By Kate, Practitioner at Revolution Pilates & GYROTONIC Studio
Joseph Pilates did not believe in doing mindless repetitions of his exercises, yet sometimes it feels that we need to push ourselves through many sets to find the work in our body. One of his famous quotes is “A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of doing sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion”. He called his work “Contrology” and he believed in getting the maximum strength, stretch, power and control from each movement. In other words: Zero tolerance for anything less than our best.
Effort & Return
In every exercise we have what I call the EFFORT Phase and the RETURN Phase. We understand the preparation required to get set for the EFFORT phase. Most times we execute this phase really well. We then have a little rest on the RETURN Phase, subsequently gathering ourselves together to get set for the next repetition. Our muscles are contracting, resting, contracting, resting. However, this is not necessarily controlling the body during the RETURN Phase and in a worst case scenario is like the ‘flop’ we sometimes do when sitting on the couch.
If we control the RETURN Phase just as much as the EFFORT Phase we will double the amount of work required to perform the exercise properly as well as add the much needed safe support of the body during movement.
Control is the Key
The tension and control we demand of our muscles on the EFFORT is the exact intensity that we must demand of our system on the RETURN. The muscles will switch roles (from being a prime mover to an eccentric stabiliser; or from a stabiliser to a prime mover) – but whatever their function they should not lose tension and energy throughout the entirety of the exercise. By thinking of the exercise from start to finish as one whole movement you will gain the maximum power, strength, balance and control.
Here are some tips that will help you get more out of your Pilates session:
- Be as mindful on the return as you are on the effort
- If you are on equipment work against the tension of the springs on the return. i.e. don’t let the springs do the work for you to bring you back to home. Resist the springs.
- Maintain the same pace on the return as the doing.
- No resting between phases or repetitions. Maintain the tension through your body as you transition between phases.
- Use two breathes cycles if you are finding it too hard to focus
- Think of each exercise as a whole body exercise rather than only for a specific muscle group.
- Every time you have a little rest you loose the opportunity to build up your strength, so think of the exercise as starting at rep 1 and only finishing after your last rep.
- Make every movement you do count 100%
- Ask your instructor to check the quality of your movement – nothing like a second pair of eyes.
A good exercise to practise this idea with is the Double Leg Lowers on the reformer.
Talk to your instructors at the studio to get even more suggestions on how to incorporate this concept into your routine.