Archives For Kelly Starrett

This workshop was first called “In Pursuit of Pilates Perfection”. It’s since been renamed “Pilates Made Simple”, but the content should encapsulate both ideas.

The aim of the workshop is to share the theories that a growing interest in strength & conditioning has exposed me to, and how they have influenced my Pilates teaching – and changed my life. (If you’ve seen any of my www.paleolates.com blog posts you may have already read references to this). I believe that it should be helpful to anyone teaching Pilates, either mat or studio, at any level, or to any particular population.

Meeting Kelly Starrett, taking his ‘Movement & Mobility’ seminar (and subsequently watching hours of his video blogs), helped me understand that I’d been over-complicating Pilates, and changed my teaching dramatically. Through him, and others in the strength & conditioning world, I learned that there are a set of simple principles and ‘rules’, fundamental to any human position or movement (that I now think Joseph Pilates understood), regardless of age or ability. Applying these ‘rules’ to Pilates allows me to see problems more clearly, and therefore to teach with more clarity, not to mention improving my own practice.

I’ve also gained a whole new set of tools to work on mobility, beyond what Pilates seemed to accomplish, and thereby changed my own body, also making Pilates repertoire feel easier. I hope to be able to pass on the sense of liberation, and satisfaction that it’s given me, with a mixture of theory and practical application that addresses both Pilates mat and equipment repertoire.

The workshop is 6 hours long, with approximately 4 hours spent on theory and relating theory to Pilates repertoire; and 2 hours for exploring the use of various mobility tools to facilitate the application of the theory to movement. There will be some notes provided – intended as a starting point/reminder for participants own thoughts and observations, and certificates of attendance will be issued.

Outcomes

After the workshop you will:

Be reminded of why good movement & positioning always matters 

Know a set of simple rules of movement and positioning, applicable to any activity

Be able to immediately apply those rules to teaching Pilates

Be able to impart those rules to your clients, to accelerate their progress

Have an additional paradigm for recognising movement faults and limitations

Have an array of mobilising tools to address movement limitations

Testimonials:

“A flexible and incredibly easy approach…”

“Fresh ideas – dynamic presentation. A retake on basics that is challenging in a positive way.”

“A brilliant way to improve your practice, and make it easier.”

“A very interesting workshop that has given me various ideas on teaching from cueing to exercise and equipment choice.”

“Rethink how you teach.”

The cost of the workshop is £90.

I seem to have frequent epiphanies these days – or rather the idea that things that I ‘knew’, perhaps in the darker recesses of my mind, suddenly crystallise into sharp and sometimes powerful ideas. Simple things, such as ‘Pilates doesn’t cure back pain, good movement cures back pain.’ Of course, Pilates is an excellent vehicle for teaching good movement, and it certainly ‘fixed’ my chronic low back pain years ago. Now I recognise that it wasn’t that my various Pilates teachers waved their wands and cured me with a dose of magic – they taught me better movement (and positioning) than I was accustomed to practice at that time (God love ’em).

There’s another conversation that can be had later/elsewhere about various methods some Pilates teachers seem to have for appearing to do magic, to be filed under ‘Disempowerment’.

Another closely related epiphany that I had recently (thanks to the wisdom of Kelly Starrett finally sinking in) is that whether we are teachers of Pilates, or yoga, or salsa, or karate, or tai chi, or…almost any other movement discipline, the work is the same – teaching good movement. (Pilates called it ‘right movement’). Some of those disciplines may involve a broader scope than Pilates but, in as much as they are movement disciplines, they should be teaching good movement.

I was leaving a health club today, after teaching, when one of the PTs approached me and asked if I just teach Pilates, or if I teach yoga as well. To my surprise, when I answered “No, I don’t teach yoga.” her immediate reply was “Why?”. My internalised response was something along the lines of: “Because I’ve found a really efficacious method for teaching movement (and spent years trying to do it well), why would I want to train to teach a different method with the same purpose?” I understand that people are drawn to yoga and Pilates in ways that I am not, so no disrespect to the multi-disciplinarians out there. To me, she may as well have said “Why aren’t you a personal trainer?”, given that I think that job should be essentially the same – teaching good movement.

