If variety is the so-called ‘spice of life’, then what is the value of repeating certain Pilates exercises and sequences every session?
If you remember the 1984 film ‘Karate Kid,’ you might have heard the infamous phrase, “Wax on, wax off….” The Sensei of the story taught a valuable lesson by having his student repeat seemingly mundane tasks to the point of comical frustration.
Similarly, during my first years as a Pilates teacher, it didn’t always thrill me to repeat entire exercise series or follow a standard workout order. And although it wasn’t martial-arts-level discipline, I often found it mind-numbing to constantly relive the exact same sequence, containing the same number of reps and set up cues, with eight different clients a day.
Perhaps a bit dramatic, I will admit, but now after a (short) 10 years of teaching, I can look back and comprehend more of the nuances in the original process. I understand why it was important that I familiarize myself with specific exercise series, usually on the Mat and Reformer, when first learning or teaching Pilates.
Do you remember that first time that you walked into a Pilates studio? The innumerable options and apparatus were overwhelming enough that my Curious-George-like disposition went into overdrive. Had I not been (firmly) coerced into learning a routine, I don’t believe that I would have built the same foundation. Nowadays, as I explore more variations, teaching styles, and even other movement modalities, I am grateful for that original discipline as a steady point of reference.
Ideally, all of our clients would want the same thing as us, but not everybody strives to understand the vast Pilates system the way that Joe might have intended. Some clients want pain relief, others desperately need to destress from their day, and some want to move their bodies and sweat. After teaching at all kinds of studios, gyms, and online, I realized that different bodies (and subsequent minds) thrive in different ways.
I learned to meet my clients halfway by allowing them to move through a safe, vigorous workout that is practical for their bodies. Generally, they want to come back and move some more if they feel good. Once they’re hooked, I start to repeat key things that their body consistently needs every lesson. It might be as simple as the Mat Series of 5, a Pumping Series on the High Chair, or a Wall Ending to challenge their body at the end of a session. Then as they become more familiar, I implement some independence and freedom, like having them perform an exercise series without verbal cues or at home on their own. Movement is ‘magic,’ so wouldn’t it be ideal for learning the fundamentals of movement while enjoying themselves?
After that, it’s a matter of intelligently (and patiently) layering in more exercises while keeping the client moving. Over time, amassing these personal building blocks often highlights their own progress. This makes learning a complicated series or choreography in the future much more accessible. If I can inspire anyone to remember and repeat any series of exercises on their own, I believe they are much more likely to take the Pilates method off the apparatus, out of the studio, and into their everyday life.
Lastly, as I continue to ‘wax on and wax off’ my own Pilates practice over the years, I constantly find new ways to make it my own, with personal variations and focuses incorporated into the ‘original’ exercises. The discipline hidden within Repetition is one of the best gifts from Joe’s original method. It was my gateway to independent learning and instilled a sense of ownership into the work.