Often clients are amazed at the fact that Pilates does not require them to do as many repetitions as are required with the typical gym workout. The beautiful thing about Pilates is that the exercises are put together so well that minimal repetition is necessary. Normal gym workouts are approached so that the external muscles are worked and perhaps, the internal muscles will get worked. Thus, strength is only gained upon fatigue of the most distal or external muscle and frequently the deep or internal muscles are not worked to their maximum. In short, you are not fully maximizing your body and its potential.
In Pilates we work from the inside out first making sure that the deep muscles are being fully engaged, maximized and ‘turned on’ for the duration of the exercise. The distal muscles are then engaged and working conjointly together to achieve the movement. Most every exercise in Pilates uses more than one muscle at a time. Groups of muscles work together which simulates most every movement that we do during our daily lives and activities. Due to this, few repetitions achieve fatigue in all of the muscles as the body is being fully challenged in its proper bio-mechanical way.
Now, if we add in some mind body connection we can intensify even more the work that your body is doing. Since Pilates is challenging your entire body every time, you can start to think about opposing forces within the body. For instance, if your arm raises your shoulder should go down. And of course as you move your arm your abdominals are engaging to support and counter this movement. The more thought that goes into what your body is doing closer to your spine will lead to a much higher quality in your movement and a deeper usage of your muscles. Arm circles laying supine or on your back on the reformer are just an example of this. In fact, their name actually describes my point perfectly. Often clients are puzzled why they are called arm circles when the arms and hands are actually making triangles. They are arm circles because of the movement of the humerus in the shoulder joint, a circular movement, while the movement of the arm and hand is actually secondary. If we put our intention into our shoulder joint we can focus on the stability and movement necessary in the shoulder to not only initiate the movement but to properly support it. This philosophy can be applied to any exercise in Pilates if we just put our minds there. The best way to go about it is to think as close to your spine as you can and work your way out. Just taking the steps to do this will put your intention in the right area of your body as you perform the exercise.
Now to the energy. This part is huge and we can actually go back to one of Newton’s laws. For every force one direction there is an equal and opposing force in the opposite direction. Back to our arm circles. As you circle your arm you should be reaching huge amounts of energy through your fingertips and this energy is countered by huge stability and strength in your shoulder. Or as mentioned above, as your arm moves up your shoulder moves down. It is almost like there is a ball of power in your core that is pulling just as hard as you are reaching. However, this is energy and not necessarily meaning that you should over straighten and jam your joints. It is all accomplished through your muscles. Your muscles facilitate movement not your joints. Your joints just enable movement. It is as if your joints are floating. And even if your core is not moving and is stabilizing the movement, your core is doing the same thing. Constantly engaging towards your spine and lengthening it. This is just the cusp of working with energy however it can be very powerful if used during your workout.
Of course, all of this is hard to remember to do and hard to do while doing the exercises but as with everything else in life, practice makes perfect (or at least close to it). Next time you are in for your session try a little of the above and see if it takes you anywhere. Sometimes being mindful of our movement can unleash a whole part of us we did not know was there. At the least, you will know more about your body that you travel in during your lifetime. Happy journey!