5 Pilates mistakes to avoid, according to an instructor

Sarita Allen began teaching Pilates more than three decades ago. But even veteran teachers have more to learn: Allen still takes classes regularly, with the goal of having one private and one group class each week.

“It’s like heaven to study with someone else,” she says. “It’s wonderful not to have to think about what comes next and to be a student again. It really sparks my passion for technique,” ​​adding that it also helps her break out of her own habits and preferences, and discover new exercises, prompts, and modifications to incorporate into her own classes at The Ailey Extension in New York City.

At this point, it’s fair to say that Allen is as adept at taking Pilates classes as she is at teaching them, and she’s discovered a thing or two along the way about how to have an optimal workout. Here, Allen shares the “don’ts,” the Pilates mistakes she learned not to make during her workouts, and why avoiding them can lead to a more satisfying class.

1. Don’t go in with preconceived notions

Allen discovers that if he walks into class with ideas about what it will be like or what it should be like, he will inevitably miss out on what the class has to offer. “A lot of people in contemporary Pilates are adding their own philosophy,” she says. “And if I don’t try it outright, or if I say ‘this is weird,’ then I might be missing out on something interesting.”

Even beginners could benefit from coming to class with a more open mind, she says, especially since they’re often confused when they don’t feel the heat right away. “A lot of people who are new say they don’t feel anything,” she says. “So I would tell them to try not to have the expectation that everything has to burn for it to be effective. Some of the exercises are subtle, and when you engage the deep muscles, you won’t feel a burn like doing push-ups.”

2. Do not “tighten”

It is not uncommon to hear the signal to “clench” muscles during a training class. But Allen says that’s something she avoids both in her teaching and in her personal Pilates practice.

For example, in the classic Pilates posture, or “V” foot position with heels together and toes slightly turned out, teachers sometimes tell students to squeeze their glutes. “You want to commit, but I never squeeze the life out,” she says. “You’re not going to be able to move, you’re going to lock everything up.” Instead, Allen prefers to think of “connecting” her buttocks.

3. Don’t hold office

Although there are times in Pilates class when it feels like there’s no movement in the body — during the extension portion of a double-leg stretch (also known as a sacred grip), for example — Allen says he’s careful to make sure that she never just holds a position, and that she is always moving, even if it is subtle.

This, he says, is in part because the concept of “flow” is essential to the design of Pilates: one exercise is intended to flow into another. But finding movement also makes exercises easier and more effective, he says: In that two-leg stretch, for example, having a continuous sense of stretch and length in both your arms and legs helps with balance.

4. Don’t hold your breath

Similarly, Allen makes sure that she never holds her breath. Different styles of Pilates combine breath and movement in different combinations; she finds that having continuous inhalations and exhalations is most important, and encourages beginners not to worry about coordination with the movement if they find it confusing. “Breathing is one of the tenants of Pilates, it’s part of the technique,” she says. “It helps your muscles to be more flexible; It is the engine of movement.

5. Don’t move without the core

“I don’t move a muscle until my core is engaged,” says Allen, even with movements as simple as raising my arms. “I never do anything without first going inward and moving from there.” Core support, he says, frees up the rest of your body for more range of motion and joint ease, or mobility.

Not only is it impossible to execute Pilates exercises effectively without the core being engaged, it could also lead to overuse of other muscles, she says, giving the example of lifting the leg over and over again using only the leg flexors. the hip.

6. Don’t push too hard

Allen’s many years of experience have taught her the difference between challenging herself and pushing herself in a way that could cause injury. She acknowledges that this isn’t always clear, especially for beginners, but she says the telltale signs of going too far are any sharp or throbbing pain, or a squeezing or grinding sensation in the joints. Simple modifications often make a difference: She’s not shy about lifting her legs higher on the set of crunches, decreasing her range of motion, or resting her head on the mat. “I don’t pamper myself, but I know my body well enough to feel when I’ve crossed a line,” she says.

7. Do not compare yourself with others

Allen admits that as a master teacher, it can be challenging not to compare yourself to those around you or your younger self. “I try not to look at the person next to me, because I don’t know their journey,” she says. “That’s when a lot of people get into trouble: they see someone next to them and they can hurt themselves trying to imitate them. Just be true to yourself and listen to your body, don’t let your ego get in the way.”

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