Have you ever done an exercise in Pilates class and not felt it the way you thought you should, then thought you might be doing it wrong? I've been there, and I'm here to tell you feeling it is not a reliable indicator of success in Pilates. Tune in to learn more about why that's the case, and what might be a better goal for your Pilates practice.
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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.
[00:00:46] Hello. Hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today's episode is for anyone who's ever been in a class and you thought you were supposed to feel an [00:01:00] exercise in a particular way, and you didn't feel it that way. This episode is for you.
[00:01:07] I've titled the episode: is it still working if I don't feel it because I recognize that every class is different and every instructor cues the class differently and might draw your attention to different things. Some teachers will use more internal cues and say things like, Activate your hamstrings, engage your core, use your glutes, something like that. Or, you know, you should feel this in your calf muscle.
[00:01:37] Some teachers will cue more externally and say things like, Press the carriage out, or try to lower just a little bit of your t-shirt to the mat at a time as you're rolling down, or try to touch every wall in the room with your one leg circle. Most teachers, I would say, use a [00:02:00] combination of those cues. It's very rare that one person uses totally internal cues or totally external. But one of those internal cues that you may have heard is that you should feel an exercise somewhere or that this is where you should be feeling the burn or something like that.
[00:02:19] Sometimes in my own experience when I'm in class that lands and I'm like, Yeah, that is where I feel it, but sometimes it doesn't, and I'm like, I don't feel that at all, and it's normal or like a normal reaction to that to be like, Well, am I doing it wrong if I don't feel that? Like, am I still doing the exercise? So I really wanted to talk about this idea of feeling it and really sharing some of my personal experience with this concept because I've been on both sides. I have totally felt it and I have absolutely not felt it, um, sometimes within the same class. I just wanna talk a little bit more about that and [00:03:00] hopefully offer some reassurance as well, and potentially other things that you can focus on if you are worried about not feeling it.
[00:03:11] So I have a bunch of thoughts about this. I always have thoughts, and one thought that I have kind of a really big umbrella thought is that sensation is highly unreliable. Right now I'm doing this class series that I can't do live. I'm just doing the recording, and I do the recorded class twice a week. It's a Pilates reformer adventure, even though it is literally the exact same class, it is the same cues, the same amount of time in each exercise, the same order of exercises. I'm doing that replay twice, but I still experience it differently each time I do it. Things click that didn't click the first time, things are easier the second time I did it, things are harder the second time I did it, even [00:04:00] what's memorable about what the teacher said is different each time I do it. So I know for myself in a very anecdotal sort of way that if I'm chasing a sensation or trying to feel one way, I'm never gonna catch it because it's so different each time that I do it.
[00:04:21] We also know this because over time when you're working on an exercise, there are things that felt impossible that you were sure you would never be able to do. They were so far outside the realm of possibility that they weren't even on your radar potentially. And you practice and you get stronger and you get more flexible. And that thing that seemed so far away could be something that you do as a warmup eventually. So we know that our experience of the exercises is gonna change over time.
[00:04:53] Maybe this is more of a yoga example, and it's just the one that comes really to the [00:05:00] forefront of my mind. But it also exists in Pilates world, I'd say as well. And that's this idea that chasing the sensation or trying to make each exercise feel the same every time or feel the same level of burn or the same level of challenge every time is a bit of a slippery slope. And my experience with this, uh, that came to my mind right away was in downward facing dog, which if you've done yoga, it's a V shape, You're on your hands and feet, your butts up in the air, and you're making this kind of inverted V.
[00:05:36] I've been in classes where the teacher would say something like, Oh, you know, feel the pull on the back of your legs. And I just wanna point out that as you continue in your practice, as I said, you're getting stronger, you're getting more flexible, you're getting more comfortable making the shapes, whether they're yoga shapes or Pilates shapes. And in order for me to feel a [00:06:00] pull in the back of my legs in a downward facing dog, I have to press my torso so far back to my thighs that I'm no longer in a V shape. I'm kind of in like a puppy dog pose, or almost like a swan extension shape in order for me to feel a really strong pull in the backs of my legs, and downward facing dog is just that V like there is a point where you arrive and you don't have to go any further.
