Archives For cadillac

The longer I teach, the more interested I become in the use of, and the meaning or implication of specific words or phrases (I was called out, quite rightly, last week for saying, in response to my client’s effort to achieve the position I was asking for “We’ll settle for that” which, of course, sounds a lot like “that’s shit but probably the bets we can hope for just now”. Yes, I was ashamed).

Lately, something has caused me to ponder the noun ‘workout’. Dictionary.com indicates that, while the phrase ‘work out’ (meaning to solve a problem) has been in use since 1600, ‘workout’ as a noun has only been in use for the last 100 years or so. I believe that, in the UK, we use the phrase ‘work out’ in the same way that ‘figure out’ might be more commonly used in the US. I don’t remember ‘to workout’ being a description of exercising 20 or 30 years ago – it feels like a relatively recent import to the UK.

My understanding of the noun ‘workout’ is that it refers to a combination of exercises, or perhaps the same activity with some variation thrown in – I don’t think you can go for a run at the same steady tempo and call it a ‘workout’, but I may be misguided. I believe that this sort of approach puts us in the territory of exercising to burn calories, or in pursuit of ‘being fit’, as if regularly running 5K, or doing 40 pushups, or 50 crunches etc. etc. is truly making you more adaptable. (Fitness is, after all, a measure of your ability to adapt to changes to your internal and external environment).

I think a ‘workout’ is something that you can do once or twice a week to tick the box of pursuing a healthy lifestyle – you put your symbolic “I’m exercising” clothes on, and do whatever’s planned for that day. The success of the workout might be measured by how much weight was managed, or how fast you did it, or perhaps how tired you felt afterwards, how sore you were the following day; or maybe even how many calories the machine you ‘worked out’ on says you burned. This kind of ‘workout’ can definitely be done with headphones on, or in front of a TV screen.

For sure this is better than doing nothing – if we’re lucky there may be some social interaction involved (which might have even more health benefits than the workout); and movement of some kind is probably always better than none.

In the Pilates context I have heard it said that ‘the Reformer is the workout’ (the Cadillac and Wundachair being the apparatus you use to facilitate the Reformer work, as appropriate). The same might be said for the mat, as both the Reformer and the mat share a specific order of exercises. So, accepting that Pilates contains ‘workouts’, can we make these into opportunities to ‘work out’, too? That’s to say, can we make them learning experiences that help us to understand ourselves better? I think this might be just another way to talk about ‘mind-body’ exercise though I think there might be room to go beyond “This exercise has my complete, undivided attention” and to solve problems for ourselves – “I’ve worked out why I couldn’t control the carriage when attempting a Teaser on the Reformer”, for example.

I recently heard Benjamin Degenhardt talking about the value of standing work at the start of a mat class, as a way to self-assess – How do I feel today? What do I need? How stiff/loose am I? We aim to incorporate the same few movements in every mat class at our studio, for the purpose of this kind of ‘working out’ – so that the warm-up is a self-assessment, as well as a chance to create heat and increase circulation.

Maybe this is everyone’s experience of Pilates and I’m wasting our time in writing this. Then again, I think that this kind of learning may require the teacher to ‘get out of the way’ to some degree, or at least to recognise when and how to show the way to a discovery instead of spoon-feeding, and that’s not always easy. Recently I’ve found myself saying “Find a way to…” quite often when I’m teaching, and this doesn’t always go down well. I can see or feel that this is met with “it’s your job to tell me how”. I believe that, if they can find a way, this learning will stay with them much longer than my cues might. I also think that Joseph designed the apparatus to help us ‘find a way’.

Some of my favourite learning experiences of the last year have been in Fighting Monkey workshops (you can read about them here, and here, if you fancy), in interactions with other participants. A lot of Fighting Monkey practice involves a ‘movement situation’ with a partner. As the situation changes, and you change partners, there’s a lot of working out to do. Every new partner represents a new environment, and a rich opportunity for learning about yourself. This kind of learning can be wild, stressful, breathtaking, magical and exhilarating, and it may be too much for some people.

In Pilates the environment might not change very often – the apparatus is the apparatus; the spring resistance is the same from one day to the next. However, the exercises can also represent a changing environment, albeit one that is inherently more controlled than Fighting Monkey practice. (It’s also worth remembering that Pilates himself was given to devising quirky wrestling games that he played with friends or students – I’ve seen film footage of wrestling with a pole, and head wrestling.)

So Pilates can offer us a relatively safe space to problem-solve, and to learn about ourselves: how we move; how we think; how our mood or personality influences our movement.

Can you get more ‘work out’ out of your ‘workout’ (whether it’s on a mat or reformer, or with kettlebells, a barbell or ballet barre…) ? I’d love to hear….

 

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Ok, this is not really Pilates, or it didn’t start out that way. This idea started out because I was given a modified Thomas test to do as homework (to improve my shoddy hip flexor/knee extensor flexibility). I’ve done this in the past with an ankle weight on the suspended leg, but these days I cannot bring myself to believe in the efficacy of static/passive stretching. What better way to engineer the possibility of some contract/relax PNF-type stretching into the equation than my trusty jump stretch band? Putting out round the legs of the Cadillac seems to give the magic amount of resistance to both flex my hip and extend my knee against, and also gives me some proprioceptive feedback to help avoid too much abduction.

