Posts tagged #Pilates Exercises

The Art of Correction


One of the most common conversations I have with teachers is about art of correction. I call it an art as I believe that correction requires creativity, intuition and thinking outside of the box as well as knowledge.  Often teachers say that they can see that something is not right but are not sure of how to “fix” or change it to help the client. So here are my top tips for correcting

Look for unwanted tension

Observe if the client holds unnecessary or undesired tension in certain areas or at specific points in the exercise. Are they gripping or fixing and therefore restricting movement? Or are they using an area incorrectly for stability, for example the neck and shoulders, to compensate for not controlling the movement elsewhere? You may notice a brittleness or fragility at certain times in the exercise, a place where they fear to move. Try to soften or release these areas during the movement. Focus on using breath to help the client to “let go”. The words and cues we use here are really vital to encouraging fluidity and equality of movement.

Observe the whole body

Sometimes we can fixate on a certain area that appears to be not doing as it should. Step back and allow yourself to look at the whole body. Think of the body as an integrated whole and see if the root of the movement pattern is actually somewhere else (it often is!!) For example, in shoulder bridge if the knees are flaring outwards, look to the feet- are they keeping even pressure through the foot tripod? Or the other end, the hip joint- is there outwards spiralling of the top of the thigh bone?

Be realistic

Remember perfection does not really exist! We can strive to get close but actually is the perfect execution of a Roll Up the reason your client comes to Pilates? Is it more for the joy of movement, the sense of health and well being, feeling strong and supple? So although we try to align, stabilise and move to our best ability, do not let too much correction stifle the enjoyment of the movements. Also consider how much dedication the client has to moving better, is it the same as yours? Do they take the Pilates ethos outside of their session? Do they do the homework you give them? If they just do an hour a week of Pilates how much progression is realistic? 

It’s a two way thing

Involve the client in their correction and movement. Ask them questions, do you feel the difference here? How does this feel? If we try this does it help and so on. Help the client to see the session as a work in progress where they actively participate and take responsibility of their movement.

Give yourself space and time

Find ways of allowing yourself time and space to process the movement questions you have. Do not worry if you can not “fix” something straight away. Just make a note and then allow yourself the time until the next session to consider and analyse how you could address the pattern. Think about ways to overcome the restrictions you see and then try them out. Never worry if something does not work, just try something else like a different cue or prop. Or just contact me and we can discuss what you are seeing and strategies to help!

As always I would love to hear your thoughts!

Posted on October 22, 2017 .

Music- To Play or Not To Play!

images-4If you ask a Pilates instructor if they use music in their classes the answer is often an emphatic "Yes!" or a shocked "No!" The question of whether music enhances or distracts during Pilates is often a hotly debated one. Some may argue that it distracts from  the precision of the exercises and  the search for the mind-body connection especially for those new to the method, whereas others believe that music can immediately create the calm ambiance and focus which can be hard to achieve initially.

Music causes  incredibly powerful and profound effects  involving several response mechanisms. These include:

  • The psychosocial response- the spiritual and psychological response we have to music
  • The cortical response- creates visualisation and imagery
  • The limbic response-how we react emotionally
  • The thalamic response-automatic body response to the rhythm of the music
  • The corporeal response-our physical reaction to the different sound vibrations.

In the light of these responses surely music would help deepen and enhance our mind-body connection, breathing and awareness?

Music should always create and support smooth movement sequencing, integration of breath and enhance inward focus. It should never intrude, detract or dominate the class.

MFP Logo (For Jo)Lisa Horner, the co-founder of Music for Pilates, definitely believes in the importance of music in Pilates.

"I personally love using music in my Pilates classes. I find it creates a calm relaxed atmosphere so clients can really focus on the areas that we are working on, giving them that whole mind-body experience that Pilates requires. As a teacher I also find it calms my soul which reflects in my voice helping the clients to work in a more intensified, slow, controlled rhythm. This is why it is so important to me to find that right music, which was surprisingly difficult and frustrating. I would find a lovely piece and then right in the middle a random squawk or screech from an unrecognisable animal or a deep boom from a Didjeridoo, shaking you and the clients out of your serene place. There is also that "small" problem of paying for a PPL licence or finding music that is licence free. My husband Perry, is an international song writer and music producer, so it only seemed natural to create our own licence free music, forming "Music for Pilates". We set to work tweaking the bits I knew would not work and testing in my own classes, until we found the balance of rhythm and calmness just right for Pilates."

