Looking to improve in your Pilates practice? Today we explore strategies for learning a new movement skill and how to break down an exercise into its strength, flexibility, and coordination components. Once you know what part of the exercise is difficult for you, you can work on that part to improve.
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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
[00:00:47] Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're gonna be talking about how to get better at any Pilates exercise, which sounds pretty great. I mean, that sounds awesome. I would love to get [00:01:00] better at Pilates exercises. And what I'll be sharing today are strategies for improving your execution, I guess, of your Pilates exercises. And the strategies themselves are really straightforward and pretty simple. That's not to say that putting them into practice is easy or simple, but the strategy itself is not where you're gonna get hung up. So that's good news.
[00:01:30] And this really works for anything, any new skill that you're trying to learn, whether you're learning a new language or you're taking up some new crafty hobby business. Really any skill that you want to learn, at least these first two strategies are gonna help you to get better at them. I wish that we'd actually learned these two strategies in school because they are so helpful in terms of the learning part of the Pilates business. [00:02:00]
[00:02:01] So the first strategy is something called distributed practice. And what that means is that instead of jam packing one day with 100 million times of your Pilates exercises, you're gonna distribute your practice across a given period of time. So if you had the option of doing 24 hours of Pilates, once a year or doing Pilates three times a week for an hour, it would be better to do it three times a week versus all of your practice on one day. And that's like pretty silly. Obviously we would never do 24 hours of Pilates. I also need to sleep, but just this idea that if you are trying to learn something new, our brain needs time to process it. And we also need to be reminded of it pretty frequently in order to remember it.
[00:02:52] So if you're working on an exercise series, that's kind of complicated, something like back rowing on the [00:03:00] reformer or boomerang on the mat, an exercise that has lots of pieces, lots of parts. And you're struggling to remember where your hands go, where your feet go, are my toes pointed? When do I lift my hips? That kind of situation. It can help to break up your practice so that you get little reminders of the exercise and you get to practice it pretty frequently. I feel like we do this anyway because the like physical exertion of exercise, probably I wouldn't work out on Monday. And then on Tuesday immediately, if I could do like Monday and Thursday or like Monday and Wednesday or something like that, there's a little break in between.
[00:03:42] But even if you're doing your classes in the studio and you're having that little break in between, I also encourage everyone- I don't know if regular Pilates doing people do this, but like, if you have a mat or a soft floor, like carpeting, just getting on the ground and like doing the thing a little bit on your [00:04:00] own and kind of playing with it because that leads in quite nicely to the second strategy that you can use, which is self testing.
[00:04:10] It kind of is a check-in to be like, how much do I actually know? Like, do I know the exercise when my teacher isn't telling me every single thing to do with all of my body parts as I'm doing it, like, do I know the exercise for myself? And we talk about this a lot in terms of having Pilates in your body and having like a muscle memory of the choreography in your body. And that is something that happens through lots of practice. So that distributed practice is super helpful, but also like checking in with your own understanding, and maybe you don't live with a Pilates teacher. Sometimes I feel sad for my partner that he does, but you can record yourself doing a exercise that you've been working on.
[00:04:57] You're really trying to smash teaser or you're going for the [00:05:00] rollover or you're working on the roll up anything. And you can do it, record yourself doing it. No one's gonna see it except for you. And then you can watch on YouTube or if your teacher has an Instagram and they post it about it, and then you can compare your execution of the exercise with the other persons and see what's missing in your, in interpretation.
[00:05:25] And also seeing like what you nailed, because there is a tendency to be really hard on ourselves when we see ourselves or we hear ourselves and we're like, uh, oh, I mean, I had the same kind of reaction. I was just on Pilates Elephants podcast with Raphael Bender and it's like, oh my gosh. I said that like, it's, it's embarrassing, but it's a really great tool to see. I mean, being on a podcast is separately, I would say, but it's a nice way to look at yourself from the outside, because when we're doing an exercise, [00:06:00] And maybe we're thinking like I should be pointing my toes or I need to reach higher or things like that. But usually there's a lot of stuff going on and we can't keep track of where everything was.
[00:06:10] So when you get to look back at yourself and, compassionately, please look at yourself and don't judge it necessarily on, oh, well, this one's better, but say, you know, are my legs doing the same thing? Are my arms doing the same thing? Is the rhythm of the exercise the same between the both of us? And you can refine your movement so, so much.
