The Rules of Engagement

August 3, 2009

By Kathryn Ross-Nash

What sets the Pilates method apart from all other types of exercise? Why does the method consistently work for all types of people training at all different levels, with all different needs and from all different walks of life? The movements that are executed are similar to so many other movements used in fitness, and the number of repetitions much less then most other workout routines. Plus, the body really only moves correctly in so many ways: So why is this method head and shoulders above the rest?

It’s simple. It all comes down to “the rules of engagement.”

In the Pilates method, the powerhouse must be the first area to be engaged. It is the beginning, middle and end of each exercise. I think that this is probably the most difficult thing to get across, as most Pilates practitioners (myself included) have deeply ingrained movement patterns. It’s typical for many people, especially newer students, to try and initiate an exercise using their extremities. But what happens? You wind up strengthening already-strong muscles. When you retrain the body to use the powerhouse—or girdle of strength—with each breathe, you protect your spine and strengthen one of the most vulnerable areas of your body.

As instructors and practitioners, we need to search for ways to find the powerhouse. Here are three techniques I use to help myself and my clients turn their power hut into a powerhouse.

1. Imagery: Using verbal cues, try to help the client find something he or she can relate to. For example, when trying to help them find their backs along the mat, suggest they imagine sinking into warm sand on the beach. Or invite them to imagine they have a corset on and the only place free to move is the powerhouse.

2. Physical Cues: I will place my hand under the hollow of the client’s back and have them press in and up on my hand. The tactical feedback of my hand is easier to feel then the flat of the mat. As the client begins to move, you can easily feel if they release the pressure and have begun to use another part of themselves and are no longer focused on the core.

3. Reference. Try mentioning another exercise they already do and understand. For example, if the client understands Spine Stretch Forward and is now learning Horseback on the Barrel, you can point out how these exercises are the same, just done in a different place (the man was a genius) and make this new exercise an old friend.

Two small points to leave you with. First, always beware: Just because someone looks as if they are doing the “movement” of Pilates, it does not make it Pilates. And second, always remember this: powerhouse first; box, second—and then use the movement of the exercise to challenge the integrity of the rules of engagement.