2017 marks the eleventh year I have had the privilege of teaching Pilates mat work as a semester long physical education course at Atlantic Community High School. Each year I learn more about Pilates and my students. I gain an understanding of what exercises they love and what exercises they need. As you can imagine, roll like a ball is always a favorite!
To elaborate a bit more on my previous blog, the semester is broken down into three sections. First Pilates mat class concepts, second learning how to breakdown exercises, teach exercises and adapt exercises to different physical strengths and weaknesses. Third, each student must present in front of the class twice and be filmed to pass the course. The students work in groups to teach a full class that must include flexion, extension and rotation exercises.
Most importantly, students learn about how and why we move. Physical education classes are a perfect setting for Pilates because students experience movement as opposed to just moving. They learn the importance of whole body movement, integrating the trunk through exercises like the hundred, single leg stretch and criss-cross. Plus, to make the exercises more fun and friendly I have students partner up. Placing their feet together in table top during these three exercises teaches them to have more control in their movements as well as arm and leg separation from the torso. Having their feet connect to a partners feet in the hundred allows them to have a better body position with a little support from a friend.
As spinal mobility is an essential part of Pilates, the kids learn to rotate the spine during spine twist and adding a partner and sitting back to back gives them tactile cues about rotation and keeping it controlled. Partner spine stretch forward teaches them spinal flexion and also gives them kinesthetic feedback about how to stretch the spine without getting into the hamstrings.
Side bend is a favorite for strength and lateral movement. I break it down into three parts, with fun nicknames, starfish, side plank, and rainbow. To address the importance of coupling strength along with mobility, they are encouraged to add the pushup as well.
Making exercises fun with the teenager is a key factor to having a successful class and a well rounded mover. Students in my classes keep a process journal and record their progress daily. At the end of the semester, they write a paper about how they have changed mentally, physically and emotionally.
Over the years, these documents are a clear reminder to me of how powerful Pilates if for a teenager. When they discuss how Pilates helps their sports performance, social, emotional and motor skills, I feel incredibly proud to have implemented this program in the public school setting. In fact, it has inspired me to continue my education and movement practice even more!