Devil in the Details
Did you see the "OCD Test" going around on Facebook recently? Not surprisingly, your Pilates trainers had a good laugh about scoring 100%! I realize that true OCD can a serious psychological disorder and I don't mean to make light of anyone who suffers from the condition. I sometimes joke with my clients, however, that being a Pilates teacher encourages my own OCD tendencies, meaning that it increases my focus and awareness on the minute details. I've been known to walk around the Studio moving the end of a reformer a few inches, and heaven forbid if a piece of equipment isn't square to the walls. Do you think it's an accident that our carpet squares have stripes on them? I think not! Being maniacally focused on details is an occupational hazard.
When it comes to Pilates, the devil really is in the details. Our Pilates principle this week is "Precision". Once you've mastered the basics of the exercises, we start to get picky about the details. Precision builds on Concentration and Control. Consistent practice helps in refining precision, by building stability, strength, and stamina so that you can improve your alignment and focus on the smaller details of the movements.
Every movement in Pilates has a purpose. We sometimes joke about Pilates being like Simon Says - you do what your trainer tells you to do and ONLY what your trainer tells you to do! Especially when you're new to Pilates, listen carefully to your trainer. We will make sure you're set up properly, get you moving, then give you cues to fine tune the movement. There is a method to our seeming madness :-)
Each Pilates exercise has "precision points". For example, in Single Leg Stretch on the mat, your legs
move in and out on the same diagonal plane (no bicycling), and you move without rocking side to side. We're especially picky about the hand placement in this exercise because it keeps your leg into your centerline, holding alignment of hip, knee and foot. Once you become more experienced, you will know the set up and the "precision points" for each exercise, as well as your body's tendencies, and will start to self-correct, even before the trainer gives you the cue. That's when you really start to own your Pilates practice!
We use few repetitions and a large variety of movements to reinforce precision. Some people wonder why we only do 5-8 repetitions of each exercise. Seems like more would be better, right? Joseph Pilates' theory was that if you do the exercises with precision and total concentration, you not only don't need more repetitions, more repetitions actually diminishes the effectiveness by creating unnecessary stress and fatigue and reinforcing bad habits. It's more effective to do 5 reps of each exercise in the Ab Series on the mat - Single Leg Stretch, Double Leg Stretch, Scissors, Double Leg Lower-Lift, and Criss-Cross - and do them with precision, than to do 50 crunches with sloppy form. And trust me, if you do the Ab Series correctly, 5 reps is all you need, and it never gets easier because there is always a way to go deeper!
Precision of movement can re-educate faulty movement patterns and create optimal muscle firing patterns. Contrology (the original name for Pilates) is "not a system of haphazard exercises designed to just produce bulging muscles." It was developed to properly exercise every muscle in your body. Lots of things can contribute to imbalances and improper muscle firing patterns. Habitual postures such as sitting at a desk, carrying a purse on one shoulder, wearing high heels, etc. cause our bodies to develop imbalances, creating tight, overstretched or weakened muscles. Surgery or injury to a muscle or joint can also cause certain muscles in your body to stop working correctly, forcing other muscles to take over. Focusing on precision in your Pilates practice and paying attention to the details can re-train your body to correct those imbalances and improper muscle firing patterns, giving you more ease in your posture and movement.