Practice makes Perfect, but Perfectionism can be Paralysing.
Pilates is a system of exercise and although most people know it for the Mat or Reformer work there actually are a number of other pieces of apparatus that Joseph Pilates designed for his exercises to be performed on. Other core equipment are the wunder chair, the cadillac and the ladder barrel. Many of these pieces of apparatus were designed not to just add variety but more importantly to provide assistance or add extra resistance to exercises to help build a person’s strength and ability to perform all the mat exercises correctly.
The original series of mat exercises created by Joseph Pilates are actually the pinnacle of a practised Pilates workout. The classical 34 exercises flow in a logical order that firstly warm up the body, then work and stretch the body, using your own body weight initially to assist you and then using your own body weight to challenge you more. However, these 34 exercises are actually very challenging for most people. About his own Contrology (the original name of Pilates) exercises Joseph Pilates writes: “One of the major results of Contrology is gaining the mastery of your mind over the complete control of your body. How many beginners are amazed and chagrined (even trained athletes in the public eye) to discover how few (if any) Contrology exercises they are able to execute properly.” In modern Pilates classes today you will rarely be taught the classical 34 mat exercises in all their fullness, but you will be led through a number of exercises that act as building blocks to ultimately achieve these 34 exercises, over time with regular practice.
No one can go into their first Pilates class and perform all the exercises perfectly because it takes practise to perfect the full repertoire. It is important to remember this because when we start anything new we may worry or even avoid trying it at all because we fear failure or ridicule. The need to be perfect can paralyse us from taking action, which can mean we miss out entirely on something. It is part of the enjoyment of Pilates to push ourselves to try, to grow and develop new skills and greater control of our bodies over time and that means we will fail sometimes. There may be a time when you can’t balance and topple a little, or that you can’t hold that V sit so long and need a breather, that’s OK! It is all part of the journey of mastering something new and that journey is different for each of us. No two people are the same, no two bodies are the same and so no two Pilates workouts will be exactly the same. In mat based classes today we often use small props such as balls, flex bands and small weights to aid our development of the core exercises in ways similar to some of the other apparatus, enabling individuals to modify for their needs.
The 100’s is the first exercise in the classical repertoire and is the ultimate full body warm up! In it’s classical format it is very challenging. With legs and arms fully extended in a crunch position you are required to pump your arms up and down 100 times in synchronisation with 10 breaths.
However here are some examples how such an exercise may be modified to build strength gradually:
Bend the knees to a 90 degree angle (table top) to reduce the load.
Keep your head, neck and shoulders on the mat and only raise the legs.
Squeeze a Pilates circle or small ball between your knees to aid abdominal connection or between your ankles to add additional challenge.
Over time with consistent practise of Pilates you constantly refine your skills, building the levels of complexity as you develop additional control and strength. Pilates never gets easier, you just get better at it!
In his book Return to Life Joseph Pilates says: “Make up your mind that you will perform your Contrology exercise 10 minutes a day without fail. Amazingly enough, once you travel on this Contrology “Road to Health” you will subconsciously lengthen your trips on it from 10 to 20 or more minutes before you even realise it. Why? The answer is simple: the exercises have stirred your sluggish circulation into action and to performing its duty more effectively in the matter of discharging through the blood stream accumulation of fatigue - products created by muscular and mental activities. Your brain clears and your will power functions.”. This was written back in 1945 but remains true to this day, that if we can create a daily habit of movement, we will feel the benefits and eventually that will self perpetuate us to continue.
Of course I am a huge advocate of Pilates because it is highly effective and powerful but in truth what is most important is creating the habit of movement and finding something you enjoy so that you will consistently do it in order to reap the many rewards.