This is what gets me excited at the moment, the idea of helping people in my classes to move, or position themselves well. And Pilates is such a brilliant means to this end. I had another revelation today – that the Hundred is a fantastic assessment tool. It can tell you so much about someone’s awareness and competence – Is their thoracic sufficiently mobile for their head to be well positioned? Can they stabilise their scapula? Are they able to disassociate their arms from their trunk? Can they stabilise their midline under the load of their legs? Can they keep breathing while doing all of the above? And so on. All questions that relate to activities outside the class.

If I can see that someone is struggling with any of those requirements of the Hundred, what are the most effective ways that I have for helping them do better? Obviously there are many ways to skin this particular cat, and I have a question for any teachers that are reading this: Is cueing muscles the best way to help people to move well?

The organisation under which I trained is holding their AGM around the time of writing, and an internationally renowned teacher has been invited to present workshops over the weekend. One of them is apparently titled “Pilates in Clay”*, and offers the chance to sculpt muscles, in clay, onto a pvc skeleton. The description continues: “Once you have made a group of muscles, we will use the Pilates apparatus to understand how they are engaged and in what functional capacity on the reformer.”

Now, it’s probably just me, but isn’t there a significant disconnect between teaching ‘right’ movement and understanding how (which) muscles are engaged and in what functional capacity on the reformer? Perhaps I would discover that my clients left tibialis anterior is over-recruiting during the tendon stretch. Then what? Do I then devise a program of tib ant recruitment timing exercises, along with a stretching program? What would Joseph Pilates have made of this? We might be able to look wise to our clients if we can suggest to them that their serratus anterior is failing to do its job of scapula stabilising correctly, but does that help them to move better? If you know the muscle that’s working/not working, are you a better teacher?

I would argue that this is an illusion. Yes, certainly knowing muscles and their function can aid in understanding movement. And I need to be able to have a conversation with a physiotherapist, osteopath, or surgeon using anatomical language. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty of moving, my brain is simply giving instructions for one body part (or more) to move relative to another, and the muscles are just accessories. Your brain doesn’t actually know that you’ve got muscles. Poor muscle balance is a product of poor movement, not the other way around. Aside from this, focus on muscles when teaching (in addition to appearing clever) can easily disempower the client, and help to reinforce the notion that Pilates is in fact magic, to be performed on you by your teacher. Can’t differentiate between your gastroc and your soleus? Oh dear, this is worse than I thought.

After years of being excited by analysing anatomy, and trying to ‘see’ muscles working/not working in my clients, I’ve been very fortunate to stumble upon the understanding (again, hat off to Kelly Starrett – and Gray Cook, Mike Boyle, Carl Paoli etc.) that Pilates is simple. Brilliant, and simple. The fundamentals of joint positioning for transmission of force, or resistance of load, are the same for Pilates as for any other movement discipline. ‘Force’ and ‘load’ are perhaps not words commonly associated with Pilates, but this is just different written/spoken language to describe the common language of movement.

 

*This may well be a brilliant and highly instructive workshop, it’s just that the description made me feel like chewing my fingers off.

“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.

Many different people have tried to find their own niche in the world of Pilates, fusing with, or adding elements of other disciplines; or perhaps trying to make their classes specific preparation for another sport, or activity. (Yes, I have seen ‘bikinilates’ advertised). I think this may be missing the point, but more of that later.
There are also signs that some teachers feel that Pilates is not enough in itself – that it needs to lead to something more – and I’d number myself amongst them. One of my teachers and trainers early in my Pilates career, James d’Silva, has created the Garuda Method, which was advertised at one stage along the lines of “where Pilates ends Garuda begins”. (One might debate the idea of Pilates ‘ending’ somewhere, I can imagine some sticklers for tradition and the original work rejecting the idea wholesale.) For me, CrossFit begins, not where Pilates ends, but overlapping, and happily coexisting. Perhaps this is the time to answer the ‘What is Crossfit?’ question.

The answer is: “Constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement.” (…”Functional movements are universal motor recruitment patterns; they are performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity; and they are compound movements -i.e. they are multi-joint.”), from ‘Understanding CrossFit’ by Greg Glassman.

