience of the exercise is essential to communicate the work to my clients.

I am not advocating working out as a substitute for regular lessons with another teacher by any means. Lessons are your empathy check, think of it as karma – I get poked when my stomach goes on vacation just as much as I poke the stomachs of my clients.

So here are my thoughts on making your own workouts even more effective!

1. Choose a Timeframe

For a long time I held fast to the idea of working out daily. This idea originally came from watching Jerome Weinberg workout at True Pilates NY: Daily. Laser-Focused. Bad Ass. He's one and I wanted to be one too.

Mr. Glick, a long-time student of Romana now in his 90s, declared Jerome to be the Strongest Man in the Studio. Mr. Glick is a sharp cookie. Okay, I will workout for 1 hour everyday. I really like an hour.  It's long enough to feel that I have really taken care of business. Joe Pilates did not intend for you to spend hours in the studio. An hour for your workout and then get out and go live your life! That gives me time for a full Mat or Reformer as well as some special needs exercises and, my favorite, a fun ending.

This timeframe worked well until my schedule filled and it became difficult to reserve an hour for my own workout. Now when would I find the time to workout? What if I skipped a day? What was happening to my plan? Anxiety about The Plan didn’t seem productive…

So I reevaluated.  I now workout 3x/week with the option for another workout or outdoor activity on Sundays. I have a private lesson on Mondays to jumpstart my week. Therefore I am reluctant to slack off and destroy my track record of perfection.

Accountability to myself, priceless!

2. You have time, now you need a plan!

Determine at least initially what you will do during your hour. If, after you begin, you feel differently, of course let your body's needs guide you, but have a plan. Focus.

Teachers, honor your own workout just like you would one for a client. Decide where you will go and gather any accessories so you don't take time “during” the workout to wander around the studio deciding what you feel like doing next or looking for something: weights, other apparatus: small barrel, spine corrector, etc…

For the student at home with your mat, this goes for you too. Don't forget your towels everyone, because certainly, you will be sweating. Challenge yourself to keep your transitions efficient and focused so you may even have time for an extraordinary finishing sequence, like the Wall.

3. Meet yourself where you are today

Check in with yourself. Simply observe, don't beat yourself up if you are feeling lethargic, distracted, or just really into the book you are reading right now. That is why you work out, right?  To stir up the qi! To invigorate the Life Force! You're feeling dusty and you need a good internal shower followed by an external one – I get it. Once you lie down and begin you may even surprise yourself and surpass your plan. If you have been away from your workout for a few days your theme can simply be to MOVE. Remember it is the act of doing your workout that is the important part – Pilates works! Move your body and see what happens. All is good if you are moving and sweating!

Eyes on the Prize!

Remember that one of the reasons you do your workout is because you love the way Pilates makes your body feel afterwards. You are not competing for the Nobel Pilates Prize…well maybe this is what you get when all the members of the United Nations can do the first five mat exercises and there is hope for world peace. Yes!

4. Let your workout have a theme

We all have heard our instructors give us the same correction over and over again, whatever it may be. These cues are more than likely all about getting you more connected to the center of the body, the trunk, the back, and minimizing tensions in the extremities, shoulders, feet, thighs, etc…

Choose just one correction you hear all the time and really investigate what that everpresent direction is telling you.  What does it feel like in your stomach, in your back, in the trunk of the body when you try to really execute that correction?  Investigate. Use your mind to help develop a thought the body can recognize it and repeat again, initiating the exercise deeper in your center. Hear your instructor's voice (or even your own voice) in your head spurring you on!

My Favorite Mantra: The Double Leg Pull

The Double Leg Pull

Joe Pilates said that if you can do only one exercise in a day, it should be the Double Leg Pull.  This exercise captures the very essence of the Pilates Method: the strong center, the 2-way stretch out of it, and the breath. So there’s one big over-arching theme: to imagine and execute every exercise as though it were the Double Leg Pull (sometimes called Double Leg Stretch). With this in mind I bet you'll be surprised how some exercises feel. Snake/Twist on the Reformer, anyone? “Twist on the Wunda Chair?” I hear you cry. See, they’re not such fancy, scary exercises, it’s just the double leg pull…with a twist…on one side…on a moving apparatus…what’s not to love?

5. You are here NOW!

In my opinion, my Pilates workout is an hour for me to check in and be present in the now. There are too many body parts to keep track of and therefore my mind cannot wander into the past or the future. I must pay attention. 

Stay in the moment.

At Excel Movement Studios Kerry DeVivo, owner of their Annapolis studio would begin her workout with a notebook by her side.  During the first few exercises she would stop if necessary to write down tasks that were important yet ultimately interrupting her workout (finish payroll, confirm Friday clients, discipline Andrea…).  She would spend a few minutes in the beginning of her workout dumping her to-do list out of her brain and onto paper saved for later. Do whatever you have to do.


Pilates is hard work. Be good to yourself.  These exercises are not for the squeamish! Like a bright shining moment of truth as an actor on the stage – focus on the exercises that you did better than ever before. Ones that felt better or stronger. There may only be a few such moments in any given hour.

And you must savor them. When one exercise gets better everything gets better.

Now wipe your sweaty brow and ask yourself What did you learn today?

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