// Pilates repair kit

by Zosha Piotrowski

A constant challeNge presented to instructors in group pilates classes is finding the balance between what clients expect and what their bodies actually need. most clients come to class hoping to do a workout that will work their muscles so they look and feel better.

However, a lot of clients will also come to class because they know that Pilates is effective for alleviating pain, particularly in the back area. so you may find that you have a combination of clients in one class – those who want a muscle workout and those who want you to cure their aches and pains – a tough call for one little Pilates class!

Condition and repair

Many instructors will empathise with the host of issues people bring to class, but we may feel that we are out of our depth giving instruction on dealing with some of the ailments presented to us. for most people though, your Pilates class will be the only thing they do to help themselves, whether it is for the physicality of it or for the rehab, so as instructors we need to be able to adapt to the needs of our clients in each class while delivering exercises that condition and also repair.

Repairing people in a group fitness class is tough, as we can’t deliver the one-on-one attention from which the participant would ideally benefit. however we can think of the repair happening over time. muscle patterns take time to change and a lot of our clients will come to class with a movement pattern that has been with them for a long time. it’s important to appreciate that bodies need time to adjust to new patterns and for ‘bad habits’ to unravel. as instructors we should start to form mental, and maybe even written, files on each participant so that class by class we gain a clearer picture of their movement patterns. these ‘files’ can help us cue and correct the Pilates exercises and encourage better movement in everyday activities.

Repair also starts at a grass roots level. many people have pain in their bodies because of their posture in day-to-day activities or because their bodies are stressed from limited movement. limited movement can be caused by sitting in a chair all day or by being overloaded with exercises that train muscles in limited planes. many clients in Pilates classes tend to spend a lot of time overloading their muscles in activities such as indoor cycling, aerobics, bodyPumP™ and running, but may not spend equal time releasing their muscles. because of this overload, they develop pain from muscle tightness and lack of range around certain joints. so, even though these fitter clients will attend our classes to achieve core overload, it is our job to balance out conditioning exercises with releasing and repairing movements.

Beyond mobilisation

In Pilates there are exercises which have the goal of mobilising – for example the rolling series is excellent for opening up the spine, and the spine twist is great to gain movement through the ribcage and thoracic spine – however, we need to have more in our toolbox to help our clients.

This is when exercises from other disciplines such as yoga, stretch, feldenkrais and the alexander technique can be useful. as instructors we can study these methods individually and learn different ways to mobilise and open up the body. by applying Pilates principles such as breathing and alignment to these movements your class can still maintain its Pilates heart while drawing from wider disciplines. for example breathing, centering and using gentle movement around a classic stretch or yoga pose can help it perfectly integrate into a Pilates class. these alternative methods are great to use as transitions from one Pilates exercise to another.

Transitional release movements

The following are examples of some basic exercises that can be used to release the body while transitioning between your classic Pilates repertoire.

Spinal twist on the floor
The spinal twist on the floor (photo 1) releases the ribcage, chest, neck and lower back. The arms are held at 90 degrees, but opposite to each other (i.e., one up, one down). the knees are to one side with the head facing the opposite side to the legs. taking a deep breath into the ribcage, relax the shoulders, connect with the core by pulling up the pelvic floor and then exhale as the knees lift over to the other side, with the head changing sides. this is done with a slow deep breath and can be repeated up to 20 times. add variation by swapping the arms and moving the head to turn in the same direction as the knees.

Basic seated spinal twist
The basic seated spinal twist starts with both ‘sit bones’ (ischial tuberosities – the bony parts you feel when you sit down) on the mat and the opposite arm around the knee (photo 2). take a deep breath in and look to the front, then as you exhale turn and rotate the spine, including the head and neck, so the face turns towards the back (photo 3). as you inhale, move just the head to the front and then exhale as you turn the head to face the back and improve the twist. as you twist, keep the sit bones down and keep lengthening the spine upwards. repeat this up to 10 or more times and then swap sides.

Hip and lower back release

Start on all fours and set breathing into the diaphragm. slide one leg out keeping the toe on the floor (photo 4), then cross the legs by taking the knee behind the other leg (photo 5) and slowly sit back onto the sit bones, being mindful of the knee (photo 6). Sit back up, bring the knee around, extend the leg and go back to all fours. Repeat on the other leg. Keep the flow of this movement and the
breath long and even and repeat up to 10 reps each side.


Let go, release and repair

These movements require thought to the breath, alignment and centering, but place no stress on the body, so are perfect for releasing areas that hold tension and work wonderfully as transitions in-between conditioning Pilates movements. You can explore applying Pilates breathing and centering to any range of motion stretches to further develop your own bank of releasing movements.

To really help our clients repair, we also have to use our intuition. Some days we may look at our class participants and see that they need something as simple as breathing and relaxing. Most people come to class with tight necks and tight upper backs. By allocating time to correct diaphragmatic breathing, relaxing the accessory muscles in the neck area and connecting subtly to the pelvic floor muscles, we begin to relax the mind, switch on the parasympathetic nervous system and in turn release the ribcage and thoracic spine which allows participants to truly connect with the core. We need to educate our participants about the value of releasing and repairing and encourage them to embrace exercise and movement that doesn’t involve major overload. Their overly stressed bodies will love them for it!

So, remember to challenge your participants not only through conditioning but also by letting go and subtly releasing and repairing their bodies. Think of Pilates as a class to finetune and service the body – your participants will thank you for it in the long term.


Zosha Piotrowski, BSpSc
Zosha is an international instructor trainer and convention presenter. She is involved in developing instructors and talent in freestyle group exercise and was a key program developer for Network Pilates courses. Her goal is to motivate others with her energy and to bring wellness and entertainment into people’s lives. Zosha is also co-host of ‘Pilates TV’ on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel.