Pilates Students' Manual

Using Momentum In Pilates

May 19, 2022 Olivia Bioni Season 5 Episode 4
Pilates Students' Manual
Using Momentum In Pilates
Show Notes Transcript

Have you heard that using momentum in Pilates is cheating? Today we debunk this myth by exploring how integral momentum is in Pilates exercises. how momentum can make exercises more accessible, and how momentum can make exercises more challenging as well. Tune in!

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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.

[00:00:47] Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're going to be diving into the idea of using momentum in our Pilates exercises and kind of tackling the [00:01:00] myth that using momentum is bad or is cheating and really looking at momentum as inherent to a lot of Pilates exercises, and as something that can add challenge in other Pilates exercises, and also be kind of like a set of training wheels that helps us get to the next level in our Pilates adventure. So that is what we are diving into today. What a treat. 

[00:01:28] Maybe you've encountered this myth in your Pilates class, and you've heard that you shouldn't use momentum or that using momentum is cheating if you're doing an exercise and utilizing some momentum to accomplish the exercise, I'm not sure exactly where that myth came from. I know that I've heard it. Maybe you haven't heard it, which is awesome. Um, here's a myth that I've heard. I wonder if it came from this idea of having to execute [00:02:00] every Pilates exercise with, you know, the utmost control and maximum stillness, maximum stability, which is a word that I believe I've shared is not one of my favorite words. I don't believe we need to stabilize our body. Our body is very stable. Like we're not going to dislocate an arm or something. We're not unstable. Um, we can prioritize stillness and say that I want to be still in certain parts of my body, but you can't be still in every part of your body because then you wouldn't be moving. And Pilates is, in its heart, movement. 

[00:02:34] A completely non-scientific definition of momentum would be if you were on a swing set and you use your legs, that you'll straighten your legs as you swing forward and bend your knees as you swing backward and you use the weight of your legs to help you swing higher or faster, and that would be using momentum. You're using the [00:03:00] weight of your body in a way that allows you to take advantage of gravity, take advantage of the legs position relative to you in order to swing. 

[00:03:12] We see momentum in Pilates, in several exercises and things like the roll up on the mat and things like short spine massage and things like the roll over, any of the rolling exercises, rolling like a ball. And it's times where you can just see if you can see those exercises in your head, or if you do those exercises, you're like, yeah, I can see where momentum could come into play. I think we should be suspicious as Pilates practitioners. Any time you hear that you should never do something or you should always do something because there's always a bit of- here I am with always, um- because there's more nuance to movement and definitely more nuance to Pilates than to always or never do something.[00:04:00] 

[00:04:00] So when I think of these rolling exercises, like rolling back, also known as rolling like a ball, or rocker with open legs, also known as open leg rocker, exercises like seal and crab in order for you to get up while rolling. You're using momentum. That's just how it works. That's how you roll back. You tip back and then gravity takes over and then you have to hoist yourself back up. Right? That's the getting up. 

[00:04:31] Now there's nuance within that momentum. Like there's different amounts of momentum required for rolling back versus rocker with open legs. And the challenge that Joseph Pilates has in those exercises is finding the right amount of momentum. Right? You want to be able to roll back to your shoulders and roll up to a balance spot without letting your feet [00:05:00] touch the ground. So if you were to try that rolling back exercise and fling yourself forward as with as much effort as you could, your feet are going to slam into the ground, right, and you'll rock forward. So we want to find this balance of momentum, right? Where you have enough to get back and enough to get up, but no more and no less. You don't want so little momentum that you end up like a turtle stuck on your back, right? You want to get back up. 

[00:05:26] So you need some momentum, but how much is kind of the game that we play when we do that exercise. If you took momentum out of the exercise, you would roll down the same way you would roll down from your roll up, and then you would come up like your roll up. Right. Like you would control the entire way down and you would control the entire way up. You would no longer be rolling. You would be rolling down and rolling up if you can picture that and if that makes sense, so there's gotta be some middle ground between I don't use any momentum and I only use [00:06:00] momentum, but knowing that there are exercises in Pilates that require you to use momentum. You already know that you don't want to entirely get rid of it because then you'd be getting rid of some of the most fun exercises in mat Pilates, in my opinion, I think that they're a hoot and a half. When else do we get to roll around on the floor when we're adults? 