Music can also be used to choreograph the movements. This is definitely for the more advanced student where the movements seamlessly flow through a choreographed sequence adding more challenge and enhancing the movement dynamics. The Pilates Instructor Only Class on 22nd November will be a fully choreographed class set to some beautiful tracks from Music For Pilates. To book your class please contact
As always I would love to hear your thoughts!

Why Dynamic Stretching is Perfect for Pilates

All Pilates movements require a good balance between strength, mobility and flexibility for correct execution, but due to postural issues some additional flexibility work is required to establish good functional length and movement. Every stretch is either static or dynamic and passive or active. Static-passive stretching is the most commonly used and most recognisable, where the muscle is gradually taken to a point of mild tension and maintained for a period of time, relaxing while outside assistance is used to aid the stretch, such as a strap, body resistance or another person.

Dynamic-active stretching is performed by moving through a comfortable yet challenging range of motion repeatedly whilst actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you are stretching. The movement should be smooth and controlled and requires more co-ordination but improves functional mobility in sport and daily activities.

Research has shown, Herda TJ et al (2008), that although static-passive stretches are beneficial, dynamic-active stretches are more functionally effective. Strength is being built while performing the stretches as muscular force is required to generate the stretch but they can be lower risk as no external force is being applied.  The stretches are movement orientated which can help generate heat making the muscles more pliable and as there is muscle activation and contraction present, muscles are triggered to relax more. As one of the original principles is Flow, dynamic-active stretching really compliments Pilates classes bringing fluidity to the stretches and releases.

Please click here for a short video of a dynamic-active hamstring stretch.

Breathing- Is It That Important?

diaphragm[1]A short while ago I was contacted by a highly experienced instructor who was concerned as a newly qualified instructor had attended one of her classes and at the end had said that teaching the breathing is very out dated and no longer important. To me this demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how important breath and the act of breathing was to Joseph Pilates and his work. The importance of breath in Pilates can be seen as far beyond the crucial role of respiration. It is the link between body, mind and spirit. It can promote awareness and attention, can enhance natural movement and aid relaxation. This relaxation or release of tension will then allow increased mobility and fluidity of movement.

Correct breathing patterns can enhance the connection between the deep abdominal muscles, pelvic floor and diaphragm, reversely if the diaphragm's movement is restricted, its can affect not only spinal stability and activation but also cause metabolic, respiratory and digestive issues. This can be apparent in clients with forward head posture where the phrenic nerve (the nerve that runs from C3-C5 and looks after the diaphragm) can become compressed and alter the neural feed to the diaphragm. If the diaphragm becomes inhibited it can mean less oxygen is reaching the body leading to a slower, weaker circulatory system which can cause dysfunction and complications.

The breathing patterns recorded by Joseph Pilates in "Return to Life Through Contrology" reflect how the breath enhances the movement patterns. Lateral, posterior breathing allows the lower ribs to remain mobile, so with the inhalation the ribcage expands upwards and laterally facilitating spinal extension. The opposite occurs with exhalation facilitating flexion. Joseph intuitively applied this to his instructions for movements such as Swan Dive and Double Leg Kick.

As Joseph stated, "Breathing is the first act of life, and the last... above all, learn to breathe correctly". When teaching, the breath forms the foundation to all the principles which are essential and integral to Pilates, it's importance should never be diminished.

Here's a short video showing an exercsie which can help to develop lateral, thoracic breathing.[youtube]

Sources:, ADAM

Posted on October 20, 2014 and filed under The Anatomy of Pilates.

Are You Being Served?

300px-Cast_of_Are_You_Being_Served_BBC_1970sLast week our latest Matwork graduates were treated to a brand, marketing webinar from the fantastic MiBrand Fitness Business Coaching giving them invaluable advice on all aspects of branding and marketing for their new Pilates business. One of the key impressions I gained as I eavesdropped was how as teachers we should serve not just sell to our clients. How we need to add value to our product, to always bear in mind our client's needs and goals and help them reach them rather than simply offer a class timetable and payment plan.