Then my lovely wife had the idea to add the bar and springs into the mix, making it look a bit more like Pilates. When did adding movement not help? If you’ve got the hamstring length this seems like a great idea to me (Ugg boots optional)…

Jump stretch band 3

The jump stretch band used not for joint distraction this time, but simply added resistance when trying to find ways to emphasise lengthening into a Rollover. This is perhaps similar to the Tower on the Cadillac, but with truly progressive resistance it presents a bit more of a challenge, both concentrically and eccentrically.

Thanks are due (again) to Patrice, for being the model/crash test dummy. Instead of getting her to try it twice, I should have got her to try again with a lighter band. We live and learn….

Too much ‘creativity’.

As ever, the following is a reflection on the practice of Pilates that I am familiar with in the UK, and may not have any relevance/resonance for some, especially sticklers for classical Pilates.

I’ve attended workshops with Romana trained teachers (one in particular) and found that their vigorous adherence to ‘what Mr Pilates taught’ was rigid to the point of dogma, and not appropriate for the broad range of clients that I encounter. At the same time, it seems that we can sometimes forget/overlook the amazing range of repertoire that Pilates himself devised, and how effective so much of that repertoire is.

One of the consequences of living with (and being married to) another Pilates teacher is that many dinner time conversations revolve around shared experiences from our work. A frequent cause of frustration and, thus, topic for conversation, is a group teaching scenario whose dialogue goes something like: (client) “Can I do that exercise standing at the end of the Cadillac?” (teacher) “Sure, which one?” “It’s the one where you stand on the rotating disc and you hold the bar….and I think you bend forward, or something…” “Sorry, I don’t know that one.” “Yes you do. (Teacher X) showed it to me. It was really good.” “I’m pretty sure I don’t know which exercise you mean. What was it for?” “(Puzzled expression) For…? I don’t know – It felt really good.” “If you know why X gave it to you I might be able to figure out what it is – do you remember?”

This could go on for a while, but hopefully you get the gist. Let’s be clear – of course it’s great for clients to enjoy themselves and, in general, I’ve got nothing against people doing exercises that make them ‘feel good’. Then again, too many times I’ve seen people assuming horrible positions that apparently feel really good, teachers included (“Oh no, I would never let a client do this, it just feels really good.”).

There’s a couple of reasons, at least, for the above dialogue to be the cause of frustration. In the first place, while I wouldn’t advocate chapter & verse on whys and wherefores with every exercise, if we know the purpose or objective of an exercise, we have a much better chance of understanding and executing it well. On a couple of occasions when the client may have been able to recreate the feelgood exercise/movement, (typically involving a number of auxiliary props*) I’ve found myself wondering why a particular classical Pilates exercise wouldn’t have done just as well, if not better.

There may be many instances when it’s appropriate to adapt exercises, and also some occasions when it seems necessary to ‘invent’ something to meet the needs of a specific individual (just as Pilates himself did). Is that always the reasoning behind teachers ‘creating’ new exercises? I would guess that the answer is, quite often, no. Gray Cook addresses this in his article ‘Function?’:

We cannot prove this exercise will improve the way you move. It has not been shown to make you more functional. It has not been proven to create better performance or metabolism. It is simply the result of your trainer’s creativity and a surplus of time and equipment. It is an unscientific attempt to reduce your boredom with your current training program. This combination of equipment and movement is a way to entertain you and will distract from the objective tangible results you may not be getting.” (Gray Cook | Function? © 2011 Gray Cook, http://www.graycook.com)

Cook is writing about strength and conditioning coaches but his words seem to apply very well to Pilates (as do a lot of his writings, I can’t recommend him enough). To compound what he says, quite often it seems that there is no identification of, or desire for, specific and measurable results. In other words, aren’t we (no, our clients!) better off with a situation in which someone can say “I can see and feel that I’m able to move further and more easily in this range”, rather than “That stretch feels really nice for my back”?

The other side to this is that mystery exercises help to fuel people’s dependence on a teacher. Any time someone has no clear idea of the purpose, or desired outcome of an exercise the further along the road they are away from empowerment. Perhaps empowerment is not a goal that everyone has for their clients…. certainly it is at the heart of the philosophy at our studio. I’ve referred previously on this blog to conversations I’ve had with clients who’ve said something like “Teacher X has been working a lot on my neck”, when the client seems to think that Pilates is something that is done to them, and it feels like the same territory, to me, as teaching exercises that don’t have a clear intent. Never mind an identifiable name to make it readily repeatable.

One of the fringe benefits for me of having a teacher training program based in our studio is the presence of students working through manuals, practicing repertoire and reminding me of things that I’ve forgotten, because I don’t teach them regularly. The classical repertoire covers so much territory, and is so adaptable (especially in the studio) that I believe there are very few situations that truly require ‘new’ exercises. The classical repertoire, being recognisable and repeatable, also allows us to have some measures of our capability.

In other words, there’s nothing really wrong with Pilates, so we don’t need to be ‘fixing’ it with our creativity.

*There’s a side issue here of adding auxiliary equipment to exercises, to increase the ‘challenge’. Is there ever a good reason to put a foam roll on a reformer?

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Image from pilates.wonderhowto.com