Putting the work back in your workout

By Kathryn Ross-Nash

A few days ago I was teaching a group of clients who had been students for many years. Instead of suffering through the Hundred…they looked comfortable. COMFORTABLE IN THE HUNDRED! That’s when I realized that they had gotten so strong that the goal position was no longer enough to challenge them; they would have to learn to create the challenge within their own bodies.

The Pilates method is based on creating oppositional forces in the body radiating from a strong center. This means the work is never-ending if you know how to create these opposing forces. Obviously we could spend hours (months!) discussing how to do that, correctly and efficiently, in great detail. But in a nutshell, here are four ways to create opposing forces:

1. Squeeze the juice out of an exercise: As you move through flexion and extension (the basis of the work), push the limits of the movement. For example, in Double-Leg Stretch, as you extend, reach as far as you can between your fingers and toes, make the waist and long and strong as possible. Then, when you bring the arms and legs in, make the ball as small as possible.

2.Pick a principle: Each time you teach, pick one of the six fundamental principles to be the focus of thworkout. You’ll be amazed at what happens. For example, the workout changes when you focus on fluidity instead of precision. The dynamics change when you concentrate on breath or centering (that all comes from the powerhouse). The challenge is different when you bring your full concentration (awareness to everything you are doing) to the work and when you focus on the control over the body and do not allow gravity or momentum to take over. Different Principle: different workout; different muscular response, full benefit of the work!

3. Mix it up: Change the rhythm of your work. For example, on the Single-Leg Stretch, play with the counts. Hold each position 4 counts 2 times, 3 counts 2 times, 1 count 2 times.

4. Alter your attention: Always engage your powerhouse first and align your box second: but then what? Some days focus on keeping the waist long in all your exercises, other days focus on using your bottom or engaging the back of your legs. The possibilities are endless.

Above all else, keep the work in your workout! That is how after 26 years of practice and 18 years of teaching I have never had a moment of boredom in the studio.


21 Responses to Putting the work back in your workout

  1. Mary McGuire says:

    Great tips…I was one of those students who ‘breezed through’ the hundred a few weeks ago. After initially patting myself on the back for having become so strong, I realized I probably could have been higher on my flexion, and more focused on the abs and made it more challenging myself. Will be applying your ideas moving forward!

  2. Tim Reilly says:

    This was a fantastic bit of advice that only can come from one who has been practicing. I am new to Pilates (less than 1.5 years) but sometimes I am looking to extend the effort in the position to strengthen myself. Thank you!

  3. Gaby Diskin says:

    I felt my deep core after your class last March in Alameda, California and hope you come out to see us again?

  4. Donna S says:

    I’ve worked out for 20+ years doing all types of dance, step classes, etc and Pilates is the one workout that actually gets harder the more you do it because you are constantly refining your movement. I am challenged in every class and totally addicted after 3 years. Just ask my husband!!

  5. Totally agree with Donna it never gets easier just more intense but so enjoyable! Love the ideas from Kathryn and will be putting them into practice. Focusing on one principle throughout class is s great idea! I always focus on all of the principles in class but this will really help spice my classes up and give me the time to focus and teach just one! Thanks so much. Amanda x

  6. Amy Dolinky says:

    I’ve been practicing Pilates for 16 years, but only teaching for 2 … with as many as 10 mat classes at 3 different sudios in any given week! I loved your insights, especially your use of “oppositional forces”, as that’s the exact terminology I use with my students. Your article also stressed the importance of the instructor’s involvement and commitment to making workouts different and challenging. After all, how can we expect our students to push it to the limits if we don’t lead the way?

  7. GREAT TIPS!!!…..

  8. Sandra S Leitner says:

    Kathryn Ross-Nash is an amazing, inspiring teacher and we, her clients, are so blessed. Her lessons permeate every aspect of my life.

  9. Kathi is really an inspiration ! Her Pilates body and her beautiful teaching of the Pure and original Method , using the the proper cuing and intonation of the voice she awakes the part of your body that was sleeping fron years !!!!
    I come from Italy every 3-4 months only to study with her !!!
    Thank you so much to “keep it pure ” !!!

  10. Gaby! I will be back in June!!! I am so thrilled to be able to come back and train such wonderful instructors
    This is such amazing work we are blessed to have and I am thrilled to be part of this blog!!
    Keep up the great work and check out all the wonderful writing on the blog!
    Off to beat up some teenage boys on the reformer!

  11. katrina says:

    Hi Kathi,

    Giuliana showed me your blog for the 1st time yesterday. I have seen what you have done with her body and am inspired! I would love to see you in NY if you come to teach.
    I did you makeup for the pilates video if you remember. I always remember watching you workout with Romana when I was an apprentice. It was always an inspiration!
    Hopefully I will benefit from your knowledge in NY sometime.
    All the best,

  12. Katrina!!!
    I could never forget you!! U r so beautiful inside and out!
    I would love to c u in NYC
    starting September I will be teaching at True Pilates every Friday that I am in town
    would love to c u there!

  13. Brooke Feldman says:


    Such a great article! It’s great to see somebody write about making the workout more challenging. So many people look to add weights or other props to make the work harder when all you truely have to do is work the mind body connection more. Thanks so much for your wonderful way of teaching and all the contributions you make to the Pilates Community. I can’t wait to take another lesson with you, see you soon!

  14. Brooke!
    Thank you soooooooooo much! You know that I believe in this work so much and all the benefits it has to offer. I so strongly believe this that my son- a 17 year old varsity stating running back-varsity wrestler and baseball player- has never weight trained. Everything we need is in our studio’s and with in ourselves.
    It is such a blessing to me to have Pilates teachers- such as yourself- enter my studio with such deep understanding of the method and a thirst for more!

  15. Ann Dickinson says:

    This is a terrific article which I’ve shared with some other Pilates instructors. Kathi, I promise I’ll never look comfortable doing the Hundred! I love the way every workout with you contains surprises in the way of emphasis or tempo. Never a dull moment!

  16. LOL- the fun never stops does it! great point about tempo- the tempo can change the entire intent of an exercise!

  17. Faye says:

    Goodness knows that Kathi knows how to keep things interesting! I’m afraid of her ab series on the mat. My core is trembling just thinking of it. But then I guess that keeps things exciting, eh? Looking forward to putting those tips to work with my clients. We’re never bored with such a great body of work to keep us pushing past the frontier.

  18. even after 26 years- I learn something new everyday!

  19. Yael says:

    Such great tips! possibilities are truly endless with pilates! thank you

  20. Olga Tamara says:

    Thank you kathi! I agree with Brooke! No need to add other props. Following your tips for teaching ensures that both client and teacher will never get bored. There is so much to explore in the purity of the work. Your energy alone is an inspiration. I hope we meet again!

  21. Felix says:

    Thanks for another informative site. The place else could I am getting that type of info written in such an ideal way? I have a mission that I am just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such info.

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