[00:06:32] Like when I was learning headstands and starting from headstands toes to the ceiling, and then trying to lower my legs to, uh, parallel to the ground, that kind of piking action. I was absolutely certain when I was doing it, that my legs were parallel to the ground. I was so sure. In my brain, I was like, there's no way I can lower my legs anymore. This is it. I have arrived. Right? Then I took a [00:07:00] video of myself and my legs were not, they were not parallel to the ground. They were definitely like on a 45, but when I'm upside down and I think I can see my toes from, you know, where I am and you know, all the bloods rushing to your head. And you're like trying to remember to breathe and all of this, you don't know. And being able to look at yourself and be like, oh wow, I could definitely lower like my legs another foot. And I would still be in the neighborhood of parallel to the ground.
[00:07:27] So using this self testing as a tool in terms of checking in with how well you are understanding the choreography, cuz it's really difficult to get better at something that you don't fully understand yet. Right? If you don't know all the pieces yet. So being able to watch yourself back and see how you are doing it will show you a lot of how you, how you wanna improve or what you wanna change. I record myself all the time, not [00:08:00] just for Instagram purposes, but when I'm practicing a movement pattern, whether it's, you know, jumping through to seated from downward facing dog, whether it's, you know, really trying to, I've been working a lot on handstand presses and recording yourself just gives you some guidance on where you wanna go, what you wanna do next, where you can change aspects of your performance.
[00:08:27] I also want to reiterate that there is no perfect teaser. There is no, you know, perfect cork screw or Jack knife or whatever exercise strikes your fancy that you've been struggling with, that you wanna get better at and now you're listening to this podcast. When I'm talking about, you know, getting better at a thing, I'm talking about, meeting the choreography, getting to that point of flow, that kind of graceful movement, [00:09:00] those sorts of things. This isn't to say that what you're doing is wrong or bad, but if there's some dream in your heart of being able to do an exercise or get further into the exercise. However you wanna interpret that, without any value judgment whatsoever, about what further means and what it means to you. These are strategies that can help with that.
[00:09:25] Both of the strategies I outlined in this part are very general. You're like, okay, distributed practice, practice over time, self testing, you know, see what I can do without my teacher. Like how well do I know the exercise? Can I record myself and check? Those are really general. You can definitely use them for Pilates, but you can use 'em for anything else. Coming up after the break, I'm gonna talk about three Pilates dimensions that will help you get better at your exercises. That's coming up next.
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[00:10:59] Let's [00:11:00] talk about how we can use Pilates specific strategies to get better at Pilates. Since we have these really awesome general ones, that'll help us learn the movement and begin to embody the movement and have the muscle memory of the movement and make sure we know what's happening in the movement so that we can practice it, all of that stuff. But let's talk about Pilates specifically.
[00:11:22] Pilates in my experience is challenging in three different dimensions, three different axes, three different flavors, and they are coordination, flexibility, and strength. So every exercise that we do has some combination of factors. It's almost like if you remember playing the Sims game where you have a certain number of points and then you're giving people.
[00:11:50] You know, charm and intelligence, and you're like building this little person based on points. Every exercise has like a given amount of flexibility requirement, [00:12:00] of a coordination requirement, of a strength requirement in order to do the thing that Joseph Pilates said that we should do. When you are working on an exercise because it's been challenging you and you're struggling with it, and you're kind of wrestling with being able to do it.
[00:12:20] I think something that's important to do is identify what about the exercise is challenging for you? And it can be more than one. Definitely. Especially when we get like a brand new exercise where like the whole thing is challenging. Everything about this is challenging. But when you're breaking an exercise down and kind of thinking about, you know, what do I need to work on to make this exercise happen more smoothly in my body?
[00:12:49] It's gonna be different for each exercise and for every person doing the exercise, I talked about last episode or a few episodes ago, working [00:13:00] through teaser. And teaser is an exercise that has a coordination component because you are keeping your legs lifted and then rolling up to them. When you're doing teaser on the mat and you are on the reformer having to push through spring resistance, the carriage is moving and you're lifting your arms and legs at the same time and coming up into teaser, right? Like there is obviously a coordination challenge here in terms of timing, getting your body parts to work in concert with each other. Right? So it could be the coordination. If you're like, Ooh, I've been working on teaser forever on the reformer. I can't get up. Is it the timing that we need to work on? Is it the coordination, finding that balance point on your butt? Right?