This really resonated with me when the following day I received a call from a fantastic instructor who after running a successful class had suddenly lost numbers. She understandably was disheartened and explained maybe it was due to a small price increase (£1 a session) caused by a venue hire increase.  She was considering offering a discount but remembering MiBrand's advice we discussed adding value instead, of offering something for that small price increase such as a short daily video routine, an e-book showing some spine mobility moves or a training diary. The essential element is, of course, knowing your client's needs and goals. Maintaining and generating new interest could be easily created by understanding why they are attending and offer an additional product or service to promote this. So it may be a holiday prep routine to do at home which you introduce on the first day of a new block,  a series of desk based exercises to help relieve neck and shoulder tension or record of flexibility tests.

I think once you adjust your mindset to how can you serve your clients instead of how to make them buy, you completely reverse your strategy and find work so much more rewarding and enriching!

For MiBrand's 6 Steps to a Successful Business Brand Plan click here

As always I would love to hear your thoughts!

8 Steps To Keep Your Pilates Classes Bone Healthy!

As Pilates instructors it can be daunting to work with a client suffering from Osteoporosis or Osteopenia especially in a group setting. With 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over 50 at risk from an osteoporotic fracture in the UK1, we need to carefully consider the exercises and modifications we teach. The main contraindication is spinal flexion due to the high concentration of trabecular bone (honeycomb like) in the bodies of the vertebrae and with over 75% of the Mat repertoire performed in flexion, we can sometimes feel very restricted and apprehensive about what we teach.

One of the main goals of the Pilates for Bone Health workshop was to put a positive spin on working with clients suffering or at risk from Osteoporosis, to focus on what can be added to sessions rather than what needs to be omitted and to encourage bone health throughout our classes.

Every time we exercise muscles, tendons and ligaments are pulling on the bones and the bone responds, stimulating bone formation and retention of calcium at the sites bearing the load. So in our sessions we need to promote,

  • Weight bearing exercises- standing, on all fours

  • Resistance- using bands, Pilates circles, weighted balls

  • Impact

Pilates is an excellent exercise system for those with Osteoporosis or low bone mass so keep your sessions bone healthy by following these 8 steps:

  1. Emphasise alignment throughout the sessions

  2. Focus on strengthening the back extensors and scapula stabilisers

  3. Promote dynamic stability

  4. Encourage spinal extension especially thoracic

  5. Strengthen site-specific areas- hips, spine, wrist

  6. Enhance joint mobility

  7. Challenge dynamic balance

  8. Include weight bearing exercises.

As always I would love your questions or comments.

For more information please contact or email


1.  Van Staa et al, 2001

The JPilates Convention photos are here!

So now the dust has settled I thought it was time to reflect on the first JPilates Annual Convention and share with you some of the amazing photos and feedback we received. "I am so glad that I secured the last place at your convention on Saturday, it was the best Pilates course, workshop or convention that I have been on. I really loved the friendly atmosphere, I had such fun as well as learning loads, some of which I have already implemented this morning! I hope you had as great a time as I did on Saturday it looked like it,  your enthusiasm is infectious.Thank you for a lovely and inspiring day!" Virginia McGowan-Brown

"Thank you to you and your team Jo for a great day. I felt welcome and the environment created is brilliant - no one is made to feel silly for questions they ask or things they don't know - I think this is so important to make learning productive and fun. I came away with a lot out of each session and then the champagne at the end to top it off! Well done to you and your team for an awesome day - I would come again! " Rochelle Bloomfield.


What a FANTASTIC day.......excellent quality presenters, manuals and goody bag! 