[00:06:28] So if you keep looking for that burn or that pull, the same way that you had felt it in the past, like you can get to the place that you're going and you don't have to, you know, keep pushing necessarily. So in the yoga sphere, I've called it, you know, a sensation junkie, is that you're always looking for like that deepest sensation, but a deeper sensation doesn't mean that you're doing the exercise better necessarily. So that's something I want to kind of toss into the [00:07:00] thought cloud here.
[00:07:02] And I wanna also address the fact that people relate to their bodies differently. Uh, people relate to the exercises, to Pilates differently. Everyone's experience is a little bit different and someone might feel their hamstrings immediately in an exercise, whereas someone else may not feel that at all. I don't know if I wanna say there's a bias towards feeling it or having this like deep connection to your body that like you can feel your glutes and you can feel your calves and you can feel your hamstrings. Some people have that connection and they can isolate sensations really clearly, but I don't think that that's a requirement to do Pilates.
[00:07:51] I don't think you need to feel your hamstring to do leg pull or something. Even though when [00:08:00] you're in that front plank and you're lifting one straight leg, you're using your hamstring. Whether or not you feel your hamstring really depends on, you know, how you feel things in your body um, when you might feel some parts of your body really, really clearly.
[00:08:16] Like, I have tight glutes and I feel glutes in everything. I feel glutes in exercises that don't really involve glutes, but I'm just like, Oh. I feel them, you know? And it's not wrong to feel them necessarily, but I don't think that we wanna make the goal about what you feel because people feel stuff in different ways.
[00:08:41] On the flip side of the argument, if you do feel things really clearly in your body, I'm not saying that you are doing it wrong either. Um, because again, you might be really tuned in to some parts of your bodies and you feel them right away. It could even be [00:09:00] in an exercise like, I don't know, the hundred, you're doing a chest lift and you might say, Ooh, I really feel my neck muscles, and it's not wrong to feel them. They are working in that and it may not be super comfortable, like, I don't know anyone who does the hundred for fun because it makes their neck feel good. It does make you feel strong. It does help you get stronger, lifting your head in that relation to gravity. But it's okay to feel them.
[00:09:24] Like it's okay to feel your hip flexors in teaser. That's how you lifted your legs. Like that's what's holding your legs up is your hip flexors. I don't want you to turn off your hip flexors. They're doing a very important job in that exercise. So feeling it isn't bad feeling. It also doesn't mean that you're doing it wrong, that you're hurting yourself or that you're doing anything bad. It's just again, how you're relating to the exercise.
[00:09:51] So I guess I would say the underlying theme here is because people's experience is so [00:10:00] different in the exercises and in their bodies saying that this is what you should feel is kind of a difficult thing. Like I understand it because I also teach Pilates, and when you're doing a clam, you might say, Ooh, we're really working your glutes. But at the same time, you may not feel that work happening.
[00:10:24] I've got a few more thoughts about this that I will flesh out in the second half of this episode, so stay tuned. I've got a little bit more to say about this feeling idea. Also, the fact that there isn't one optimal way to execute and exercise, and a better goal for your movement journey in Pilates. That's coming up next.
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[00:11:52] So I think we've established that we all experience the exercises differently. What's hard for one person is going to feel as [00:12:00] hard, not as hard, harder to another person. And the way you can feel into your body is gonna be different. You can get better at feeling into your body, but I don't think that the goal necessarily should be to do that, that might happen. It may not happen. I don't think that your success in Pilates is based on that sort of feeling it idea.
[00:12:28] One thing that I think's really important to know about this is the fact that there isn't one optimal way to do anything movement wise, at least. There has been a lot of research into things, most notoriously, you know, should you contract your transverse abdominal muscle before you do an ab exercise? Like should you engage the muscle and then roll up to seated? Or can you just roll up to seated? Like, do you [00:13:00] need to do something first? Is there a a better order of doing things? Like, should you contract this first and then this second? Should you contract this more and this less?
[00:13:10] There's been a bit of debate about this, especially in like exercise, but also for athletes. Like is there a better way to move? Like can we all move in the best way possible? The unfortunate fortunate outcome of these, this research is that there is no universal ideal. You don't need to contract your hamstrings first and then your glutes when you do a bridge. You don't need to contract your transverse abdominus first and then do anything.
[00:13:41] What they learned in that research is that people sort out movement for themselves in different ways, and they looked at pain-free people and said, Oh, are they engaging a certain muscle first and that's what's keeping them out of pain? But in reality, there is no [00:14:00] universal, uh, ideal that we're trying to achieve, or that we're trying to get people to all move exactly the same and in the best way.
