In Pilates you’ll often gain optimal results from an exercise when you make your movements smaller rather than larger.
As with most things in life, “less is more.” In a world were Costco supplies us with 45 rolls of toilet paper at a time, we drink from coffee cups large enough to fill our gas tanks and eat muffins capable of feeding a family of four.
Bigger is not always better.
It is common practice to go to extreme ranges of motion during an exercise because it makes us “feel” like we are working harder, but are we really?
The opposite is most likely true. Next time you have a moment like this ask yourself, “What am I really feeling?”
Understanding where a movement comes from is the essence of the work of Pilates. At times it can be even more important than the actual movement itself. Exercises where there is very little or even no movement incurred can literally produce a brow-full of sweat and a mountain of shaking muscles which is so much more effective than moving in an exaggerated way, just for the sake of creating motion.
In the version of the swan seen in the photos here, the model (thank you Rose) demonstrates excellent form in raising up just to the point of correct recruitment and alignment. She avoids hyperextending her back and neck and maintains excellent core stability with her head well placed on her spine. This benefits our spines greatly and helps counteract the forward bending forces of gravity and a desk/car/seated lifestyle.
Sometimes the names of Pilates exercises can be somewhat misleading and/or deceptive in that the mind shifts the focus to the particular body part such as–leg circles, arm circles–just to name a few. The objective of these particular exercises is not to create the biggest circle possible, but instead to be exceptionally steady and solid in the trunk and core despite the circular action of the limbs.
Try shifting your focus. Instead of wondering if your movement is big enough, evaluate to see if you’re making a connection to your core and your breath during the exercise.
And if you’re not, the question should then be why and what can you do to make that connection?
One strategy may be to limit your range of motion.
Frequently moving your extremities beyond a certain point actually makes it harder to stabilize your core. For example, when your arms move behind your shoulders during an arm circle, the muscles required to stabilize your shoulder girdle and trunk are simply not accessible. Even worse, other less proficient muscles for that movement (like the “traps”)are very likely to take over. You may not be feeling any core muscles because they simply can’t engage due to the position you are in. So don’t be afraid to be conservative and employ restraint. It is absolutely okay if you aren’t moving as high, wide or far as the person next to you.
It can be difficult to employ this technique, especially if you have a tendency to hyper-extend your joints (knees, elbows, etc.) as many of us do. However, just because you can move your body to an extreme position, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
As with any habit it takes mindful practice to create new muscle memory. Be patient. Give yourself time to work in this different way and work with a teacher you trust to give you insights. Changes such as these won’t happen overnight. Remember you are the product of years of moving the way you do. When you bring awareness to change, you will dramatically transform your posture and the way you move.
So remember, the next time you’re in the studio taking a lesson or class, tell yourself that less can truly be More!