If you're reading this, it's probably because you're a Pilates fanatic, you want to be good at Pilates or you're not sure if you are. With 12 years of experience as a Pilates instructor, here are nine signs that you are:
1.You know the difference between your core and your abs.
When you first arrive at Pilates, it's often on the understanding that you want to strengthen your core. However, after time and experience, we know that your core is a bit of a loose term to sum up a lot of stuff. Strengthening your core means getting stronger and moving better. It means feeling more confident in your body's ability to move (you're not about to pop a disc because you've sneezed). Core encompasses abdominals (lots of different layers), glutes, backs, shoulders and trunk. It's the bit that your limbs come off of. Pilates allows your body to move better and to be stronger with it. That's the magic! Core training is just a way in.
2.You know how to engage your abdominals but you also know when it's time to move about more.
When you first start Pilates, there's a lot of focus on controlling your movements. But the real Pilates magic happens when this is no longer conscious effort and your body is free and strong enough to move through the Pilates repertoire. Mobility always wins over strength.
3.There's no squeezing, holding or tensing - just aligning.
You know that whilst you want to engage your muscles, consciously squeezing them can lead to unwanted tension elsewhere. In time you can trust that if your joints are aligned 'just so' your muscles will work without too much conscious effort. Although they might hurt a bit from the exertion which is definitely very conscious!
4.You don't finish class with neck ache.
In the early days of Pilates, you can create a lot of neck tension either by a) being tense or b) lifting your head off the floor without the abdominal strength to support it. Over time this will go, once you get stronger or learn to modify moves (in the early days) to suit you.
5.You know how and when to modify and/or progress moves.
This is a tricky one, since I feel that whilst it's important to modify moves to your body's limitations, it is as part of a process to getting your body towards completing the original moves. With experience, you'll know when to back off or modify and when you're coasting. And that it's okay to coast sometimes (if you're feeling a bit introspective or tired) but in order to get stronger, you'll need to go out of your comfort zone too.
6.You do some form of home practice.
This doesn't mean that you do Pilates for an hour every day. This might mean you have a few key moves that your body needs to do daily, or that you have a Pilates sequence you do before or after a run or a day at a desk. It might also mean that you have an online programme to follow. What matters is that there are some things you just do between classes.
7.You've mastered most of the basic moves.
Whilst there are always a few moves that are our nemesis and require lots of home practice, if you've mastered the majority of movement basics, you know you're well on the way to Pilates mastery. Rolling, back extensions, the rollover, the rollup, the hundred and side work are all there in movement mastery.
8.You understand Pilates breathing.
This doesn't mean that you do it right, always, without fail! This just means that you get the basic concepts of lateral thoracic breathing rather than chest breathing and that you can work out when you should be breathing in or out. Sometimes, if we're concentrating, we all hold our breath for a bit but like muscle control, Pilates breathing at some point becomes less conscious and just what you do.
9.You feel great after your Pilates class.
No matter how you arrived, you always feel better after your class. And more importantly you feel confident that you are another step closer to Pilates mastery.
Karen Laing is a Pilates Instructor and Writer based in Epping, Essex. She is a spokesperson for women in the fitness industry and presents on women's health, especially exercise as medicine. Karen co-directs Fit School with husband Chris and has created Pilates online, in order to break down barriers to exercise.