Have you ever done an exercise in your Pilates and thought about adding a spring to make the exercise a bit harder? Today we deep dive into how the springs on Pilates apparatus support and challenge us, the limitations of adding springs and all things to keep in mind when adjusting the springs! 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.
[00:00:46] Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Happy New Year. If you didn't check out the episode on Pilates Teachers' Manual, uh, the past week, and maybe this is the first time you're seeing me in 2023, welcome, [00:01:00] welcome. Happy New Year. Happy New Year. I'm so glad you're here. I'm so excited to be back for another season of answering your burning Pilates questions and giving you that behind the scenes look into your classes and helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. That's really what the podcast is for, and that's what I'm excited to be doing again for the foreseeable future.
[00:01:23] Today's question is, does adding springs make Pilates exercises harder? And this is something that comes up a lot in classes I teach, you know, group reformer classes and people will say, you know, this is too easy. Can I add a spring. And you may have had that experience yourself where you were taking a Pilates class and you were like, this feels really light. Like I feel like I should add a spring to this exercise. Uh, so we're definitely talking about Pilates' apparatus today, Pilates equipment that has springs. So this could be the Pilates [00:02:00] reformer, the Cadillac, the trapeze table, the chair, any of the chair variations: wunda chair, exo chair, combo chair, baby chair, electric chair, which is an actual Pilates chair, which I think we should reconsider the name of. It could be the Tower or the Springboard. It could be, I guess, the ped-o-pull. Technically any apparatus that has springs. If you add more springs, does the exercise get harder?
[00:02:28] Short answer, it depends. We are gonna dive into it because if that was the whole podcast episode, that would be rather anti-climactic and a bit of a cop out. So we're really gonna dive into why it depends and really look at this question from lots of different angles.
[00:02:45] Now you might be listening to this podcast and you might be someone who's done Pilates for a really long time, and the spring settings you use might make total sense to you in your brain, in your body. You totally get it and you can't even [00:03:00] remember a time when you said, can I add an extra spring? You might be there. You might be someone who's new to Pilates, and what I said earlier really resonated with you and you were like, yeah, I've wanted to add a spring to a bunch of exercises and I don't know if I can or if I should. Is it good? Is it bad? You know, what does it mean in the great morality of Pilates exercise.
[00:03:23] Even if you haven't thought for yourself, you know, this is too easy. I should add a spring. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who might have had that experience. And one thing that I think really leads into this is what other forms of exercise experience you may have had. In a lot of other forms of exercise heavier is better, faster is better, sweating more is better. You had a better workout if you're just dripping sweat and you can't move at the end. If you have done Pilates for a while, you may enjoy the [00:04:00] super sweaty, hard parts of Pilates, whatever hard means to you. Um, but you may also be able to recognize that sweat is not an indicator of a good workout. It's an indicator that you sweat. And when I do hot yoga, it's the indicator that the room was a very warm when I was exercising.
[00:04:19] And there's like a lot of exercise. It could be HIIT, it could be, you know, circuit training classes. There's just other forms of exercise where you may be led to believe that heavier, like more springs in your exercise means that you're like doing better in the class. It's not to say that you aren't doing amazing in the class, like honestly, if you're in the class, you're already doing amazing. Um, but let's kind of break down what the springs do in our Pilates exercises and whether or not adding springs is going to actually make the exercise more difficult or maybe make it actually a little bit easier.
[00:04:57] So the biggest question you wanna ask yourself here [00:05:00] is what are the springs doing in this exercise? Okay? So if you're thinking of the Pilates reformer and you're doing an exercise like footwork where you're lying on your back on the carriage, head is on the headrest, shoulders are tucked against the shoulder blocks. You have your feet on the foot bar, you're pressing the carriage out, and you're pulling the carriage in. What are the springs doing in that equation? Are the springs working with you or working against you?
[00:05:25] Well, the spring resistance is resisting you pushing the carriage out as you straighten the legs. The springs try to inhibit you from doing that, right? So you might say, okay, the springs are working against me.