Greg Glassman is the creator of CrossFit and, like Joseph Pilates, a maverick figure with a solid conviction that what he is doing is valuable and should be disseminated as widely as possible. The strongest link that appears to me between the two disciplines is in the intended outcome. My understanding has always been (though I can’t find it in either of Pilates’ books, I’ve heard it from first generation teachers) that Pilates’ intention, after years of practicing a variety of different disciplines, was to create an exercise program that was non-specific. In other words, his exercises were for overall fitness, in readiness for whatever challenges life may bring. More recently the concept of GPP – general physical preparedness – has emerged, and this is central to CrossFit methodology. One trains a wide variety of activities in order to be prepared for as wide a variety of potential challenges as possible. Glassman seems to be fond of the idea of preparation, in as much as one can, for the “unknown and unknowable”.

I cannot think of a single Pilates exercise that works a joint or muscle in isolation, and the idea of a “wave of contraction from core to extremity” sounds exactly like Pilates. Joseph’s own principles for his method were: breathing; whole body movement; and whole body commitment. I haven’t come across anything in writings about CrossFit specifically related to breathing, but it is very much to do with whole body movement, and total commitment. In a divergence of the two methods, Pilates prescribed his exercises lying or sitting to “relieve your heart from undue strain” (from ‘Return to Life‘). This is one of the areas that leaves some of us feeling that Pilates alone is not enough, and CrossFit workouts certainly put significant strain on the cardiovascular system. (Whilst I think the tired “no pain, no gain” slogan is a crass one, I believe it’s true to say that you can’t have adaptation without stress.) In this context CrossFit also profoundly effects breathing, and full use of lung capacity. Anyone who has tried high intensity exercise will most likely be aware that breathing to full capacity doesn’t require cueing…

The video is self-explanatory, if you jump straight to 3:20 you’ll see how well her lungs are functioning. (In case anyone is concerned, the video above is of an elite athlete performing at an advanced level. This does not represent the kind of work that beginners would be asked to do.)

Many Pilates exercises involve maintaining a stable trunk (spine) whilst moving arms and/or legs. Typically the weight of the limbs and their movement act as a challenge to that stable trunk position. Similarly, one of the fundamentals of many CrossFit movements is ‘midline stabilisation’ – the idea that, particularly under load, you keep your trunk stiff, and move from your hip and shoulder joints. The only difference between the two is that Pilates doesn’t add load to the same degree. Had he been faced with current levels of osteoporosis, for instance, who’s to say that Joseph wouldn’t have favoured picking some weight up?

Another element that CrossFit and Pilates share is an emphasis on precision. Sadly, if you make only a cursory search of the internet, you will find plenty of alarm expressed over the dangerous nature of some CrossFit workouts – and, indeed, plenty of YouTube video clips of people doing very demanding movements with eye-wateringly poor form. Just like so many articles about Pilates being bad for you, I don’t believe that this is a reflection of CrossFit, but one of either poor coaching, or simply poor performance. Just as Pilates insisted on his exercises being done with precision, both videos of training seminars, and conversations with Crossfit luminaries make it clear that ‘Form is everything’. In fact, one of the particularly interesting challenges for me is that CrossFit workouts ask questions along the lines of: ‘We know that you can lift that heavy barbell off the floor with good form, now can you do that multiple times, quickly, with good form? And how about keeping your form and doing that when you’re gasping for breath because you’ve just been doing another challenging movement at speed?’

Rich Froning – ‘Fittest Man on Earth’

Joseph Pilates – tattooed health visionary

What else is there to lead me to the conclusion that Joseph Pilates would have embraced CrossFit? Followers of both methods will attest to the remarkable transformations in body composition, energy levels and overall well-being that are there for the taking. He didn’t seem to be interested in  great analysis of his method: one of my favourite Pilates quotes (as recounted by Ron Fletcher) is, in response to a question about the purpose of an exercise, “It’s for the body!”. CrossFit celebrates becoming faster, stronger, more agile – and does not dwell on the exact mix of muscles required. Perhaps most significantly Joseph, tattooed as he was, would have fit right in with a great number of CrossFitters, for whom ‘ink’ seems de rigeur.

I’m convinced that Joseph would have been involved in a movement like CrossFit, had he the chance. The truth is, while I couldn’t bring myself to give the post this heading, I believe (with apologies) that ‘CrossFit is the new Pilates’.