Often with bigger events you have to choose which workshops you have to do but with JPilates you get to do them all!  Each time you attend a JPilates event you have a sense of being part of a growing family, meeting like-minded instructors and creating yourself a supportive network of colleagues......because let's face it out there on the front line can often be quite isolating! The day had such a positive energy.......pack full of activities, ideas and information to challenge your practice and make you think out of the box!  Roll on the JPilates Convention 2014" 

Michelle Ormrod

"What an amazing experience to be able to join a community and feel so welcomed. The convention was a fantastic opportunity to receive high quality and varied tuition.    I felt energised and reinvigorated. My clients certainly felt the difference the next day!" Silvan Aidasani

"Thank you for such a great convention.  It was very motivating and very useful for inspiring ideas and further thinking.  I would definitely come again next year.  I had such a good time and the atmosphere was fantastic.  I really like it when you teach a class so a big thumbs up there. I also found the correction workshop to be excellent and it has made me want to keep learning and improving my teaching skills so I will definitely be booking on more workshops. The workshops were very thought provoking. I found it very interesting and it definitely made me think." Liz Jerome

One of my own favourite moments was when I overheard an instructor say "This is like being on Pilates holiday with loads of your friends!" 

We are now planning next year's Conventionso save the 12th July 2014! To see more fantastic photos please click here.

My Session with a First Generation Pilates Teacher

pilates-shortbox[1]On Friday 28th October I attended the Classical Pilates Convention for a Mat session with the first generation teacher Jay Grimes. What an amazing experience and I thought I would share some of the highlights and my thoughts.

"Mat was never taught but was given as homework "

Jay began by explaining that Mat was actually given to students as homework. Joe ( I was told never to call him Joseph!) never taught the Mat repertoire, irrespective of the famous footage of him teaching dancers at Jacob's Pillow. He would check you on your homework and would know if you had not done it!
Jay spoke of how in Joe's studio you did not have pre-booked sessions but rather you would just arrive and begin to exercise on whatever piece of equipment was free at the time. Jay explained that Joe never had music playing in the studio, that the external rhythm would interfere with your body's own rhythm as you performed the exercises.

" The order of the moves is of absolute importance, it is a lifetime's work of trial and error"

We began to work through the Mat repertoire with Jay teaching each move in detail and performing the exercises with strength and conviction I was told to "stop dusting my knees and PULL IN my heel to my butt" in Single Leg Pull ( Stretch). The next exercises were Single Leg Straight Stretch, Double Leg Straight Stretch and Criss Cross which took me completely by surprise. They were created by Romana Kryzanowska, another first generation teacher. Classical Pilates is defined clearly as "Joseph Pilates actual exercises executed in the order he created with his intentions" by Shari Berkowitz and after a few comments by Jay about "those who changed the exercises and equipment" , it seemed contradictory to add  exercises which were not created by Joe himself especially as later Jay said that Romana never taught her own creations in front of Joe.

" Let  people be bad....we're all bad when we's part of the process"

As we performed the Mat repertoire there were hardly any teaching cues given except for "squeeze your butt" and "suck in your gut". When asked about this, Jay responded by asking "how can bodies change if they do not move? If instructors constantly adjust, correct and restrict movement how will the client ever learn?" I agree that clients need to move as holding fixed positions throughout the day is the main cause of many issues and so we need to encourage freedom of movement and address imbalances through movement wherever possible. Yet I also believe that cueing is fundamental to a deeper understanding of the correct movement patterns necessary to effectively perform the exercises.

There was minimal reference to breathing. Jay explained that breathing is only cued when it is important, for example on Double Leg Pull (Stretch) and that otherwise it is a normal breath as if you were walking down the street talking to a friend.

The only modifications taught were in Swan Dive and Corkscrew otherwise clients should attempt to perform each move until they eventually understand and "feel" the exercises. "Stop babying people" was a comment repeated. In a fully equipped studio you would use the machines to aid the Matwork movements- this is why Joe invented them.  For example, performing Teaser on the Cadillac with the push through bar would allow the client to build the strength and mobility to perform the Teaser on the Mat. But for many of us, Mat is all we teach and so modifications and adaptations are crucial to create a safe and effective pathway to the original repertoire.

"You can't teach Pilates. You can guide people to find it in their own body"

Jay spoke of how he did not receive his first correction from Joe until he had been training for three months. He stated that you should never correct a client during Footwork on the Reformer but rather use that time to observe the imbalances and plan the rest of your session.