[00:05:37] Anytime the springs are working against you, adding springs or making the springs heavier is going to make the exercise more difficult because the thing that is working against you is now working against you more or more strongly with more springs.
[00:05:53] So for an exercise like footwork, adding a spring is going to increase the strength [00:06:00] requirement of doing that exercise, right? You will have to push more to open the springs when there are more springs or heavier springs in the equation.
[00:06:09] But it's easy to say, okay, adding springs makes it harder. Done. But not all exercises or not in all exercises rather, are the springs actually working against you. Sometimes the springs are helping you. So for a reformer example of that, something like bridging, if you have the carriage closed, you're lying down in the same way you were in footwork, lying on the carriage, head on the headrest, shoulders against the shoulder blocks, feet on the foot bar.
[00:06:36] Now you're doing a bridge. And the challenge is keeping the carriage closed, right? Can you lift your hips to the ceiling? Can you lower your hips back to the carriage? Can you keep the carriage closed while you do that? Well, for an exercise like bridging, now heavy springs is helping you keep the carriage closed. Your goal is to keep the carriage closed, the springs keep the carriage closed. So more springs in a bridge [00:07:00] is actually easier. So if you thought to yourself, oh, I'm gonna make this class super hard, I'm gonna add all these springs in footwork, and then you go into bridging, it's actually easier in bridging.
[00:07:09] It was harder in footwork, but it's easier in bridging. So each exercise has its own use for the springs. The springs are doing something different in each exercise and. Sometimes subtracting springs makes it really hard. And if you don't believe me, try bridging on like a half spring or you know, no springs. My gosh. No springs planks on the reformer is like toasty.
[00:07:37] For a non reformer example, if you were doing something like a squat and you were using the handles in the springs on like the tower or the springboard or the Cadillac, something where you were standing, you had were holding handles in your hand and there were springs attached to the Cadillac Tower or Springboard using those springs. When you do your squat, the springs are helping you come out [00:08:00] of your squat. So having really heavy springs when you're doing a squat is a great way as you're building strength in your squat if lifting your entire body weight is difficult. Now the springs are helping, they're taking some of the body weight and they're helping to, you know, lift you out of that squat. So heavier springs are making that easier.
[00:08:18] Doing a squat with no spring assistance whatsoever is going to be more difficult than doing it with the springs and changing the way the springs are located so that you have to push through the springs for something like footwork. If you think of footwork as like a resisted squat, having really heavy springs for that would then be harder because the springs are working in a different direction.
[00:08:43] So every exercise you do, you might ask yourself the question, you know, what are the springs doing here? Are they working with me? Are they working against me? Would changing the spring tension make it harder? And would I want to change it up or change it? You might go to your Pilates classes and be [00:09:00] like, look, I don't want to think about that. That is the teacher's job, and that's totally valid. You can do the exercises on the standard spring settings and get tons of benefits.
[00:09:08] This isn't to say that the starting point for spring settings, like there's a reason there's a starting point, right? It gives you kind of a general place to be, but as you grow in your practice, you might consider playing with those spring settings. You might consider knocking 'em up, knocking 'em down to make the exercise more interesting in a variety of different ways. Changing the springs is always gonna make it harder, but harder how?
[00:09:36] Something like footwork where we talked about adding the springs to make it heavier so it's harder to push the carriage out. You can do footwork on a super light spring, and suddenly it's just like straight up hamstring curls right now. The pushing out is super easy because the spring is light, but the pulling in there is no spring helping you close the carriage. It's just the back of your leg pulling the carriage closed. Right? So [00:10:00] it becomes almost like that bridging exercise as you're pulling the carriage.
[00:10:06] Coming up after the break, I do wanna talk about the limitations of spring changes and like dialing up and dialing down springs on the reformer because, and I mean, not just the reformer, like reformers specifically, that's what's in my head, but really on all pieces of equipment, there's some limitations to keep in mind as you're playing with spring settings.
[00:10:27] Also just some like overall things to keep in mind as you're adjusting your spring settings, and that sounds cryptic, but spoiler for what I'm gonna really dive into in the second part here is that not every exercise has to be the hardest version of the exercise in Pilates. So I will break that down a little bit too. That's coming up next.
