2 1/2 BEACON STREET
Concord, NH 03301
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How To Know That You’re Ready for Intermediate Classes

by Mara Sievers

At our studio we don’t allow just anyone into our classes. We intentionally limit new students from coming to our intermediate level classes (that we call Applied Essentials) for very good reason.

Not everyone is happy about that, and we understand that often an intermediate level class fits better into your schedule. In this article, I’ll share with you the two very important reasons for that: effectiveness and safety.

        We Want You to Get The Most Effective Workout Possible.

The way Pilates works its magic, is with small precise movements. Most of our students are used to other forms of exercise: running, cycling, maybe group fitness or aerobics, yoga or working out at the gym. In all these forms of exercise, the goal is to be able to do more repetitions, to hold poses longer and lift with more weight each time you repeat the sequence.


Pilates tries to achieve the opposite: with as little effort as possible and the most precise movement possible, achieve the strongest activation of a particular muscle or muscle group.

This results in small, even tiny movements. And most of our new clients have to first unlearn the “traditional” thinking that more is less. Also, we see pain and strain as signs that the body is NOT moving efficiently. If you’re weight lifting you probably breathe how ever you like to lift the heaviest weight, or maybe you don’t breathe at all and hold your breath while lifting.

A fluid breathing pattern is a sign that your body is moving within a safe and comfortable range.

So the first step of learning Pilates is understanding with your mind and body, that less is more. It requires you to pay attention, this is the phase where Pilates is working mostly your mind. You have to train your mind to stay focused on those detailed instructions.

All Pilates students have had this or a similar experience: You’ve been told to straighten your elbows or knees more. You thought they were already straight, but your teacher keeps correcting you. Then you’ll “feel” into those knees and elbows again. Maybe your teacher put her hand on your triceps or quadriceps to encourage the muscle to fire and to actually straighten the joint. And then, ahhh, now you get it! That’s different!

We Want You to Be Absolutely Safe In a group class you’re somewhat on your own. Of course, we always strive to help you and guide you in every movement, but really the teacher’s eyes can only focus on one person at a time. So in order for us to be absolutely sure that you will get a safe workout, we need to see that you know how to protect your body on your own.

Most of our students (not all) come to Pilates with or after rehabilitation from an injury or they are generally unconditioned from not working out for the last 1, 5, 10 years. And even if you’ve been working out regularly, you probably haven’t done Pilates or a true core strengthening workout before, so really you have to accept that you’re learning something new.

 

“Just because we all own a body, doesn’t mean we all know how to use it well.” ~ Mara Sievers

In our Essentials classes we take the time to teach you how to perform the movements so they fit your body. During some of the exercises you might initially feel a bit of strain on the neck, or the lower back or any other joint. Let us together explore what that means and what we can learn from it. No two students in Pilates will ever look the same in a class, if they really honor the principles of Pilates. Because they will respect their body’s individuality and move in a way that works for them.

It’s difficult for a beginner to remember all the movements exactly. Instructors do not work out with the group, so you won’t see the movements you’re supposed to do. That’s intentional, too. You tend to copy what you see and think that that’s how it’s done. We don’t want that. We want your body telling you how it’s best for you to move. Not us. True mind-body-spirit connection.

That’s why we try to use names of exercises and you do them the way that it feels great to you. And we use cues and words in our instruction that trigger the right muscles within your body then just telling you this foot goes here, that hand there etc. This explains why we need to be sure that you remember the names of the exercises, and can perform them safely and effectively, before picking up the pace in the higher level class or adding additional, more challenging exercises.

How Long Do I Have to Stay in Essentials?
    Oh, if I only knew! It really depends. Each person is different. I have some students who never do anything but Essentials. But I have some students who are able to be safe and work correctly independently after only 4 classes. 4 classes is usually a minimum. Pilates and you are only just getting to know each other ;) And don’t worry, we won’t hold you back any more than necessary. But isn’t it nice to actually work for something. Don’t you think you’ll feel better about achieving something if you had to work a bit for it. When we allow you in an intermediate level class, take it as a compliment. If we don’t, ask why. And continue learning. I love when I meet someone who is really honest with me, instead of telling me what I want to hear. Call me crazy.

What Can I Do To Move Up Quicker?

   Great question that I can answer with one word: Listen. I’ve noticed that the students who are the best listeners, learn the fastest. Don’t let your mind wander. The teacher is basically speaking non-stop during a class, talking you through each exercise. Listen to each word and let your body react to each of these words. Ask great questions. If there is something that you don’t understand or that just doesn’t make sense to you, ask! It’s okay not to know what we mean. For the longest time in my life, I’ve avoided this in my life. I felt stupid if I had to ask a question. Now I know, how silly that was of me. How am I supposed to already know what I’m just now learning?

 

I’ve had to learn this eventually when I moved to the US. There were always words that I didn’t know, so I started to make it a habit to just say: “What does that mean?” or ”What’s that?” And the reaction I got back was always a great one. People sometimes even apologize for using slang or profession specific language. I have never gotten a reaction like: ”How can you not know what…. means? Are you stupid or what?” I still ask that question. Often. Even though now I know most of the commonly used words, I still ask if I don’t understand a concept. I made it a habit. And I learn something everyday, Which makes me a bit smarter every day.

Intermediate Students Know How to Use Their Variations.

If you are doing all of the above, there might still be an exercise that you have trouble with. Your spine might just be too stiff right now, then here is a list of exercises to substitute with.

  • The Roll Over - Do The Crab instead
  • The Hundred - Keep your legs in table top, or keep your head on the floor
  • Single Leg Stretch - Find a breathing pace that allows you to focus on your core instead of the legs
  • Double Leg Stretch - Reach arms and legs up to the ceiling or forward
  • Single Straight Leg Stretch - Do Single Leg Lower with your head down, and bend your knees until you thighs and hips can relax
  • Double Straight Leg Stretch - Do Double Leg Lowers instead with head down and bend your knees until you’re comfortable
  • Criss Cross - Only work the arms and keep your legs in table top
  • The Roll Up - Roll Up like in Rolling like a ball, then roll down with straight legs
  • Back Control (or Upward Plank) - Bend your knees and do Upward Table instead
  • Swimming - instead of lifting 2 or 4 limbs of the floor at the same time and paddling, only lift one limb at a time. And change the breathing pattern in a way that it helps you keep your core engaged.

Take breaks when YOU need them, not when the teacher offers them (I see it as a sign of a very knowledgable Pilates student if they know when to stop!)

Maybe I'd Be Better Off In Essentials?

   If you just read this list, and nothing really made sense to you, then you might be better off sticking with Essentials a little while longer. The teacher will take a lot more time setting up exercises, and explain them in more detail to you. The pace of the class is slower and allows for more time for questions. The teacher will try to give you the specific recommendations (like always sitting on a blanket when doing Spine Stretch and Spine Twist).

You learn exercises bit by bit, because the teacher will break them down into individual parts. Double Leg Kicks is a very complicated exercise, in which a lot of things have to be remembered and a lot of body parts organized. So instead of trying the full exercise, you get to learn only the upper body part first, then only the lower body part. So when you come to an Applied Essentials class, you will have no problem putting the two together.

And don’t worry that you’re not getting a good workout. Remember, in Pilates intensity comes from precision.

If you’re really not sure how to proceed, come up to your instructor after class and ask her: “What do you think I

should focus on?” She’ll tell you honestly. Promise. That’s what we stand for.