It was a fantastic afternoon, deepening my understanding of the Classical Pilates but also strengthening my conviction in my own style of teaching. I strongly believe in adapting the moves to allow clients to build a balanced foundation of strength, stability and flexibility prior to teaching them the original form. Yet as Pilates instructors we should never lose sight of our final goal- to allow our clients the opportunity to fully experience and practice the 34 Mat moves.

In our workshop The Moves- we will be fully exploring, analysing and adapting the 34 moves. For more information please visit or email

Many thanks to Amy Kellows for a great Convention and I am looking forwards to attending next year.

The Effects of Gravity-don't let it get you down!

GravityAs Pilates instructors we love to analyse movement through muscle and joint action, to assess restrictions and compensations and use our findings to help exercise prescription. In analysing movement we must consider the relationship of the movement to gravity. In Matwork the main source of external resistance is gravity, unlike the Studio Equipment where resistance comes from springs. So to explain, if the joint moves against gravity then the muscle group that causes the action will work concentrically (shortening as they generate force). If the movement follows the same direction as gravity then the muscle group that has the opposite action will contract eccentrically (lengthen as they generate force).

For example, The Roll Up. Roll up

In the first phase, as the spine flexes to roll up, it moves against gravity therefore the rectus abdominus and hip flexors contract concentrically, whereas in the second phase as the spine returns to the mat it moves in the same direction as gravity so the rectus abdominus and hip flexors work eccentrically controlling the movement.

Changes in the relationship to gravity means changes to muscles functioning. For example, moving from a supine position to standing as in the The Push Up where the first phase is the roll down. Here as the spine flexes forwards caused by gravity, it is the back extensors which are contracting eccentrically to control the movement not the rectus abdominus, and then contracting concentrically as the spine returns to standing.

Many of the Matwork moves are complex and so the effects of gravity during the movements will produce different types of contraction and muscular emphasis. The Roll Over illustrates these changes perfectly as we consider the leg movement.

Roll Over

To lift the legs up to ceiling the hip flexors work concentrically but as they pass the vertical position gravity will cause the hip flexion so the hip extensors are used to control the leg position. On the return, once the pelvis is on the mat, gravity creates the hip extension to lower the legs and so the hip flexors work eccentrically to control the lowering.

When analysing Pilates movement always try to consider this fundamental relationship between the key body segments and gravity at each phase of movement. Try now to analyse Hip Twist- let me know if you have any questions!

Posted on September 3, 2013 and filed under The Anatomy of Pilates.

3 Steps To Correcting Forward Head Posture

forward-head-postureForward head posture is arguably the most common postural fault we see. Ideally the head should be in a well-balanced position maintained with minimal muscular effort where the ear lobe is directly in line with the middle of the shoulder joint.  Faulty alignment is where the ear is forwards of the shoulder and can be due to factors such as prolonged sitting at a desk, extended use of computers, incorrect sleeping positions and sedentary lifestyles. Every inch the head moves forward equates to an extra 4.5kg causing not only neck, shoulder and upper back tension and pain, due to the muscles of the neck and upper back are constantly contracted and strained, but it is also associated with headaches, nerve compression, fatigue, increased blood pressure and a reduced ability to breathe (click here to read more about Posture and Breath). Forward head posture can pull the entire spine out of alignment as when the head moves forwards the centre of gravity shifts causing the upper back to move backwards which in turn causes the hips to tilt forwards leading to not only head and neck pain but also mid and low back issues. In order to correct forward head posture we need to  mobilise the cervical vertebrae, releasing the tight neck extensors and strengthen the neck flexors.

Self myofascial release are very effective in reducing restrictions in this area.

Myofascial release1. Lying supine with knees bent. Place a tennis ball to the side of the spine in the upper back area. Use a block or cushion to support the head and keep the pressure from the tennis ball manageable. Find a sore spot and hold the position for 10-20 seconds until it releases. Then slowly move to find another sore spot. Two tennis balls can be used on either side of the spine.

To mobilise the cervical spine lie supine, knees bent with the head resting on a half inflated mini ball, 1. Slowly draw small circles with the nose in each direction 2. Slowly nod the head, imagine you are drawing an arc with your nose

To strength and re-balance the neck extensors and flexors, sit in a neutral position Isometric Neck Exercises 1

1. Place a loose fist under the chin and gently press upwards without letting the head move. Hold for 5-10 seconds then release.

