What do we mean by "advanced"?
One thing that has always interested in me in my career as a Pilates instructor is what “advanced” means when talking about Pilates. Unlike many other forms of exercise, Pilates doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of “beginner”, “intermediate” and “advanced.” Yes, of course, there is a progression in the exercises and there are Pilates exercises that we generally start people with and then progress on to harder versions of. However, the unique thing about Pilates is that we use this method to address the imbalances of the body. Since no two bodies are the same, everyone’s introduction to Pilates will be slightly different. What feels like a beginner or basic exercise to someone with a flexible back, will feel very advanced to someone who started Pilates due to a stiff back. So then how do we talk about progression and getting better in Pilates? To me advancing with Pilates is advancing your understanding of your own body, understanding where you need to strengthen, where you need to lengthen and where you need to find balance. As Pilates instructors our goal is to give you the tools so that you understand your own body and can build a strong and balanced body through the Pilates method. When we look at it this way, there is definitely a place for the more advanced exercises but they take on a new meaning.
Recently I taught a workshop on advanced Pilates, we went over many of the harder Pilates exercises and had a lot of fun doing it. I hope that the participants didn’t just leave feeling like they got a good workout; that they also left feeling like they had learned more about their bodies, more about what their imbalances in their body are, and how they can work smarter to create a balanced strength in their body. One common theme we came back to was how the more basic exercises inform the more advanced exercises, and how this is really where the work of Pilates is. It’s not just about being able to do a teaser, it’s being able to do a teaser without straining and to understand why certain elements of the teaser are difficult for your body.
To exemplify that concept, here is an at home sequence for you all to try out and play with this idea of using Pilates not just to become an “advanced Pilates student” but to use it to become advanced in your self knowledge and understanding of your own body.
The goal of this series is to understand the relationship and balance in the body between the top half of your body and the bottom half. In order to feel that balance you will go through a series of single leg roll up (a more basic Pilates movement) and progress that in to teaser (a more advance Pilates movement).
Single Leg Roll Up
Start lying on your back with one leg in the air and your arms clasped around that leg. Lift your head neck and shoulders so that you are looking at your raised knee, and then reach in to the heel on that leg to roll yourself up. Try not to use momentum and if you can balance half way up stay there. Repeat on the other side. Remember you are trying to feel the relationship between your leg and your pelvis and your pelvis and your shoulder and armpit. This relationship is key to progressing this exercise.
Double Leg Roll Up
Similar to the single leg roll up but with both legs in the air (you can also use a towel around the feet or keep the knees bent if you have tight hamstrings), again try to balance half way up.
The final progression, lying flat on the floor life your legs and arms up to a v-like position. If you try this and it feels jerky or like you are using momentum, go back to the previous exercises and work on them until you can feel how those exercises inform this exercise. If you’d like to add to your challenge try adding arm movements- or get in to the studio and try it on the long box on the Reformer!