Archives For February 2013

“No Days Off”

February 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

A couple of weeks back PilatesTree.com asked via Facebook “how much self practice do you really put in?”. It’s a really interesting question to ask professional Pilates teachers, not least because we so often seem to prioritise teaching over working on ourselves. When I first started teaching I used to “do” the class that I was teaching, and it took me a while to realise that this was a really good way to develop some bad habits (never mind that my mat was not the optimum place to be teaching from all the time..).

I’ve struggled for some time with conflicting ideas around Pilates teachers’ responsibility to be aspirational figures (see ‘What should a Pilates teacher look like?‘) and, of course, what we do should be more important than how we look. If we finish teaching a class and then adopt a collapsed posture we’re doing a lousy job of reinforcing what we teach. “Do as I say, not as I do” is rarely a powerful teaching message.

One of the consistent messages of primal/paleo lifestyle authors, and indeed Kelly Starrett, my movement sensei, is that it is our responsibility as human beings to optimally express our genes – to be the best version of Homo sapiens that we possibly can be. This seems eminently reasonable to me, and also a great basis for a slightly different question from the one above: “How often should we be trying to be better?” or better yet – “How often should we be practicing being amazing?”

The answer, naturally, is ‘every day’. Hence, there are NO DAYS OFF. Practice making permanent = we become good at what we do often, which brings us back to the post-class slouching Pilates teacher. A state of fitness is not the result of a couple of hours per week of exercise. That may well form a part of fitness, but if we practice being great for 2 hours a week, and then the remaining 110 hours (assuming a generous 8 hours sleep per night) practicing being mediocre, or worse, we don’t need NASA to tell us what the outcome will be.

Typical view of living room floor (tissue paper is for the cats to play with).

Typical view of living room floor (tissue paper is for the cats to play with).

I was unusually reticent about answering the original question on PilatesTree….in part because I know that I can’t pretend to do anything resembling a Pilates class more than once a week. Preferring to answer my own question (“How often should we be practicing being amazing?”). As of this year, I do something in pursuit of being better as often as it crosses my mind, and this means at least every day. I don’t work out every day, but I try to practice something that I need to improve daily, whether that be a skill/movement, or mobility. I’m very lucky to be married to a woman who shares my passions/obsessions, and evenings in front of the TV usually involve one, or both of us rolling various body parts on sundry firm objects, or indulging in mutual ‘quad smashing’ (For a visual on how to do this to a massive weightlifter, or your loved one, click here, and remember: “Foam rolls are for children”).

Talk of my idiosyncratic home life may have me straying off the point. Here’s the thing: Yes, practice Pilates, yoga, boot camp, karate…whatever’s your poison (passion?), at least once per week AND practice being a better Homo sapiens every day. In the middle of a TV show I was watching the other night (I put my hand up here and acknowledge that I was making no effort to be better at the time), I heard the line “Clean water is a human right.” It sounded weird at the time – I think we’re often too quick to award ourselves rights (argh! Rabbit hole! Yes, ideally every living human should have access to clean water). Ethical quagmires aside, could we say that “an optimally functioning body is a basic human right”? I hope so, and if we’re agreed upon that, we have to remember that “with rights come responsibilities”.

We have the basic human responsibility to maintain our bodies in such a way that we are able to best express our genetic heritage.

In acknowledgement of the inspiration for this post, here’s Kelly Starrett. Not my favourite MobilityWOD video (and he no longer advocates icing) but maybe it can serve as a way in to the goldmine for you – he’s ALL about being better at EVERYTHING.

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It’s a GPP system

My understanding (and I can’t remember whether this was gleaned from reading Pilates’ books, or hearing it said by one or other of the first generation teachers) is that Pilates’ intention was to create a form of physical training that, unlike the kinds of training he had done himself (boxing, for example), would ready one for any conceivable physical challenge. In a nutshell, General Physical Preparedness.

Along with the CrossFit Training Manual, I’ve been reading a fair amount of Gray Cook‘s writing lately, and both have some interesting things to say about specialisation.

“CrossFit considers the sumo wrestler, triathlete, marathoner and power lifter to be ‘fringe’ athletes, in that their fitness demands are so specialised as to be inconsistent with the adaptations that give maximum competency at all physical challenges.” To extrapolate that a little, none of those athletes can be considered truly fit. Heresy alert: Mo Farah is not fit!

In his lecture ‘Developing a Movement Philosophy‘ Gray Cook observes “Every time we specialise we give up our adaptability”, and later “any time we specialize, the human body at some point will start to break down.”

When writing here I invariably seem to get to the point of feeling the need to insert the “What has this got to do with Pilates?” sentence. Well, Pilates is meant to be promoting health – and I do like CrossFit founder Greg Glassman’s concept of ‘health’ being measured on a scale that runs from sickness, through wellness, to fitness – so hopefully Pilates is not simply promoting health, but specifically promoting fitness. (Why settle for being ‘well’, instead of ‘fit’, when ‘well’ puts us already half way to ‘sick’). Fitness requires adaptability, and as Gray Cook implied, specialisation is the enemy of adaptability – and here’s where Pilates steps up, because, again, it’s a GPP system.

At Pilates in Motion Studio we try to instil the idea in our clients that Pilates is a means to an end, not an end in itself. In a very broad sense, we could call that ‘end’ “living better“, and that’s precisely because Pilates is not a method to help us to get better a specific skill, or improve endurance in a particular activity (though of course those benefits may come), but because it should be preparing us for a wide array of challenges, from the mundane to the extraordinary.

By incorporating a mixture of movement patterns, in multiple planes, and by practising the principle of trunk stabilistaion while moving extremities (How many Pilates exercises revolve around this central concept?), we make ourselves more ‘robust to perturbation’ (as the biomechanists might say). Given a definition of fitness that incorporates a notion of adaptability, Pilates (perhaps with the addition of more load) practised with some periods of high intensity, provides a great foundation for general, not specialised, fitness.