Isometric neck exercises 2

2. Repeat with the palm of the hand against the side of the face.


Muscles Testing & Function with Posture and Pain. Kendall et al

Image from

Visualisations-Do Yours Work?

visualisation-secretThe success of a Pilates instructor is strongly linked to their ability to communicate with their clients. An integral part of teaching Pilates is in the use of visualisation to convey movement, positions and alignment. Visualisation is an incredibly powerful tool in helping to create the mindful movement required to reap fully the incredible benefits of Pilates. Visualisation can either be direct- anatomical or biomechanical cues or indirect- metaphysical cues. Both types of visualisation create a strong link between the mind and body but need careful consideration.

Some clients do not connect to cues such as the pelvis as a clock or bucket, it can cause them to disengage or alienate them. On the other hand , should our cues be scientific, anatomical terms such as transversus abdominus, glutes, thoracic spine? It is essential that as an instructor we need a thorough, in-depth understanding of anatomy but is it really necessary for our clients?

The importance of good cueing is especially evident in group sessions where many clients may not have the knowledge or indeed the interest in learning the anatomical language required to fully understand these visualisations.

As instructors we develop our own repertoire and style of visualisations which work for us and our clients but we should always be aware of the effectiveness of these cues.

Many exercises begin with the instructor cueing activation of the core, our postural muscles. But it it is important to consider the fact that we do not have conscious control of these muscles- they are controlled sub-consciously by our nervous system in anticipation of movement. Most of these postural muscles work at a sub-threshold state so actively cueing them can interfere with their function in organising the spinal segments and actually cause accessory muscles to contract. As you are reading this you are naturally holding your head up, you do not need to think about it. So how do we overcome this?

The answer lies in cueing the bony landmarks such as hip bones, sit bones, pelvis and so on. Often these landmarks are used to set up positions,  anchor the sit bones, hip bones in line with pubic bone, but take this a stage further and use them to cue the movement itself.

For example, let’s take the Roll Up at a low level.

Roll up1.Seated on the sit bones, with the ribcage directly above the pelvis and a sense of length through the spine
2.Keeping a stillness in the mid back, exhale and move the hip bones away from the thigh bones
3.Inhale to return, lengthening to the start position
Try it now...

Can you feel how the deep postural muscles activate naturally with the movement? Why not try to teach your next session without cueing muscle activation using bony landmarks only? I would love to hear if you found improved movement  and some new visualisations.

Image from

Practise What You Preach!

I recently heard someone say,"Never trust a Pilates instructor who doesn't do Pilates" and this made me think of just how much time I allocate for my own training and personal movement. I thought to myself, " Well every time I teach I am focusing on my own posture, activation and breath and so I am constantly aware of integrating Pilates into my daily life and movement but in actually getting out a mat and performing the exercises well.....(blush!)"

As instructors we fully appreciate the immense benefits of practising Pilates, we see the vast improvements in our clients' movement, posture, strength, flexibility and sense of well-being. So surely we should make time to enhance our own movement and ability? We all have incredibly busy lives especially as many of us work full-time and/or teach Pilates in the evenings and weekends, have family commitments and so on. Also I find that in teaching so much Pilates, I tend to train different elements on free days to balance my exercise programme.

However Pilates is different from other training systems, its incredible success lies in its functional ability and relevance in every day movement. As Joseph Pilates said,

"Contrology is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace, and skill that will be unmistakeably reflected in the way you walk, the way you play, and in the way you work"

So for inspiration and assistance, last month I began to post on Facebook and in the JPilates forum video clips of 10 minute routines for you to do each day. The routines are intense as you will only perform a small number of repetitions and they are designed with instructors in mind so please modify if you need to. I will keep adding to the series and hopefully we can all reap the fantastic benefits of Pilates and practise what we preach! As Joseph Pilates said,

" Make up your mind that you will perform your Contrology exercise ten minutes without fail"

Below are the first two routines, to receive notification when new ones are posted please subscribe to The JPilates Youtube Channel here [youtube] [youtube]

(For all those dedicated instructors who do train each day-apologies!)