[00:14:09] What we do a lot in Pilates and what we do with bodies in general is you personally could move more efficiently potentially. So there might be small changes that you make in the way you move that makes the movement better for you, or the exercise more achievable for you. But it's not something that we consciously control contract or activate to make that happen.
[00:14:37] What we know from motor learning research is that when you think contract my transverse abdominis, it slows the movement down, so it actually happens a bit less fluidly because you are trying to consciously execute a movement with unconscious ease and you can only execute something with unconscious ease when you do it [00:15:00] unconsciously. And that's where the practice comes. As you get, again, stronger, more flexible side effects of doing Pilates, as you do that, it becomes easier. And that's, you know, where we see over time that that teaser that was absolutely impossible is now super duper achievable and your favorite thing to do. It happens as we translate from that conscious control to that unconscious control.
[00:15:24] Since we're not trying to make everyone the same when we do Pilates, even though we're doing the same exercises, we're not trying to do it perfectly like that everyone's is exactly the same. We don't need to worry about it. And I know from someone who has been in class where I'm like, Well, I don't feel that at all. Am I doing the same exercise as everyone else? It comes to this last point that I wanna make about this and that.
[00:15:54] Something, a teacher whose classes I'm taking right now, his name's Heath Lander, and he's a pretty sharp guy. [00:16:00] Uh, he says, the effort is the outcome, and I think that is awesome, and I want that on a sign, on a billboard, just reminding people that the most important thing when you're doing Pilates is doing the Pilates. We know that we're all gonna have a different experience and different muscles are gonna talk to us or not talk to us. So shifting the goal really from, Well, it feels this way and I'm trying to replicate this feeling to doing the thing.
[00:16:33] An example I have for this is an exercise that Heath calls the most annoying exercise where you're sitting and you've got your legs long in front of you, and your hands are on the ground by your knees or even closer to your ankles, and you're folded forward over your thighs. You wanna look at your knees the whole time.
[00:16:51] And then the game is, can you lift your right leg off of the ground, keeping yourself in that fold? Can you lift your left leg off of the ground? And how far forward [00:17:00] can you walk your hands towards your feet and then lift your legs? And it's coined the world's most annoying exercise because it is an exercise in failure because there is a point where you won't be able to lift your legs.
[00:17:15] The trick is, and the goal of the exercise is not necessarily to do it, but it's the trying to do it. It's the effort that you put in, not the end result of it necessarily. It's just the doing that's so important. Feeling the exercise is not a good measure of how well you're doing the exercise because sensation is unreliable and highly different, not only within your own experience, but within multiple people's experience. We're not gonna feel it the same way between us and we're not gonna feel it the same way for ourselves.
[00:17:55] So if I had to say that there's a goal of Pilates, the [00:18:00] goal is to do it, not necessarily to feel it. This isn't to say, if you're like, Well, I love how it makes me feel and I love the connection I have to my body and I love how I feel it. Amazing. Like fantastic. That's absolutely incredible. And also potentially unique to you. So I don't wanna hold everyone to the standard of the right feeling. Instead, when I'm teaching a class or when I'm taking a class, I know that the real positive outcome is the fact that you tried and that you did it, and that things happened. That's it.
[00:18:35] That's, that's the fun part of the Pilates journey, because it's gonna change and that's part of the reason I think people keep doing Pilates for years and years and decades and decades is because it changes. And our Pilates practice can support us through different stages in our life. But I never want anyone in my class, and I never wanna hold myself to this universal standard of what it should look like or [00:19:00] what it should feel like. Instead, you know, it's highly unique and totally yours.
[00:19:05] So more doing and less worry about feeling. If you ever that you weren't feeling it the right way, so you thought you were doing it wrong, I'm here to tell you you're doing awesome and keep doing it and it will change.
[00:19:19] Huge thank you as always to the supporters on Buy Me a Coffee. I am so thankful to have you along for the ride on this awesome podcast project. Extra big thank you to the two newest members of the project, Karen and Barbara. So excited and so looking forward to talking with you soon and connecting and going on a bit of a wild Pilates art adventure ourselves. If you would like to be part of this project, head to that Buy Me A Coffee page and become a supporter. I'd love to meet you, hang out with you and talk all things Pilates all the time. I hope you have a great couple weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.[00:20:00]
[00:20:09] 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? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:20:33] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.[00:21:00]