Progressing Pilates Programs: Advanced Pilates Exercises or Back to Basics?

by | Sep 8, 2010 | Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 4 comments

I’m always amazed when I take an experienced client back to just the beginner Pilates exercises at how much they connect to the work and get more from their Pilates sessions.  Of course I always do the basics in a more advanced workout, but a beginner Pilates Reformer and Mat with a little fine-tuning gets folks sweating every bit as much as a flippy-skippy upside-down/right-side up advanced workout.

While it’s fun to do the wilder Pilates exercises, my philosophy is to choose exercises in my client workout programs that:

  1. Work the Pilates System – and follow a good sequence of the order for moving the body as Joseph Pilates would have done going through the full repertoire of Pilates exercises.
    To me this means incorporating stabilization, passive and active movement, flexion, extension, side-bending, and rotation of the spine, arm and leg strengthening & stretching into every Pilates training session.
  2. Keep a focus on specific goals identified by the client and myself to target for improvement, and noting the specific exercises in their training program and “homework” that are helping us reach these goals.
  3. Emphasize proper form, breathing, and muscle firing patterns, so that every Pilates exercise and transition is useful and beneficial.

We do have to “pick our battles”  since it’s impossible to correct everything  at once.  But I strive for as little “cheating” as possible so that regardless of the exercise, maximal benefits will be achieved.   Clients should always be paying attention to what’s working to support their efforts, and what muscles are working, releasing, and which joints are moving to be most efficient with their Pilates exercises.

I was taught that Joe Pilates  low-repetition philosophy was designed so that the last repetition done for each exercise would always be the best one you’ve EVER done!

This process helps to leave our muscles with the memory of how to execute movement correctly.  If we become too fatigued to do things well, our body will start to recruit muscles that should not be participating in the effort, and if this is the last thing we do, our brain will store the information of using the wrong muscles to do the work.

More is not always better. I believe this holds true not only for the number of repetitions that we do, but also for the number of exercises, and the level of exercises (basic, intermediate, advanced).

While it might be “fun” for us as teachers to challenge our students with a very difficult advanced exercise, ask yourself the following questions before introducing it:

  • Is the exercise appropriate for the goals of the client?
  • Does it have a true purpose in their program?
  • And have they done all of the preparatory exercises needed before they get to this exercise so that the body is strong and flexible enough to successfully execute this new and difficult task safely?

If the answer to all three of these questions is yes, then I’d consider adding this new challenge to their workout program.

If the answer is no – go back to basics, see what other Pilates exercises you can work with to continue progressing clients forward so that over time, perhaps you’ll arrive at a wild advanced move.  But it needs to be wildly RELEVANT for their health and well-being!

Remember, as teachers we are talking and doing Pilates all day long, every day!  Our clients only hear what we are saying an hour or two a week.  The learning curve for them is slower – they are not hearing or doing their Pilates exercises as many times as each of us as Pilates teachers are cuing them! So there’s no need to rush willy-nilly into super-advanced moves.

Regardless of how long clients have been doing Pilates, if it’s been less than a year or 15 years plus…  Getting back to basics is always a great way to peel back a few more layers of the onion and get a deeper understanding and appreciation of your body, the work and release, and can really help fine-tune your Pilates exercise program for maximum benefits from every exercise regardless of whether it’s a beginner, intermediate, or advanced move.


What are your thoughts on Pilates programming and introducing new exercises?

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.


  1. Maite Bou

    Thanks Aliesa!

    The topics you write are making me thing lots about how to become a better instructor and knowledgeable of my body. Referring to this article is very true that sometimes as a instructors we are the ones that want to add new very complicated moves to our clients routines because is exciting and different for us. But how these changes affect our clients?…..When you teach a group class I find it much harder to asses everybody’s needs…. Sometimes I found complicated to find exercises ( modifications) that build up to the exercise we want to end it up teaching…..Sometimes I break down the exercises to get to the full one or I try to add another exercise that shares the same muscle fairing pattern or similar moves……

    Aliesa, you’re a true inspiration to my work…the more I read your blog the more I realize I know so little….and it encourages me to keep learning!!!



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