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[00:11:56] In true Pilates teacher's form, I have dodged [00:12:00] answering the question and thrown out an "it depends" on whether or not, you know, making your springs heavier is actually making your exercise harder. You know, Pilates teachers love to answer questions with a question you might ask, you know, where should I feel this? And then your teacher's like, well, where do you feel it? And you're like, gosh darn it. Just gimme a straight answer.
[00:12:18] So it does feel like that a little bit, but it is important because each exercise uses the springs differently. So making it heavier could make it harder, could make it easier, depends on the exercise.
[00:12:30] Now there are some limitations because- take an exercise on the reformer, like pulling straps. In pulling straps, the long box is on the carriage. You're lying on your stomach. Your head is towards the pulleys or towards the headrest facing the back of the reformer, and you're holding the straps and your hands. Your legs are long behind you. If you have a high foot bar, you may have lowered it so you don't kick it.
[00:12:55] The game is, you're holding the straps in the hands, you're pulling your arms back [00:13:00] towards the foot bar and then bringing your arms forward. So it's kind of like, it's not quite a swimming action. We call it plow. If you're pulling straight down to the floor and then back to the foot bar, and if your arms are out in a T and you're going from a T to your hips, you are doing pulling straps T.
[00:13:17] So take an exercise like that. Are the springs working with us or against us? Well, that spring resistance is what's resisting the movement of our arm as we pull our hands back to the foot bar, pull our arms back to our hips, right? The spring is making it harder because it is resisting the movement. So you might think to yourself, okay, I'm gonna totally load up my springs in this exercise because I want to get stronger. And you know, adding, springs is working against what I'm trying to do, so it's gonna be harder to do. It's gonna be heavier.
[00:13:52] Amazing. There is an issue,. There is a limit to what you can do there because you will reach a point depending on your body weight [00:14:00] and your proportions, that when you pull the straps, you will just pull yourself off of the box. Because when you're lying on your stomach on the box, there's nothing holding you on there except for gravity. And as you're pulling the straps, if the straps are super duper heavy, you will move instead of the carriage moving, if that makes sense. Right?
[00:14:20] So not every exercise is adjustable to such a degree. Like there are limits in every single exercise. Even in footwork, you could have all the springs on and you're like, well, I wanna make it heavier, but there are no more springs, right? So the limitation could just be the springs that exist.
[00:14:39] Same thing, the- you know, making the springs lighter. There is a point where you have no more springs. You can't make it lighter than no springs. And no springs has massive challenges and is super awesome and fun to play with in certain exercises, but you can't have less springs. You'd have to change the exercise.
[00:14:59] Another [00:15:00] thing to keep in mind in does adding springs make the exercise harder is you, as a person and the size that you are, how much you weigh, how long your limbs are, things like that. Because when you're doing an exercise, that's like feet in straps where you're lying on the reformer the same way you would for footwork or bridging. Head on the headrest, lying on your back on the carriage, shoulders against the shoulder, blocks for feet and straps. You have your feet in the straps.
[00:15:29] If you are a person who is in a bigger body, having the standard spring setting may not be ideal for you. Right? So if we think of what the springs are doing in something like feet and straps, They are resisting us as we're lowering our legs towards the springs, right? As we go down the springs work against us. As we go up, they help lift our legs back up.
[00:15:57] But a secondary thing that the springs are doing is that they're [00:16:00] supporting part of the weight of our legs. So if you are a bigger person, the standard spring setting may not be giving you the support you need for your legs in which case, making the springs heavier might actually be the right choice for you to make the exercise a bit easier because it's supporting more of the weight of your legs. If your legs weigh more, you would need more support there.
[00:16:23] That's not to say that you can't change the spring setting from there. You might be super strong and you might be like, no, the standard spring setting is perfect. That's totally fine. But it is something to keep in mind.
