Big & Curvy Pilates (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

Let’s start learning how to teach a big curvy body. I will list general guidelines to approach the big, curvy body types in a way that respects them and their needs. 

Big Curvy Pilates

I am a Classical instructor, so my approach is more focused on moving through the Classical progression. Yet, these concepts can easily be transferred to any Pilates methodology.

Know the difference between overweight, obese, and “big and curvy.” 

Fit people can come in different packages. Reserve judgment and listen to your client’s background. Don’t assume they are unfit or their goal is weight loss. Instead, focus on performance and progress. Have high expectations for these clients. They will respond in kind. Learn key ways to teach your mat classes with a few big and curvy bodies taking it. 

Don’t Start on the Reformer

I know you just said, “WHAT!! No Reformer for their first sessions! A Reformer is the best way to support big curvy body types!? Right?…” Remember, especially if you are Classically trained, some basic to intermediate Reformer exercises can be very constrictive, forcing your client’s flesh into uncomfortable positions. Instead, consider starting the progression on the Cadillac or seated on Spine Corrector on top of a short box. We teach a wicked intermediate seated Reformer on the spine corrector on top of a short box! It is challenging and non-constricting for a big and curvy body.

More Low Powerhouse, Please! Okay, Now Give Me Even More! 

While your client is perfecting their basic to intermediate exercises, make their low powerhouse ridiculously strong. I use the Going Up Front/ Side on an electric/ high chair or Wunda Chair to gauge most big, curvy clients. Wait until Going up Front, Going up Side, Pull the Pedal Up is simply awesome. Big, curvy clients need to have a higher degree of control in their low powerhouse before attempting intermediate exercises with the leg unsupported. It’s not because their back is weak; it’s just curvy. Their legs, especially if they carry inactive adipose tissue in their lower body, will have more mass. It’s simple physics. You need to make the pivot point their low powerhouse able to support their weight.  

Hold Back Exercises with Unsupported Legs. 

I have been told that I have a “weak back,” but in fact, I have a curvy back and big pretty legs. Instead of asking your client to rest their tail bone on their hands, consider using leg springs or heavy Theraband. Force them to gain deep access to their low powerhouse. The resistance will support their leg while strengthening their lower powerhouse and buttocks and posterior muscle on their legs. For exercises like the teaser, allow them to rest their legs on a wall. Offer arm springs, roll down bar, or Theraband to enable them to deepen the articulation through the tighter parts of their spine.   

Use the Foundational Exercises on Reformer for Extras & Endings of Their Workout. 

Shift your thinking that the Reformer is essential for a big, curvy body. Instead, view it as a place to pull a workout together with a few key foundational exercises. Help your big curvy client gain more access to their powerhouse and move with increasing flow, control, and grace. For example, an assisted short spine, stomach massage, short box with side sit-ups, elephant, knee stretches, or pelvic lift are great ways to cap off their sessions and get some Reformer exercises in their repertoire.

If you have not had the fantabulous chance to teach a big curvy body, now is your chance! 

Feel free to reach out to us (Ray & Rae) at The Pilates School SF to learn how to create a more inclusive BIPOC, LBGTQIA, and body-positive studio learning environment.  

Class Tip: One of the first concepts we teach our apprentices and interns is to touch everybody in a mat class that has given you permission. I can speak from experience taking classes all over America. In general, I found smaller framed instructors to be trepidatious to use hands-on in classes with me. 99% of the time, when I ask them why they did not use hands-on with me in class, the answer is “I did not want to embarrass you” or “I did want to make your stick out.” 

If my experience resonates with you or if you are that instructor sometime, ask your next big curvy body in your in-person mat or equipment class if you can use hands-on and dive in. Especially if you have an opposite body type from them. The best way to understand a big and curvy body is to feel it moving. 


Co-Owner, Classical Pilates Instructor/ Personal Trainer at Pilates School SF. Ray has worked in the fitness, health, and intercollegiate sports industries for over 26 years. Aside from her Classical Pilates certification, she holds advanced degrees in Kinesiology, as well as numerous certifications in pretty much everything but Yoga. That said, you will never catch her calling herself Dr. Salahuddin. You will catch her dorking-out over the latest exercises science research and having super fun with her kid DD.

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