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.


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