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More or better


In the Pilates and the fitness world at large, I see two distinct trends. I tend to call these trends ‘flavors,’ by the way. The first is the idea that we should absolutely KILL OURSELVES with our workouts and if you leave without having sweated a gallon, peed your pants, and thrown up then you didn’t do it right. You should be TIRED. EXHAUSTED. DEAD. The means by which you achieve these peculiar goals are not important, so long as it was INTENSE. The other ‘flavor’ I notice is the complete opposite – rehab and corrective movement/Pilates/exercise. In this model you are broken at least a dozen different ways, and the only way you should move is PERFECTLY. No detail is overlooked, and you should be fine-tuning all those details AT THE SAME TIME. With all this thinking and micro-managing of all minutiae, the outcome is NO MOVEMENT, or tense, Tin Man like movement.

I’m exaggerating in the above examples, but just a little bit. These flavors are the perfect example of the argument “More movement or better movement?”

In the case of More, the key features are INTENSITY to produce FATIGUE. No matter what we are doing, we should be doing the ever-loving bejeezus out of it. Muscle confusion is a catch phrase, as is muscle failure. Fans of intensity will definitely tell you that more is better.

The trouble here is summed up in this analogy: Going for short duration and high intensity is like starving yourself all day and then eating your ENTIRE CALORIC INTAKE for the day in a single sitting AS FAST AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN. (Think competitive hotdog eating contest and you’re getting it) Your body is not designed to make the best use of these nutrients and calories (no matter how great they may be) all in one go, and adding speed to eating means throwing up or choking. Or both. Either way, it’s sloppy. Movement of this type tends to be low quality (junk food) and done to a degree where fatigue is the objective but injury is the most likely outcome. That’s not exactly the burn you were hoping to feel.

On the other end of the spectrum (or where the intensity people end up when they break themselves) is Corrective and Rehab. There is nothing at all wrong with precision, with making sure that you are doing quality movement with good form. But there’s a catch. It’s like this analogy – You’re hangering for some cake, but instead of putting the ingredients together (flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc), mixing and baking, you instead eat each of the individual ingredients. Well, you’re right, those are all the ingredients that make up cake, but they sure don’t taste like cake until you put them together and add some heat. Eating a stick of butter will not magically become cake in your belly. Butter will always be butter. And deconstructed movement, while an excellent way to acquire skills and correct faulty alignment and movement, will only be a fragment until you re-integrate the perfected skill back into something more useful.

So what is my ‘flavor’? What is my reply to ‘More movement or better movement?’ Change the ‘or’ to an ‘and’ and we’re getting closer. The missing ingredient that traditional Pilates provides is the EDUCATION, and the ORDER.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with speed, unless it means you’re doing something dangerously/badly. When I first learned to chop vegetables with a knife, for example, you bet I took my time. I didn’t speed up the skill until I knew I could do it without danger to my fingers. If I’m sloppy when I’m fast, I’m in danger. If I’m going so fast I can’t pay attention, I’m in danger.

Using the same example, I’m definitely at a disadvantage with a knife if I’m exhausted. Even if I’m good with a blade, fatigue makes me regress in skill level. It means my fingers are in danger again, even if I slow down.

And to learn how to use my knife skills, I definitely did not learn by someone handing me a sharp blade and, with no other instruction, screaming, “DO IT! DO IT! DON’T STOP! FASTER! HARDER!” While blasting loud music. Thank goodness, someone who knew something about knives took the time to explain what I needed to know, demonstrated, and gave me pointers as I practiced.

To learn a skill you have to slow down, you have to pay attention. But on the other hand, if I break down the knife skills to the finest degree I’m no longer chopping vegetables, I’m just holding a knife. At this rate, I’m never eating dinner.

My favorite flavor takes the best of ‘more’ and ‘better’ and provides an intelligent means of learning, growing, and applying. In Pilates (and intelligent movement of all kinds) we begin with the building blocks, or the ‘ingredients’, since I’m on a tear with food analogies tonight. We learn them, practice them, and master them. We do them slowly until we do them well, and we do them faster. Then, methodically, progressively, we add the ingredients together to create more complex movements. These ‘harder’ movements are possible because they are made of the basics, which we’ve taken the time to understand and do well. These compound actions, done with increasing complexity, coordination, and speed, are the result of an intelligent education system and PRACTICE.

Is practice sexy? Not usually. Is it safe and effective? YES.

And most importantly, what is the goal? What is the result? If we do it right, it’s a smart body and mind, capable of efficiency, resilience, strength, and speed without micromanagement or fear of injury. Imagine being easeful, effective, and still have enough energy in reserve to go have some fun. Wouldn’t that be AWESOME?

How does your current workout compare?


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