[00:06:21] There are other exercises overlapping exercises where you can use momentum as training wheels to experience the exercise, to find the shape of the exercise in a way that you aren't able to with your strength and your flexibility alone. These could be where the "don't use momentum myth" kind of came to be, but for things like the roll up for things like the roll over as well as, you know, the rolling exercises that I mentioned before, using more [00:07:00] momentum is going to help you to accomplish the exercise and then we start to take momentum away. As we start to add challenge to the exercise, as you get stronger, as you get more familiar with the exercise, then we can use a little bit less momentum. 

[00:07:14] So I want to break down the roll over because that's one of my favorite exercises where momentum is awesome and really helpful when you're trying to swing your legs overhead. And taking it away makes the exercise a thousand times more difficult. And Joseph Pilates knew that. If you read in Return To Life Through Contrology where he talks about the Rollover, he adds these pauses that eliminate all the momentum that you had from the weight of your legs and makes the exercise of a billion and times harder. Like he knew that. He knew what he was doing. 

[00:07:50] If you aren't familiar with the rollover exercise, I've got my copy of Return To Life. And I will tell you how Joe tells us to do the rollover. [00:08:00] He says, lie flat on mat or floor. Stretch arms, shoulder wide touching body, palms down, straight forward. Stretch, close together knees locked straight forward. Stretch toes pointed forward and downward. Inhale slowly and begin raising legs upward and over until toes touch the mat or floor. Exhale slowly and press arms firmly against mat or floor. Spread legs as far apart as possible. Inhale slowly and begin rolling slowly downward with both legs, tensed, straight and spread as far apart as possible until spine touches mat or floor. Exhale slowly while returning to position with legs about two inches above mat or floor. 

[00:08:42] So what he's put in is a pause at the bottom and a pause at the top, and that stops you from using momentum if you're doing the exercise Joe's way. Coming up after the break, I'll share with you what you can do in [00:09:00] that roll over exercise to use momentum to your advantage, and also ways that we can use momentum to make exercises a little bit harder and a little bit different and really keep Pilates interesting for us as we keep doing it. That's coming up next.

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[00:10:21] The rollover, right? What a mouth full. When you do it Joe's way you pause with your legs at 90 degrees, toes pointing to the ceiling, then you lift your legs up and over. Then you come back down and pause, and then you take that adventure again. You draw a little circle, you bring your legs up and over again. 

[00:10:40] If you are doing the rollover for the first time, I can guarantee that that pause is going to make the exercise very nearly inaccessible to you because it is a very difficult thing to do, to lift your legs up and overhead from a totally static state, [00:11:00] right? Which is why the exercise is so hard. 

[00:11:02] But if you were doing the exercise for the first time and you wanted to get that feeling of your legs, lifting up and overhead, you can use momentum by starting with your legs straight and low. And then as you lift them up to the ceiling, keep lifting your hips overhead. You use the weight of the legs, just like swinging in a swing to pull yourself into that overhead position, right? Feet on the floor behind your head, kind of like a plow pose if you're yoga person. Right? And then same thing. We separate the legs. We start to roll down. We try to go as slow as we can. Joe says, pause at the bottom with your legs, pointing to the ceiling, then draw that circle. But you could also just let your legs come down, you know, via gravity until we get to that two inch mark and draw the circle. 

[00:11:47] I would never say to a client of mine that using momentum in that instance is wrong. Because if you want to experience the exercise and lifting your legs overhead from lying [00:12:00] down isn't working, momentum is a great way to help it work. Not because that's the end game and that's all you want to do is fling your legs overhead. 

[00:12:12] When we learn something new, it always starts clunky. It's never perfect and graceful and flowing the first time you do it. And you're not learning if it's perfect and graceful and flowing, you've got to make mistakes and overshoot it. You know, I think of rocker with open legs, a lot in that regard. And it takes me like three open leg rockers to find how much momentum I need in order to execute the exercise, you know. Sometimes I come up and I put a little bit too much gusto in it, and then my feet touched the floor and then it's okay. I need less than that. And then I roll back, I roll up and I'm like, Ooh, that's not enough. I didn't get all the way to where I wanted to be. And you kind of have to find that sweet spot. So using momentum can be a training wheel situation, that it can get you started in your roll over. 

[00:12:59] Or I think [00:13:00] about the roll up a lot as well. If you think about when your arms are overhead, when you take your arms to the ceiling that you're throwing a ball at the wall in front of you, and you're kind of using your, the weight of your arms in this case, to fling yourself up to seated. That is a great way to start doing the roll up. If everyone else in class is doing the roll-up and you're just staying there on your back, it's like really frustrating and disappointing. And you know, you want to experience the movement. So using momentum is definitely a way to do that as like a stepping stone, as training wheels to get to a place where we're a little bit stronger and able to do it without that much momentum. 