[00:13:49] There is a strength component in teaser. On the mat, you're rolling up to lifted legs. You need to be able to roll up in [00:14:00] order to do teaser on the mat, then your legs are lifted, which adds even more fun times for your hip flexors, right? To hold your legs up while you roll up. So it could be a strength component. I need to get stronger in my roll up so that I can roll up with my legs lifted. Sure.
[00:14:17] It could be a flexibility component when you're thinking of teaser or maybe you've seen teaser and people have very high legs in their teaser. Their V shape is very narrow. And it's a rounded V-shape of course our spine is in a C curve when we're in teaser, but the legs are really high. That could be a flexibility thing. Like people who are more flexible in that back line of their body will be able to lift their legs higher and come up to meet their legs more than if you were feeling really tight in your low back or in your hamstrings or anywhere in that posterior chain. That, you know, a really tight V is demanding more flexibility than you're able to give. And so your V is gonna be a bit wider. [00:15:00]
[00:15:00] There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with any of those things. And as I said in the teaser episode, and I will continue to say forever and ever everyone's exercise looks different on their body because everyone's body is different, like structurally and also like in practice, it's different. So we're not looking to get better in terms of like changing ourselves into something that we're not. But if you're like the thing that's holding me back in that high teaser is flexibility. That is something that's adjustable. Like I can't change the length of your legs.
[00:15:32] And I will keep saying this example forever, cuz I think it's great that in my teacher training, there was a gentleman who is six foot three with legs like tree trunks and his teaser had bent knees. Because his legs are tree trunks. They're very long they're as long as like half of my body. And they like with his flexibility and with the strength, like the amount of strength and flexibility required to hold his legs up [00:16:00] and straight was just not happening in his body. And that's what his teaser looked like. And it was totally fine, you know.
[00:16:05] But if you were able to identify, Hey, I feel really tight in my hamstrings when I do teaser, we can get more flexible. We hang out in our end range for like a long period of time and we stretch and we hold and we get used to being in that end range and we get more flexible over time. So if teaser was your goal and flexibility was the obstacle in that do a bajillion forward folds and hang out there for like long periods of time and you will get more flexible and you'll be able to lift your legs higher in teaser.
[00:16:39] You know what I mean, for the strength component you wanna practice, of course, the exercise that you're working on, but also any of the exercises that build up to that exercise. So I've been really harping on teaser, I guess. We'll keep talking about that. So getting stronger in your roll up is gonna be really helpful. [00:17:00] Rolling up with your legs on the ground is easier than rolling up with your legs lifted. So you get really good at rolling up with your legs on the ground, and then you start lifting your legs and maybe you lift your legs and rest them on something.
[00:17:12] Maybe you, uh, lift your legs and you hold 'em in tabletop or something, but you build strength there. You know, you get stronger at the part that is challenging to you. And then teaser gets a whole lot easier.
[00:17:28] The coordination bit, and especially if I said something about graceful movement and you're like, yeah, that's what I want. I wanna do it like really smoothly and really gracefully. That's literally just practice. That is just doing it over and over and over again and getting that muscle memory in. It's going from being a baby horse that's kind of like walking wonkily, very like uncoordinated as they first learned to walk. And then like in hour, they're running around like fine.
[00:17:57] You know, can't guarantee [00:18:00] you that your teaser is gonna get super coordinated in an hour, but you will get more coordinated the more practice, the more you practice. And that's why it's so easy to say and so hard to do because a lot of this just comes down to practicing.
[00:18:16] And there are real like strength building regimens that you can follow. You can do a strength plan. You can work yourself to near fatigue in the area that you're exercising. Like if you really are, have got strength gains on the menu, but honestly like just practicing, practicing things that look like, the thing that you're trying to do, and then practicing the actual thing that you're trying to do. That is the secret to getting better at any exercise in Pilates.
[00:18:47] Big thank you to all my supporters on buym a coffee. I've got a really fun workshop coming up on July 23rd. That will be available to members only on Buy Me A Coffee. So [00:19:00] if you haven't already headed over to that Buy Me A Coffee page and joined the membership so that you can hang out and have zoom chats and, uh, occasionally do cool workshops and things like that with me, definitely do that because that is currently live and it is only available to members on Buy Me A Coffee. The workshop is on Working Confidently With Pregnant Clients and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone there in just a couple weeks. Thanks for tuning in. I will chat with you again soon.
[00:19:39] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates, too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, [00:20:00] available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:20:02] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.