[00:16:33] I've also, um, because I'm a Pilates teacher, I've also worked with clients who are very small and in very slight bodies, and for them starting on something like the standard spring setting is too heavy. They can't move the carriage. Um, that is a good sign that the springs are too heavy. If you can't move the carriage and it's supposed to move, then we definitely wanna adjust the springs because the goal is not to just like strain in place, but it's to like do a movement, right? So [00:17:00] your body, your body proportions, the strength, the flexibility, like all of those things are also going into it.
[00:17:07] And sometimes adjusting the springs is just making the exercise more appropriate for your body. As you get more comfortable with the equipment, more comfortable with your teacher, and all of these things are kind of interplaying together. Don't be afraid to play with the springs.
[00:17:26] And I almost wanna say that I'm like hesitant to take group classes in person, but I kind of am, because I am so particular about the spring settings and I know what I like and what I'm working on and the support that I need in certain exercises, and the challenge that I'm looking for in other exercises that I don't wanna say that I ignore the teacher's cues for the springs because you know, you can do it on the teacher's cues and it'll be totally fine and awesome and amazing.
[00:17:53] But I just know myself and I know myself doing the exercises, so I kind of nuance. My spring [00:18:00] changes a lot, which is not great for flow if you're in a class and you're changing your springs for every single exercise, it doesn't like make for a smooth flowing group class experience.
[00:18:12] But in terms of meeting you where you are, that might be what you need to do. If you know that, you know certain springs are too heavy and you can't move the carriage on them, then yeah, we definitely wanna adjust them.
[00:18:24] I think about super strong people who've come into my class and they're doing, you know, something like supine arms where you're lying on the carriage, same way you were in footwork and bridging and feet in straps, but you've got your hands in the straps this time. You know, standard spring setting might be one and a half springs, but if you've got someone who's really strong, or if you are that person who's really strong, you can put more springs there.
[00:18:49] Again, I find in that exercise in particular, because your shoulders are against the shoulder blocks, when the spring tension gets really heavy, I feel like my shoulders are being smashed into the [00:19:00] shoulder blocks, and that's not comfortable for me. So if I wanted heavier arm exercises, I might do them somewhere else where I'm not getting squished in the carriage a little bit, but that's a personal preference, right?
[00:19:13] We always have a standard spring setting because we have to start somewhere. But the springs are definitely a hundred percent adjustable and designed to be adjusted. And if you're not sure if you should adjust your springs, you should definitely ask your teacher and maybe have a chat about it and you can reference this episode.
[00:19:31] Um, the other thing I want to keep in mind, just as a parting thought, is that not every exercise has to be the hardest version of the exercise. So when I talked about footwork and I said, yeah, you can add more springs to make it harder to move the carriage when you're doing footwork, which is totally fine.
[00:19:51] But we also know that footwork is not the only leg exercise that we're doing. So while adding springs is totally appropriate, if you [00:20:00] use all of your gas in making your footwork super duper heavy, well then we've got, you know, lunges, we've got other leg adventures and squats and skaters and, you know, standing side splits and whatever we're gonna be doing. We wanna have some gas in the tank for those.
[00:20:17] So unlike sort of a gym regimen where you're trying to max out your biceps and max out your triceps and max out your, you know, leg press. Right, because Pilates is a system of exercises and you're gonna be doing lots of different exercises, the goal is not to absolutely destroy yourself with one exercise.
[00:20:39] Doesn't mean that you can't challenge yourself, doesn't mean you can't add a spring, but just keep in mind that it's about the whole system and not the individual exercise. Pilates is a party. Playing with the springs is an absolute fun, amazing, awesome thing to do. I hope that you get to do it. If you have any questions, definitely ask me. I [00:21:00] love talking about springs and doing spring math. Um, so hit me up. But it's, it's fun. It's not simple, but it is fun.
[00:21:08] Huge thank you to all my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee. I really appreciate your support, especially while I was on hiatus. I'm so excited to be meeting up with you and having some coffee chats soon. If you wanna get in on the fun and have a 15 minute chat with me, head over to that Buy Me a Coffee page, become a supporter, and let's make it happen. Hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:21:38] Thanks for tuning in to 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 [00:22:00] listen to podcasts.
[00:22:01] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.