The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82

The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82

Reputedly, Joe Pilates was an evangelist of his method.

As an avid practitioner (nerd) of the Pilates Method we cannot help sharing our passion for the work we do. Oh if only our loved ones could embrace the method and reap its benefits as we do…

Recently over the Christmas holiday, we celebrated in Texas with Joe's family.

Joe's father Bill turned 82 on December 23rd.

Bill, at 6ft tall, has a sturdy and solid physique. He's no push-over and I'm often surprised by his firm pat on the back. It nearly knocks me over.


Bill has been having some balance issues when he stands up after sitting for a while. He would take a few careening steps to steady himself upon rising. He knows when I visit I regularly do my Mat exercises and this year he had a question for me.

“Are there any exercises that would help to improve my balance?”

Imagine my surprise at such a loaded question. He has no idea that I've got over 500 exercises for just that.


I could spare a few for him.

The Pilates Home Practice Project

We would be visiting for about 7 days. I told him we would do 5 Mat exercises plus 2 extra standing ones.

I decided we would start with just 1 exercise and then add an additional one each day. This would help him remember the exercises and also build stamina slowly, a little bit each day, because he hadn't done a physical workout in a couple decades.

In 5 days he'd have 5 exercises plus 2 extra exercises I planned to sneak in on the last days of our visit.

Okay, to get started he would need a mat to use.

Amazon Prime took care of that and the next day I had a mat to use for my workout as well.

Now how did he feel about getting on the floor?

“Not a problem,” he assured me.

Case History

Bill Knight, my father-in-law, is a man of action. We marvel at the speed with which he can send us a package via US Mail. We joke that while on the phone telling us he's sent a package, the doorbell rings and there it is.

We decided his name deserved the honor of being made into a verb.

“Could you Bill Knight that to me please?” Meaning you need it in a hurry.

He was Superintendent of Schools in Mineola, TX for 23 years.

The youngest of 7 of a family of tenant farmers (think Steinbeck), upon his retirement Bill created numerous projects for himself including self-publishing a book about his 3 older brothers that were war heroes. Read more about his book, My Brother Jack here.

So I'm pretty sure the 5 Pilates Mat exercises will not take him down.

He tells me he's had no injuries or issues, he's just stiff. Okay, that sounds great.

And amazing.

Getting onto the floor is not a problem, he says, although it may take him a while. Fine too.

I can see that his low back is tight and he has a bit of a belly.

I want to keep my instructions clear and simple: it's his first time with these exercises and he needs to remember what to do. I promise to write down instructions for what we do.

The plan in action

1. The “Wake up your Muscles” Exercise

The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82

I chose just 1 pre-Pilates exercise for Bill.

Well, it's kind of a 2-in-1 exercise.

In the photo above is part 1. Scroll down for a video excerpt of part 2.

It's a wonderful first exercise for those that have not worked out in a while. I never did hear a name for this exercise, uhm, bridges and curls?

Regardless, it's a great one to wake up your muscles and find out what they can do.

I love it because it is simple and it really pinpoints what muscles we will cultivate and use in all the Pilates exercises. Especially in a program that does not include work on the apparatus (yet?), these 2 skills are illuminating for the student because they can feel the muscles they should be using.

For the teacher, it is a great assessment tool. You can see the body, the back as it is moving and all kinds of stuff will show up in just a few moments. And it's safe and simple.

For the record, this post will include photos of me doing the exercises I chose for Bill.

It is my fervent hope to include photos of Bill doing the exercises as this project continues. However, I didn't want to get all up in his grill on day 1 of Pilates to feed the blog.

I hope you'll understand.

Here's part 2, the curl into the upper stomach from Pilatesology.

2. Bill's first Hundred

The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82

I noticed after watching Bill do the previous exercise that to curl up into the upper stomach was a challenge. As I taught him the Hundred I discovered that keeping his head up did not cause strain in his neck. He said it hurt his stomach and was tiring, but his neck was fine.

For now, he will do the upper body portion of the exercise, but his lower body will remain the same: knees bent and feet on the floor. This will also keep things simple at first.

Note: On the first day I used a pillow between the knees to keep his lower body supported. I made only one correction so far after 2 exercises. His right side is stronger and as he lifted up his hips he would really lean over to the right side and barely be on the left at all. So I decided to tell him. 

The next day he didn't need the pillow anymore and he worked much more symmetrically. 

He also told me he has grit.


3. The One Leg Circle

The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82

For the One Leg Circle I decided to keep my theme of the ‘base position' as I will call it. The position stays the same just with one leg up to the ceiling. He is catching on already.

“When I move my leg I want to keep this still (points to the trunk of his body). Right?