It’s really safe.

No, honestly, it is really safe.

I’ve been regularly surprised by conversations with fellow Pilates teachers in which safety concerns over a variety of exercises have been raised. I made the “it’s really safe” assertion in a recent conversation with another teacher  who immediately baulked at the idea and suggested a number of exercises or positions that she felt might put a client in danger. Perhaps we need a caveat, or qualifying statement here –

If the client is taking responsibility for themselves, and if the teacher isn’t making reckless decisions, Pilates is really safe.

To paraphrase a recent Daily Mail article (‘Pilates can make your bad back worse’), Pilates may be bad for you if you have a poorly trained, or irresponsible teacher. No real surprises there – I can think of few physical endeavours in which that wouldn’t be the case.

In another Mail Online article (‘Beware the Pilates Pirates’) I read that: “Enthusiasts often injure their sacroiliac joint….The bottom lumbar vertebra is another common weak point.” Now, the main thrust of this article is, again, that anyone thinking of taking up Pilates would be smart to check on the teacher’s qualifications, which I’m all for. At the same time, there is a down-side that the seed of an idea may be planted that Pilates is something to be fearful of – never mind that I’ve been teaching for nearly a decade and am entirely unfamiliar with those supposedly frequent sacro-iliac injuries.

What can really restrict the potential benefits that practicing Pilates may bestow on people, is teachers reinforcing the idea that it’s a potentially dangerous activity. In much the same way that focusing on a client’s injury or weak point can serve to hold them back, giving clients the notion that they are unsafe seems highly likely to hold them back. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has told me that teacher X has told them that they shouldn’t move in a particular way, or do a particular exercise, for fear of hurting themselves. To labour the point with specifics, I’ve heard truly bizarre stories such as a whole room full of clients being warned against holding a soft ball between their knees during a shoulder bridge, for fear of knee dislocation.

Is there something about thorough training in how to deal with, or contraindications for, a wide array of injuries, conditions and ‘special populations’, that can make us fearful of moving our clients? This feels like a tricky argument to make, since not taking care is clearly not an appropriate course of action, and ignorance is still less desirable. Yet how many of our clients will, in the course of their daily lives, perform movements that look more complex/unstable/loading than most ‘safe’ Pilates repertoire?  I suspect that too much emphasis can easily be placed on what could go wrong whilst exercising, and then we risk embedding fear in our clients, thus holding them back. The result is, perhaps, that people challenge themselves more in their ‘normal’ activities than they do in class – in which case, how are we helping them? It’s a bit like not encouraging people to do high load (‘threshold’, if you prefer) exercises because they haven’t fully mastered the low load exercises they’ve been taught – it doesn’t help them to be stronger in a particularly applicable way.

I have comprehensive insurance as a Pilates teacher, with a maximum payout of £5000000, and it costs significantly less than £100 per year. What does this tell us? Pilates is a safe activity. One of Kelly Starrett‘s definitions of functional movement is that “You come out unharmed”. As Pilates teachers, what are we doing if not trying to teach functional movement? I find it very hard to believe that anyone injures themselves doing Pilates – if such a claim is made then I suspect that it’s closer to the truth that an injury occurred during a Pilates class, while the person was not doing Pilates but instead, some wonky imitation of it. Is this their teachers fault? If they allow their clients to endlessly do wonky imitations of Pilates without verbal and /or tactile cues, and explanation, yes; if the client has ignored/failed to hear advice against such poor movement then the responsibility for their body and any injury lies squarely with them.

I started writing this some time ago and things (Olympics, for example) got in the way of writing for a while. During a conversation with my wife last night (after she’d spent the day teacher training), I had a moment of clarity – one of those ideas that was lurking in the back of my mind and suddenly became crystallised: Moving is not dangerous, not moving most definitely is.

I have had the good fortune, in the last 4 weeks, to take workshop/seminars with two fantastic presenters. They were both representing Crossfit (which might be the best and/or the worst thing to happen to fitness in the last ten years, depending on your world view) and, between them, they taught me more about Pilates than I’ve learned in years. Okay, some of it I already knew, but I needed reminding – or I needed to hear the ideas put together in a way that I hadn’t heard/been able to hear previously. The net result was a renewed enthusiasm for teaching, and a really strong urge to translate my fresh understanding into helping the people I teach become STRONGER. I remember hearing a yoga teacher – the lovely David Sye, in fact – a few years ago saying that flexibility is great, but it is strength that holds us up as we age.

