Progressing through Pilates levels

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As I progress through my own personal Pilates practice, I find myself gaining more confidence in my knowledge and abilities. However, just the other day I was reminded of how humbling Pilates can be.

In class I asked my instructor to throw some advanced exercises at me to see how I would do, thinking in the back of my head that I would really amaze myself with my performance. The first few exercises went well, and then she put me into tendon stretch on the reformer and. . . I plummeted. With each attempt I became more and more frustrated as sweat dripped over the footbar from my effort. I hadn’t experienced the feeling of unsuccessful execution in quite some time, and it was a good opportunity for me to step back and review principles that I need to improve on.

tendon 1tendon 2

(Tendon Stretch on the Reformer)

I was reminded that while I am getting stronger and more flexible, there are still many principles and movements in Pilates I am working to master. That failed attempt at tendon stretch told me that I need to keep building up my deep low belly scoop, learning how to move with my psoas long yet engaged. I started making a plan to regularly incorporate exercises like upside down push-up and roll over into my routine to help me progress to tendon stretch on the reformer or chair.

This is one of the great things about the Pilates method: The levels and layers of exercises allow you to go wherever your body is at, working in a place that is challenging yet doable for you. Unlike other training methods, Pilates doesn’t simply add reps or weights to progress your body through a physical fitness program.  As you advance you are required to do more complicated exercises with a variety of different elements. You might use more or less spring, alter speed, change your plane in space, increase range of motion, or limit surface stability to challenge your body’s mastery of different principles. The levels are designed to develop your body slowly and safely, allowing you to layer on skills in a way that feels satisfying rather than frustrating.

My recent experience reminded me that as you advance through your own program it’s important to respect where your body is at and not just level up to boost your own ego. Tune in to how an exercise makes you feel. Do you move with fluidity and control, or is it forced and clunky? Be vocal and honest with your instructors about what you are experiencing so you can find a variation of the movement that is appropriate for you. Pilates offers an opportunity to expand your understanding of your body and knowledge of alignment, and if you are doing it correctly you will never stop learning and progressing.


About the Author:

Rachel recently finished the teacher training program at Streamline. She is excited to continue to develop her passion for Pilates through teaching and personal study. She is mentored by Eva Kauffman, Lise Fischer, and all of the other talented instructors at Streamline. You will see her around the studio teaching classes and posting articles on the Streamline blog.

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  1. Marci Crane  March 22, 2017

    Nice! Pilates is such a “layered” game to me. I keep feeling deeper into my body. It’s awesome. Thanks for this entry! 🙂


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