Lately it feels like life has been moving full speed ahead; this is definitely true for me and many of my friends and people I come in contact with on a regular basis. We cram as much as possible into each day, we start early, end late, we say “yes” to everything, and end up rushing from one thing to the next.
I recently had an epiphany that this same fast pace has made it’s way into exercise as well. There are two pilates classes with different instructors that I take pretty regularly at my gym. The two instructors have very different styles: one is more traditional following the “basic 10” movements with steady transitions from one movement to the next and the other instructor combines traditional pilates movements with additional strength exercises using a bar, weight, and lightweight, small medicine ball. With both of these instructors I feel like I get in a great work-out and I’m always impressed with how much they fit into one hour.
At pilates this week, I set my mat down with the others in the class and stretched while waiting for the instructor. A couple minutes before start time, a woman walked in, put her mat at the front of the room, and I quickly realized we had a substitute. She was the woman who teaches the third pilates class at my gym which happens to be at times I can never attend. This instructor (and I don’t mean to stereotype here) had the personality of a step aerobics instructor; she was high energy, loud, and conversational. At first I missed the calm, quiet of the other instructors, but it didn’t take long for me to truly appreciate following someone new.
Go Slow and Focus
She instantly tuned into the class and talked to us about basic pilates movements, the powerhouse, the core, being long and lean–all things I’ve heard before but that for some reason sounded new. She talked slowly, looked us in the eye, made sure we understand the movements she was describing.
We started with simply lowering to the floor. We lowered down slower than I’ve ever lowered before in my life. On the first movement I was already shaking from challenging my muscles in a new way; asking them to go one at a time, but also work together.
Through the hundred, the roll-up, rolling like a ball, and leg circles we went extremely slow. I’ve thought before that I concentrated on my form and breathing and now I know that I really only thought I was; at the challenging slow pace we were using, I absolutely was concentrating on my form and breathing. For the first time, I really felt myself engage the powerhouse and tighten my glutes all at the same time. All the times I thought I had used these muscles in unison before was temporary; I never maintained the form because I rushed the movements.
When we moved into the double leg stretch and teaser we weren’t allowed to lower our legs below where the cieling and top of the wall met. I always thought “the lower the leg, the harder the work-out.” But when we went slow, keeping the leg at that mid-distance was tough. With toes pointed, core engaged, and chin to chest, we were also told to keep our knees together. The focus it took to keep the knees in alignment was a new experience and I felt my muscles quiver as I tried to do slow and steady movements.
In one hour we only did the basic 10 which is the same number of movements other instructors do in 15-20 minutes. All the movements were familiar, but each of them was taught just a little different, slower, and with more focus. This instructor expected us to go slow, to feel the breaths, and she adjusted our positions so that we were getting the most from the movement. In doing side lying leg lifts she came around and pulled our top leg so that it stretched longer out of the hip and I felt for the first time how pilates can really achieve “long and lean.”
By the end of the class I felt as though I had gotten as good of a work-out as I had with any other pilates instructor. I love being pleasantly surprised by a new experience, one that you didn’t plan, weren’t expecting, and that teaches you not that you’ve been doing things wrong necessarily, but that you could be doing them better.
And, better does not always mean faster.