I am tempted to write this post talking about ‘we’, referring to Pilates teachers in the UK. Whilst I am confident that the following view represents more than my own thoughts and, in fact, involves some paraphrasing of others I will try to keep to ‘I’. I have thought for some time that Pilates teachers understand movement better than a lot of other exercise practitioners. I have wondered what the point of lifting weights was, other than vanity. I have thought that my understanding of the human body and biomechanics was probably superior to Joseph Pilates’ because I have the benefit of scientific advances and so much more technology to explain anatomy and movement to me. I have believed that Pilates would have done some things differently, had he lived longer, and known what science has shown us since his death. I have revelled in theory and terminology that complicates anatomy, and movement. I have over-analysed movement, and tried to understand musculoskeletal anatomy in excessive detail. I have imagined that I can tell which specific muscles might be working or not working when looking at movement, both efficient and less so. I have taught “evolved” Pilates….

More fool me, more often than not. Let’s be clear: I don’t believe that the various things I’ve owned up to have made me a bad teacher, and it’s certainly fascinating to delve into the marvellous complexity of human anatomy, yet I may be guilty of seeing the trees in detail, and thereby missing out on the beauty of the whole wood. The journey toward what feels like my current enlightenment (next step on the path to better understanding, perhaps) began with a lecture by Jaap Van der Wal: ‘Not by muscles and ligaments alone: The importance of fascial architecture for understanding the locomotion system.’ He opened my eyes to an alternative way of considering anatomy, based around the idea that movement shapes our form, rather than our form shaping our movement. One of the most compelling things that Professor Van der Wal said was; “the brain doesn’t know muscles, it knows movement”. It represented a great argument against isolated exercises, and felt like a strong validation of Pilates.

And so to my more recent revelations. The first was Kelly Starrett presenting the ‘Crossfit Movement and Mobility Trainer Course’. The first significant point is that Kelly is a phenomenal presenter, (and I would love to get him talking in front of a room full of my Pilates teaching peers) who talks with knowledge, confidence, experience and great panache. Bearing in mind that he was addressing a room full, predominantly, of Crossfitters, remarkably, as he spoke I kept thinking “that’s Pilates!”, and “That’s what Pilates was saying in the 1930s”. It seemed that, the truth is, the language of movement is actually much less complicated than I had previously been willing it to be. Some of the basic principles he spoke about: importance of midline stabilisation; the hip joint as the major engine in the body; the first joint that is loaded in a movement is the joint that will bear the most load; with the right movement and the right lifestyle we are perfect healing machines. He also made the point that humans are highly adaptable, and the consequence of this is that we need to practice good positions all the time. I had previously heard it asserted that it’s okay to slouch if you know how to organise yourself – to sit or stand properly. The trouble is, our adaptability means that we’re very good at the things we practice most, and this is exactly why the posture of someone who spends hours stooped in front of a computer terminal is so easy to identify. I spent yesterday afternoon in a lecture hall full of Pilates teachers and some of the postures on view were shocking…

The second was a gymnastics seminar at Crossfit Thames, with Carl Paoli, another great presenter, and teacher who, addressed decidedly un-Pilates movements (handstand push-ups, pull-ups, muscle-ups) but brilliantly illustrated how so many apparently different movements are closely related to each other – just as in Pilates. He also showed us how to identify movement faults in very simple ways and, equally, how to fix them in simple ways. How’s this for a simple principle?: “The hips are the main engine, the spine is the transmission, and needs to be stable to translate power to the second engine – the shoulders.”