Yes. He also remembered the 1st two exercises we did on the previous days.

Should I order the Pilates Nerd T-shirt now?

4. Single Leg Pull

The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82

We did this one in 2 steps: (1) I had him just do the lower body part. Pull one leg in with the proper hand position and then put it down. Then the other leg. Head down and whatever happened happened. It was not perfect, but he was moving safely and today, sweating.

So far, Bill has been wearing jeans and a button down shirt for his exercises.

The next day he put on a T-shirt to workout. And (2) he did the Single Leg Pull with his head up and his stomach in.

Extra exercise: standing up without using your hands

On Day 4 I added one of the extra exercises I chose for him. It is simply getting up out of a chair without the use of your hands. This is a crucial skill as we age. I started him in a firm chair that sits rather high up.

It's helpful to feel like you push the floor away when standing. That way you'll use the stomach, seat and legs to get you up.

This is vital lower body strength we must cultivate at every age.

To be honest, this exercise I knew he could do easily.

And he did. I believe it's his intention to learn his exercises and then to help his wife to do them too.

This exercise is really for her.

Meanwhile, he can work on standing up without his hands from a lower more challenging chair.

5. Double Leg Pull

The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82

On day 5 I introduced what I suspected would be the most challenging of the exercises: Double Leg Pull.

You know how I feel about this exercise. It's my mantra!

We did 3. Slowly…

Although he got himself into the most lovely starting position, this exercise was hard for him.

He was really curled up into a ball. We did about 3, and the work of this exercise was exhausting. He fell out after being curled up. I told him to be judicious and only do as many as he could. 1 was great. If you can eventually work up to 3, that's perfect. When 3 feels easy, then do 5.

I preached frequency, not duration.

Extra exercise: The Wall

The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82The Pilates Home Practice Project: Bill, 82

I wanted to include the Wall into his routine as it is the perfect exercise for a home practice. Everyone has a wall they can use to finish their workout.

I included 3 exercises at the wall: Circles, Roll Down and Squats (Skiing).

He knew right away they were for his posture.

Stay tuned for more on Bill's Pilates Home Project. 

Share your experience in a comment below.

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  1. Loved the simplicity of this! I too work with older clients and we do a lot of standing balance work- I have neglected the wall of late and was reminded how much I love the wall work!! Thanks for the reminder! I wish you a Happy New Year as I look forward to your 2016 posts! Thanks Andrea!

    • Thanks so much Sally 🙂 I love the Wall. It’s good for everything and everybody. In taking the photos for this post I was reminded how challenging these basic versions of the exercises can be to do properly. Happy New Year to you too and thanks for staying tuned to the blog for 2016. I so appreciate your reading and sharing your thoughts here. Cheers to you!

  2. 🙂 Bill. Love it. This will be a cool post/case study to follow, I bet he improves quickly! I’d love to see some pics of Bill in flow 🙂 I showed my mom the supported Hundred and a few Magic Circle tricks…she wore jeans and a top…with sequins….and rocked it. I sense “functional Pilates fashion choices for seniors” blooming here…hmmmm

    • LOL – I love it “functional Pilates fashion choices” That sounds great with your mom. Rock on! I spoke with Bill last night, actually. Yes I wanted to wish him Happy New Year, but I also wanted to check up on my student! Last week he did his exercises 4 or 5 times and 2 of those times he helped Joe’s mom do the 1st exercise. OMG so thrilled to hear that. He said now he understands how once he knows the exercises and doesn’t stop in between that he will finish the exercises quite quickly…and then will need some more 🙂 He also said last week he didn’t lose his balance at all. Wowza. I have to giggle as I could not pay him to say more perfect things about Pilates and how it helps the body.

      In other news, my sister has now become a Pilates equipment snob…more on this later LOL

      • OMG that is great! No balance issues after just one week of 5 exercises; If that ain’t proof I don’t know what is! Excellent. Can’t wait to hear about your sis’s observations…

  3. I found this really helpful as the majority of my client base are older & less mobile, and I regularly get new clients coming who sound very similar to a Bill! I sometimes feel that I over complicate things and just reading this makes me realise that simplicity is definitely the key! I’ve got a 91 & 88 yr old pair of friends who come twice a week to classes and they only started Reformer sessions last year. It’s amazing seeing their strength and bodies changing…they inspire me never to stop Pilates!! Thanks Andrea 🙂

    • Lucy,

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here.

      Yes, I strive for simplicity when teaching all clients, but I know it is something that I must work at: to be clear and concise. I love teaching this demographic. They really see the value of the work for everyday living and it is indeed so satisfying to see the progress and the bodies change. And I love that Pilates is something that you can begin at any age. There is always something you can do that’s good for you.

      Have a great day!

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