[00:13:41] So taking away momentum can add challenge and things like, uh, rolling back or open leg rocker when you're doing those rolling actions and you make your ball smaller and smaller, it means your legs can do less flinging for you in the rolling exercises. And that's going to make it harder. [00:14:00] Eventually your ball will be so small that you will not be able to get back up. Right? And so that would be the edge that we're working towards because I still want to be able to do the movement of the exercise, but I can challenge myself by making that exercise as hard as possible. 

[00:14:15] One of the ways we do that is by taking away our ability to fling ourselves with our legs and arms, right. And when you're in a really tight ball, you can't, or for open leg rocker, if you're holding onto your ankles, you have a lot less wiggle room to play with.

[00:14:29] I want to further complicate this idea of momentum by sharing ways that momentum actually makes exercises a bit harder. It does, it does in two particular exercises. It's not an exhaustive list. There could be other exercises or even Pilates exercise variations where, you know, using momentum is interesting and can make it a little bit more challenging. But the exercises I had in mind were one leg circle [00:15:00] and the sidekick, I suppose, also the kneeling sidekick. 

[00:15:06] So here's how I think about momentum in one leg circle, because there's a bunch of different ways to do one leg circle. And the way I'm thinking of is draw the biggest circle you can, as fast as you can pause at the top. That pause at the top is really difficult if you used momentum to draw the biggest, fastest circle. 

[00:15:29] So if you think of one leg circle, you're lying down, you got one leg up to the ceiling, one leg long on the floor. You draw the biggest circle you can. In Joe's version of one leg circle, your circle so big that your hip lifts when you come across the midline and your other hip lifts, when you open the leg wide to the side. If you are using momentum and flinging your leg in this gigantic circle, and then trying to stop at the top of your circle, because you have to like be a brick [00:16:00] wall to all of the momentum of the weight of your leg. Momentum makes that really, really difficult. 

[00:16:06] If you were to draw a slow circle and then stop at the top, you weren't using any momentum. And that stops pretty easy because you weren't going very fast to begin with. Adding speed makes that stopping of the movement, adding that momentum makes stopping the movement so much harder. Same thing in your sidekicks, whether your knee- kneeling or lying down, when you swing your leg forward, and then you have to stop it to change directions and swing your leg behind you. That is harder to do when your leg is moving faster.

[00:16:43] It's not that slow is harder, fast is harder. Depending on the exercise, depending on what you're trying to do in the exercise, they both offer challenge. And I think that's kind of what I'm getting to at the heart of all of this, is that momentum is another [00:17:00] ingredient, like the length of the lever, whether you have a straight leg or a bent leg, like the range of movement, you're exploring like the movability of the surface. You're on, you know, if you're on a balance ball, it's a lot harder to do something than it is, or like a foam roller than it is if you are on something that doesn't move like the ground. Um, so momentum is just one of those ingredients that you can add to an exercise. 

[00:17:31] And maybe you add it to an exercise that you don't usually do it. Maybe you do your one leg circle, really small, really slow. How would it feel to make it really big and really fast and use momentum? It can be something where you play with. How much momentum can you add to this exercise? Not because it's better, but because it takes an exercise that you're familiar with and helps you to see it through a different light, through a different lens. And it kind of keeps Pilates [00:18:00] fun. 

[00:18:00] So I think momentum is a great thing to play with. If you are interested in playing with it, pay attention to where it pops up in your classes. Talk with your teacher if you're doing, one-on-one say, Hey, this is something I'd like to explore. If you're in a group class, you can compliment your teacher and their use of momentum exercises or say, that's what you want to work on next time in group. But yeah, keep exploring, keep playing and don't see momentum as the enemy. Momentum is just another thing that, uh, exists in Pilates. 

[00:18:31] Huge thank you to my supporters on Buy Me A Coffee. Thank you so much for continuing to support the project and the show. I appreciate your contributions and can't wait to meet with you and have that coffee chat on Zoom. If that sounds like something you would like to do, visit that Buy Me A Coffee page, become a supporter and we'll hang out. It'll be a good time. Thanks so much for tuning in. I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.[00:19:00] 

[00:19:07] Thanks for tuning into this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.

[00:19:30] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.[00:20:00]