Interestingly, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve seen fellow teachers posting links to some quite brilliant anatomy animations, and the voice in my head has been saying: “It’s not about the muscles!” I know how easy it is to give in to the temptation to look at something that is going wrong with a client’s posture, or movement and to try to work out what particular muscle isn’t working/is weak/is tight/is inhibited etc. But the brain does’t know about muscles, and I’m not cleverer than Joseph Pilates was. One of the most striking things about Kelly and Carl was that they clearly understand movement very well, and there’s the link with Pilates – he clearly understood movement well. He probably hadn’t heard about local and global muscles, he didn’t talk about stabilisers and mobilises, low threshold exercise and so on, but I suspect he knew, for example, that external rotation of the hip gives more torsion and, therefore strength, to flexion movements (and that principle is applicable to so many movements).

I don’t think that I can empower people by trying to identify what muscles they do, or don’t have working well. I can empower them by helping them to understand movement in simple terms, and to become stronger (by working hard), before I try to introduce subtlety.

PrimalCon 2012

April 28, 2012 — 2 Comments

With some REALLY nice people I met at PrimalCon

This post feels a bit like “What I did on my Summer holidays”, and PrimalCon may be of limited interest to anyone who isn’t a primal or paleo lifestyler. Nevertheless, my trip to California has had the effect of shifting my view of Pilates, and teaching, along with a variety of other plusses (and minor minuses) that may be worth a mention, and a couple of readers have encouraged me to write about it.

I decided to book a place for the event late last year, based on the expected presence of two particular presenters, Frank Forencich and Erwan Le Corre, both of whom I really wanted to work with, even if only for the brief period PrimalCon would allow. Talk about nutrition, exercise and rubbing shoulders with like-minded people would be an added bonus. At the same time, California is a long way to go for 3 days of convention, so I started looking for courses or workshops around that time that would help to justify the journey. I was aware of MobilityWOD from mentions on various blogs, and had filed the site in my head as ‘must look at later’. A one day ‘Crossfit Mobility Cert’ presented by the creator of MobilityWOD, Kelly Starrett, was the only opportunity for professional development in the LA area that my searches threw up, so I signed up. I had my misgivings about the Crossfit methodology so, while the course sounded interesting, I didn’t have very high expectations.

A few weeks before going to California I came to realise that I was hoping that PrimalCon would help me to figure out what it was that I had been seeking to augment my Pilates teaching. When I discovered that Frank Forencich would not be presenting after all I was heartily disappointed, but hopeful that Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat might prove to be the way forward for me (exercising in nature, in a functional way – terrific).

The day after I landed at LAX I was heading for Crossfit Balboa feeling slightly uneasy. For those of you unfamiliar with Crossfit there are plenty of videos on YouTube that will give you an idea of what it’s about. Suffice it to say that many practitioners are big, strong and gymnastically fit (some emphatically not, but there’s a separate story), and I was definitely feeling like the puny Pilates teacher. First revelation of the trip (no, I was relatively puny) was that Kelly Starrett is a brilliant presenter – engaging, funny, endlessly enthusiastic, dynamic, and apparently able to deliver a whole day of material without notes. The really exciting part for me was that, although he was speaking the language of strength and conditioning (squatting, deadlifting, pressing, pulling, handstand push-ups etc), he was often sounding a lot like Pilates. I’ve referred in the blog previously to revelations about the synergy between Pilates and S & C, but this was really underlining it for me, and making me understand some of Pilates writings/exercises better than I had done previously. Why didn’t Joseph Pilates teach reformer footwork with internal hip rotation? Was it because he hadn’t thought of it? No, I bet it’s because he understood that it’s a crap position in which to do footwork. Naturally I was delighted to discover that Kelly was also going to be presenting at PrimalCon on the following weekend.

So, the main event. I got to Oxnard, home of PrimalCon, on the Thursday evening, and duly made my way to the beach park for the informal gathering of participants, meeting, amongst others, a woman who competes in “fig-yur”. Turns out it’s a kind of non-bodybuilding physical exhibition sort of thing that doesn’t seem to have made it’s way across the Atlantic (small mercies etc.). As mentioned, the event was being held in a beach park, so it was a bit of a blow when, shortly after the 7.30am registration,  a rainstorm of biblical proportion settled over the town for the bulk of the day. No problem, we’re Primal, we love evolutionary theory because it explains everything we do, so we adapt to circumstances, and move into a ballroom in the neighbouring resort hotel.

