Muscle Madness: designing the Pilates body
Today's BLOG was influenced by the unfortunate great debate in our Pilates community -- Classical vs. Contemporary Pilates. This debate has sparked some really inflammatory comments recently on forums such as Pilates-Pro. So much so that I wonder... can't we just get along? Can't we just embrace our differences and learn from one another? Many opinions I've read are clearly not based on a solid understanding of each approach to Pilates. They merely sound defensive and accusatory. I am certified through a Classical Pilates program and a Contemporary one and will always choose to educate myself from both "sides". However, what I choose to teach is Classical Pilates because that's what resonates with me the most. Here's why:
For me, Classical Pilates is a challenging workout that is simultaneously rehabilitative. For me, there is no great divide between Classical Pilates and therapeutic bodywork. Afterall, its Classical Pilates that healed just about every joint in my body and sustained my 15 year career as a dancer/aerial artist. The absolute intelligence behind the original work of Mr. Pilates' exercise system, "corrects wrong postures" and "restores the body". That's why people used to go to Joe and "get fixed" at his NYC gym way back in the late 20's-late 60s. It has always been an exercise system with more than just aesthetic value. It's always been an exercise system that honors the integrity of the entire body and it's need to function as one harmonious mechanism. My understanding is that Mr. Pilates' aim was to help people move more efficiently in their bodies during their regular daily activities. The more I explore the Classical work, I realize I don't have to stray too far from it to help clients achieve their health and fitness goals; whether they want to tone up, lose weight, relieve themselves of chronic pain or prepare themselves for their next triathalon. There is so much room for creativity within the Classical system that the work can accommodate the most de-conditioned client to the super-advanced.
Some within our Pilates community have this notion that Classical Pilates is rigid and formulaic with its beginner, intermediate and advanced systems. For Joe, there was no formula. He taught for the body in front of him. But his approach to each individual was based on decades of study of the human body and an equal amount of experience working with everyone from injured war veterans to dancers, boxers and business professionals. A certification program of 6 months to 1 year in no way supplies us enough knowledge, understanding or experience to be as proficient as he. I view our beginner, intermediate and advanced systems as a template for understanding how to progressively and systematically design Pilates bodies using the vast work at our disposal. Dividing the work systematically challenges us to think critically. What exercises should my client be proficient in before I introduce, say, Short Spine, on the Reformer?
Or, once my client understands the concept of initiating and sustaining movement from the powerhouse, what exercises on the Cadillac might I introduce to challenge pelvic stability? Or, if my client needs more lumbar flexion, thoracic extension, scapular stability, leg strength, arm strength, balance, flexibility, stamina... which exercises might I introduce on the Reformer, Cadillac, High Chair, Wunda Chair, Barrels, Ped-i-Pole or with the Magic Circle (which are usually available in a Classical Studio because of the understanding that Pilates includes all of the apparatus designed by Mr. Pilates).
I've heard others in our community complain that everyone can't do Classical Pilates. I often wonder why they think that. I don't feel as if we're limited to teaching the "ideal" version of each exercise without accommodating for the individual needs of each client. For example, many beginners simply can't do the "traditional" version of The Hundred. I've had clients who can't coordinate the pumping with the breath. For others, I have to modify the exercise in other ways, perhaps keeping their feet flat on the floor. The goal is always the same, however; to train them towards the "ideal" version of the exercise.
Or, depending on the needs of the client, I might also have to consider the goal/intention of the Classical exercise and modify it temporarily so that they can reap similar benefits until the ideal can be executed. For example, how many beginners can truly do the full Roll Up? Forcing them to do it before they're ready has little value because they'll recruit all the wrong muscles and won't benefit from the spinal articulation. Oftentimes I'll start with the 1/2 Rollback which focuses on spinal articulation from a seated position with knees bent, feet flat on the mat and hands firmly on the backs of the thighs for support. Next, I'll progress a client to the Roll Up from a supine position with knees bent and ultimately, the Classical version of the exercise. I'll be sure to include the Roll Back on the Cadillac in each session because it's an ideal way to help them discover the role of their powerhouse in creating spinal articulation.
As I mentioned above, I am certified through both a Classical Pilates program (East Coast) and a Contemporary one (West Coast). I'm an eternal student and welcome knowledge from all schools. My teaching has undoubtedly been influenced by all of my training including a lifetime of dance and my studies as a licensed massage therapist and Active Isolated Stretch Technician. Everything I do; from dance, to aerial art and yoga deepens my understanding of the Universal principals of movement and alignment and informs my teaching. Every client I train brings me greater clarity. Yet my goal is always the same; to teach Pilates with the greatest amount of integrity I can and to help all of my clients attain their health and fitness goals using the Classical Pilates Method. I think we end up teaching what resonates with us the most and, for me, that's Classical Pilates. I absolutely love it !
There is greatness in what we do, no matter the approach we take. We are getting people to move. And in today's sedentary society, that's imperative.
Rock Your Powerhouse!