Exercise Speed: Pilates Training – The Value of Pacing Your Pilates Workouts

by | Apr 30, 2013 | Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 0 comments

bearThe 3 Bears Strategy for Pacing Your Pilates Workouts

How are exercise speed and healthy movement related?  This is an interesting topic of discussion for Pilates training.   What’s the best speed for pacing your Pilates workouts?  What speed should we be executing the exercises in our workout?  Is it good or bad to work slowly?  And is it possible that we might be moving too fast to really get the best benefits from what we’re doing?

Based on my training and understanding of healthy movement habits, our ideal goal is that regardless of the pace or speed of our movement, it should be done with the correct amount of control and coordination using the right muscle groups in the correct sequence for biomechanically correct function.

That sounds long and technical, so the short answer is move with the right muscles working and you’ll stay healthy!  Move at a pace (either too fast or too slow for you to control and use the right muscles) and there’s a good chance that you will recruit other muscle groups that ideally should not be involved in the work, thus training your brain and body to recruit the wrong parts to do the action.  Generally speaking, the body is very forgiving…  we can do things wrong for a very long time and not experience any ill effects.  But sooner or later, there’s a very good chance we can end up with a new ache, pain or injury from these inefficient movement habits.

One of the fabulous reasons to start as a Pilates student “working the system” and utilizing all the Pilates equipment, rather than just doing the Matwork exercises, is the help and support that you get with the assistance of the springs on the Reformer, Chairs and Cadillac.  This “extra” help (or work) depending on the exercise allows you to work at a pace that is natural for your body to figure things out.  You can learn to relax the muscles that need to let-go a little bit more, and activate the ones that need to do the work more easily. As you get stronger and more confident with your new muscle habits, the pace of your movement will naturally begin to pick up.  But because you are conditioned to move slowly, you may need a little extra “cueing” to remind you that it’s OK to move faster!

Regardless of whether you’re working on the Pilates equipment, doing Matwork, or any other type of physical activity paying attention to your pace can significantly change the benefits of what you find, feel and focus on during your workouts.

I’m going to coin a new term and call my Pilates Pacing Plan the “3 Bears Strategy.”  Instead of porridge, “too hot, too cold, or just right,” like in the children’s story, it’s MOVEMENT – “too slow, too fast, or just right.”

From my perspective – the pace of movement for Pilates will be dictated by several important factors:

  1. Your level of experience, beginner, intermediate or advanced.
  2. Your body awareness and ability to coordinate breathing & movement
  3. Your understanding of healthy movement habits, form & function, muscle activation and work & release

Think about it this way, a healthy basic Pilates student who is familiar with the beginner Mat exercises  might need 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete a workout.

An intermediate student will require the same amount of time to complete their Mat workout.  They are doing more exercises in the same amount of time.  In order to accomplish this feat, the speed and pace of their workout has to increase.

At a more experienced level, progress to the Advanced Matwork, and if you’re really blazing trails, you can add in all the advanced exercises AND reduce the amount of time for your workout down to perhaps 30 minutes!

How long does it take to do the Basic Mat exercises, based on Pilates experience?

Here’s how it looks:

  • Basic level student = 45 min to 1 hour to complete the basic Mat exercises
  • Intermediate student = 20-30 minutes to complete the basic Mat exercises
  • Advanced student = 10 minutes to complete the basic Mat exercises

The exercises are the same, what’s changed is the pace.

I think this is a nice thing to keep in mind.  As a teacher it can help you judge the “level” of your students.  Just because they’ve been doing Pilates for 10 years doesn’t automatically make them an “Advanced” level participant.  There are other factors to consider – health status, injuries, limitations, personal goals, body awareness, mind-body connection…  (A 3-5 day a week Pilates student for 10 years will be at a much different place (and pace) than a participant who is only doing 1 day a week of training, and a 2 day a week student will be at a different place too.)

Does Your “Level” Really Matter?

What do you think about this?  Is it important for you to be an “Advanced” level Pilates student?  Does it bother you to think about all the time you’ve invested and you’re still a “beginner?”  Heck there have been days (and years) since I’ve been a Pilates teacher when I know just doing the basics is in the best interest of my body.

Honestly, I don’t care what “level” my clients are at.  What I do care about is how well they are able to execute the exercises in their workouts to obtain the maximum benefits for their personal health improvement.  If that means it’s best for them to stay at a slower pace and just focus on the basics – AMEN, we’re doing great things for their body!  If things are going well, and I see that when I challenge their pace that they can maintain good form – I know it’s safe and appropriate to step it up a notch and move faster.  Perhaps breathing patterns will need to change too as they get more comfortable with moving at a brisker pace through their workouts.  (This starts freeing up time in the workout and allows progression and focus on new goals & exercises.)

Zippy-Skippy Advanced Pilates workouts…  Are for injury-free, healthy bodies with lots of experience!  In my almost 20 years as a Pilates teacher, and in training Pilates teachers – the clients that have come thru my door to learn Pilates and improve their health haven’t been 100% healthy!  While my long-term goal is always to assist them in progressing as far as they can safely go, not everybody should strive to work at an “Advanced” level.  That’s not to say you never learn an “Advanced” move.  But a couple of “Advanced” exercises in your workout doesn’t mean you’re necessarily and “Advanced” student.  Might ruffle a few feathers with this comment, if your views are different, I can respect that.  I prefer to work at a safe and appropriate pace (if that means fewer exercises done extraordinarily well  at a little slower pace– I believe in the long run it’s more conducive to improving health than pushing past your limits, going at breakneck speed and getting injured.)

What Is The BEST Pace for Your Pilates Workouts?

How do you find that sweet-spot…  Not too fast, not too slow, but just right?  Well, it may be a moving target (pun intended!).  As you progress and gain confidence in your skills it should feel natural to move at a brisker pace.  If your movement becomes less precise, sloppy, or out of control when you go faster, your body is not quite able to work at that pace, slow down for a bit, and then work back up to a faster pace.

It’s easier to work at your own pace with Private training because there’s nobody else to “race” against.  And Pilates training isn’t a race-to-the-finish sport anyway.

In group classes, it’s the instructor’s job to find a pace that is appropriate for all participants.  (Optimal if group classes are “leveled” to appropriately challenge clients for both exercises and pacing.)  If there is a wider discrepancy in the level of your group class participants, it is still possible to encourage good pacing.  Your more experienced participants might get in 8-10 reps, while a less experienced student does 3-5.  In my book, this is perfectly fine to keep everybody moving safely.  Cuing that it’s OK to work at your own pace and not worry about the number or reps you get done before we switch exercises is helpful to train participants to listen to their body and move accordingly at an appropriate pace for them today.

Learn your exercises and be aware of what it takes to “do it well” first.  What muscles need to be working, what has to let-go, when should you inhale and exhale to help your movement “ride the breath” as you focus more on speed and pacing?  With this awareness, mind-body connection, and information under your belt it will be easier to pick-up-the-pace, and find the sweet-spot for the speed of your workouts to get your pace “just right.”

Pace Is Important

“Too Slow” and you’re actually making it more difficult to move.  “Too Fast” and you may be using momentum instead of the right muscles (hurling instead of curling on exercises like the Roll Up and Neck Pull in a Pilates Mat class…)  Find that “Just Right” pace and you can enjoy easy, effortless, well-executed movement to maintain strong muscles, mobile joints, and keep your body health and fit.

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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