First on the schedule for my group was Kelly Starrett, presenting, essentially, a small segment of the one day course I’d done previously. The jokes were still funny, and it was a welcome reminder of some of his key ideas – I hadn’t been able to write fast enough to get everything down on the previous weekend. I was also left with questions practically spilling out of my head – always a sign for me that I’m in a stimulating environment. Next up was the MovNat presentation – yes, that which I was pinning my future hopes on. Clearly, learning about a movement program that is based on the outdoors is somewhat diminished by being inside a hotel ballroom, and Erwan Le Corre appeared to be duly flustered and frustrated by the circumstances.  We got underway with him explaining some theory that was certainly interesting – ‘Becoming fit through the practice of efficient movement skills enables a physical and mental conditioning that is the most effective and applicable to all areas of life.’ – and then practicing a few drills: how to jump and land, for example. Around this point in the presentation someone asked if there were resources, such as videos on the MovNat website, that would help us to priorly practice these skills later. The answer: No. The follow-up question was naturally ‘How then can we practice this more?’ The answer: Do a one day or two day MovNat course. It’s worth mentioning at this point that Kelly Starrett’s motto is:

“All human beings should be able to perform
basic maintenance on themselves”

and his MobilityWOD website has in excess of 400 video clips, freely available, to show you a huge array of techniques/exercises to increase mobility/range of movement/movement efficiency etc. To be honest, having spent a lot of time trawling around the websites and blogs of the primal/paleo community, I’ve come to expect that people are sharing valuable information for free, because it appears to be the norm. Never mind what’s the norm, the brusque manner with which Le Corre dealt with people who were expressing an interest in learning more was disappointing. There was enough interesting material in the short time that we had for me to still be interested in the certification courses that he mentioned before the finish, so I took the opportunity to ask him for more information. His response was along the lines of: ‘It’ll be on the website”, before turning his back to me. Now, call me old fashioned if you wish, but if someone approaches me to tell me that they’re interested in Pilates, and would like to know about my studio/where I teach etc. my first reaction is going to be appreciation for the fact that they’re interested , and some enthusiasm for telling them more. Consequently I was starting to wonder if Erwan was someone I wanted to be giving thousands of dollars to….

The afternoon’s agenda started with Mark Sisson’s (author of ‘The Primal Blueprint’, and PrimalCon creator) keynote address. One to one, or in small groups, Sisson didn’t seem terribly comfortable, but standing in front of a large audience he was very impressive. He spoke mostly about nutrition (apparently without notes) in considerable detail, emphasising the benefits of being a ‘fat burner’ rather than a ‘sugar burner’ – decreased oxidative damage, greater cell longevity, decreased inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity etc. Perhaps most impressively, he fielded a number of questions, some of them quite complex (even multifaceted – bravo Ozgur) and managed to give detailed answers, sometimes slightly tangential, without losing track of what he was talking about. He has 15 years on me and his memory appears to be decidedly better than mine – maybe if I follow his lifestyle tenets for another 10 years or so it’ll improve…

There were plenty of other presentations – running technique, kitchen skills, weight-lifting and gymnastic skills, nutritional advice, etc. with a lot of time given over to ‘free choice’ – meaning that the various presenters were around and available for questions and discussion. This meant that mini-workshops spontaneously occurred around the beach park which probably constituted the most valuable part of the weekend. Inevitably, still full of questions, I gravitated toward Kelly Starrett most of that time, and he didn’t disappoint – seemingly always available and eager to talk about movement (and happily, a keen advocate of Pilates). In contrast, Mr MovNat was much less available, and I became certain that his work does not present my way forward. In that respect PrimalCon was a failure for me, because I’d been hopeful of leaving knowing that I would enrol on a training course that would help to develop my own work. On the other hand, I learned so much from the time I spent listening to Kelly (and having my calf/thigh/shoulder mashed) that it was huge success. Not to mention that, though my Pilates teaching has already changed a little, what I learned feels like a doorway to much much more that I can be excited about discovering. I’ve realised that learning what you don’t want can be as valuable as learning what you do want.

Making new friends, and developing what I’m doing professionally, along with reminders of some things that perhaps I knew but had let slip, and lots of sunshine made the whole trip worthwhile. If you have the will to keep reading there’ll be more to follow shortly on specifics in relation to Pilates.

Here’s a bonus for making it to the end of this post….